How to write a job description: your ultimate guide

What you need to know

The importance of a well-written, well-researched job description can’t be overstated. They serve as the first step in a (hopefully) long-term relationship between you and your future team member.

So, let’s discuss how to write a job description. This guide will cover the information you need to gather prior to writing, how to write it, and what to do with a job description once it’s done.

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Before you write a job description

Before you even begin writing your job description, there are some important questions you’ll need to answer. You may need to have some discussions with the relevant internal stakeholders before you can go any further.

our company

Your job description is the first touchpoint candidates have with your company. In the same way that resumes and cover letters are reviewed, first impressions count, and you have only a short window to compel a jobseeker to apply.

- Pascale Desplentere, Senior Division Director

1. Who are the relevant internal stakeholders?

The first step is to identify all internal stakeholders who will be involved in the hiring process.

Along with a senior HR staffer, this might include the department head, project managers, and key team members who will be working directly with the new employee. To avoid a slow and prolonged recruitment process, try to limit the number of people involved to four or less – with preferably two key decision-makers.

2. Does the role require a full-time or part-time staff member? Will the role be permanent or a short-term contract?

The next step is deciding what type of employee you need.

Are you looking for a staff member to join the team on a temporary basis, an experienced interim manager, or an employee to fill a permanent position? This is an important decision you need to clarify before writing the job description.

Another important consideration is to decide whether you’re aiming at maintaining your staff headcount and productivity levels (when someone leaves the company), or if you would prefer to create a new role with the aim to add value to the company in the long run.

3. When do you want the new employee to start?

Your job description should specify when you prefer the new employee to start. Consider:

  • Have you budgeted for the new employee with the preferred start date in mind? Or do you still need to seek budget approval?
  • If the new employee is replacing someone who is leaving, will there be sufficient overlap for knowledge transfer?
  • How flexible can you be with the start date?

Make sure you've considered all possible scenarios before settling on a start date for the new employee.

If the role is a short-term contract, it’s also important to know the end date.

  • When do you expect the project to wrap up?
  • What’s the estimated timeline for the contract hire?

You may not need the exact end date while writing your job description, but at least an estimated duration will be needed.

4. What are the job requirements and responsibilities?

Identifying all the essential tasks and responsibilities of the new employee will form the basis of how to write a job description and will help you recognise the skills and experience you should be looking for in the new staff member.

Once this process is complete, you can start refining your job ad:

  • Which duties are most important?
  • What lines of reporting are there, and to whom?
  • What results should the employee deliver?
  • If it's a managerial role, what is the extent of his/her authority?

5. What are the essential skills and qualifications?

Based on your answers to the above questions, the next step to creating a quality job description is putting together key criteria for the new role.

Be careful not to confuse qualifications with technical skills or soft skills. There are subtle differences to each:

Technical skills relate to unique or prior knowledge, for example:

  • Do they speak another language?
  • Are they certified in a particular software package, like Microsoft or Adobe?
  • Are they familiar with search engine optimisation?

Soft skills are not as easy to measure or define, and can include:

  • a proactive and flexible attitude
  • an ability to work with people
  • an aptitude for problem solving

The above employment criteria will become especially important if there are several candidates vying for the position. Having a clearly defined set of key requirements will allow you to remove a large number of candidates from the list who won’t be a perfect fit for your role.

Also, make a distinction between “need-to-have” and “nice-to-have” skills that can be further developed through professional development. If in doubt, seek advice from someone with a few years' experience in a similar role.

6. What is the salary band and employee benefits?

You should be prepared to set a salary on the basis of the employee’s education, skills and experience, along with location or industry. You can leverage salary research from the Robert Half Salary Guide.

Does your company offer any additional employee benefits? For example, flexible hours, work from home options, or professional development opportunities; these are all being increasingly emphasised in job descriptions as companies compete for top talent.

7. Holistic check: do you have all the information you need?

While this is by no means the end of the process, ask yourself if there is any additional niche information your job description might need to include. For example: do you require all your employees to undergo a Working With Children Check?

our company

At this stage, it’s also a good idea to gather feedback and consensus from your team. Most job descriptions are written top-down by managers or HR specialists, but having a bottom-up perspective can help fine-tune the description and give a more holistic view of the role.

- Will Cannaby, Associate Director

Have your staff run through your notes so far to ensure there’s nothing else worth including. Don’t worry at this point if you feel there’s a lot of information – you’ll decide what to keep and what to cut later.

8. The language you use

The most important detail to consider when putting together your job description is the language you use:

Use inclusive language

Instead of speaking in the third person and having to adopt ‘he’ or ‘she,’ use ‘you’ or ‘they.’ Both are gender neutral. Steer clear of ‘maternity leave,’ and instead, use ‘parental leave.’

