A well-written job description provides the foundation for hiring decisions that stick