But consider also the adjectives you use to describe the job or the perfect person for the role. Seemingly inconsequential words like ‘champion,’ ‘self-sufficient,’ and ‘ambitious’ are gender-coded, meaning they are associated with a particular gender stereotype. Contrast these words with the more feminine ‘supportive,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘caring,’ and it’s easy to see how this subtle choice in wording may affect who applies for certain jobs.

And in fact, research supports this. A landmark study found that women who read job ads with masculine coded language found them less appealing, and felt that they did not belong in these occupations.

our company

Bringing in people of diverse cultures and backgrounds starts with the language you use in the job ad. It’s their first experience of who you are, what you do, and what you stand for, and the last thing you want your job description to do is to alienate people with different life experiences.

- Nicole Gorton, Director

Keep accessibility in mind

Not everyone has the same literacy level; nor does everyone have the same ability to read text on a web page. Elements to consider include:

  • Short paragraphs
  • Shorter sentences
  • Low level complexity when it comes to your text

Ensure your text can be read by a screen reader. These are best practices for writing for the web anyway because you want to ensure your text appeals to a wide audience.

Avoid industry-specific jargon and hyperbole

The same is true for industry-specific jargon. People who don’t work in your industry – but who may have very transferable skills – may not be familiar with the terminology, so they’re either not looking for those words, or they may not want to apply for a job they see if they don’t understand the whole job description.

our company

I’ve seen too many job ads with ‘ninja’ in the description title. I see the appeal – it’s fun, it’s charming, and it may speak to your company culture – but people aren’t searching for their next "ninja gig" - they’re searching for "accounts payable".

- Pascale Desplentere, Senior Division Director

 

How to write a job description

According to research by LinkedIn, shorter job posts receive 8.4% more applications. You need to include as much information as is necessary, and cut out anything that will not ultimately benefit the description.

When researchers reviewed which section of a job ad holds the most attention, it was overwhelmingly the salary, followed by qualifications and job details. Having this information clear and in a logical place within the job description means readers of your job description don’t need to work too hard to find it.

Let’s go through each section of the job description:

Job title

The job title is the first thing people are going to notice about your job, so make sure it’s specific.

Use industry-standard terms. For example, if you’re looking to hire an Executive Assistant, don’t title the role ‘Rockstar Support Specialist’.

Company summary

Open your job description with a short paragraph about your company and brand, and where the role will be based. For example:

“Robert Half pioneered specialised staffing services in 1948, making us the oldest recruiting firm in the world. As a global industry leader, we know the importance of employee happiness and finding the right talent for the right job. We are currently searching for a Digital Marketing Specialist based in our Sydney office. Reporting to the Marketing Manager, the Digital Marketing Specialist will be responsible for managing our social media presence, build relationships with local media, and create content for our website.”

Responsibilities

At the heart of this section is a short paragraph regarding the overall responsibilities of the role, and a short breakdown of daily tasks, preferably in bullet points. Include a short sentence on how this role fits into the company: who they’ll be reporting to, and how they’ll function within the business.

Lots of companies tackle this section differently. Some like to use percentages to break down where management expects time to be spent on various tasks, others don’t. There’s no best practice here, as long as each task is clear and to-the-point.

Skills and qualifications

Remember, these skills fall into two different camps: hard or technical skills, and soft skills. Overall, be concise. And ensure you divide your skills between essentials and bonus, nice-to-have skills.

our company

Professional and life experience is just as valid as an educational qualification. This depends on the field, obviously, but be aware that there’s more than one path to a particular job.

- Will Cannaby, Associate Director

Salary and benefits

A LinkedIn study found that 59% of candidates feel that salary was a leading factor that contributed to career fulfilment. However there are pros and cons to consider before putting your salary offer in the job ad.

Besides the salary, what other benefits can you offer applicants? Do you offer flexible hours? Professional development opportunities? Free lunches? This is an opportunity to share the benefits of being a part of your company.

 

What to do with a complete job description

From here, you’ll need to get sign off. It’s also a good idea to run it by those current staff members to ensure you’ve included everything essential from their perspective.

Once the job advertisement and salary have been approved by all your internal stakeholders, it's time to promote the job to your target market. This can be done via job boards, social media, the company website, through employee referrals, and recruiters.

Does timing impact the result of job ads? Research suggests yes. Candidates are more likely to apply for jobs early in the week, and most often on Mondays. Keep that in mind when scheduling in your promotions.

Do you want to learn more about what to do next?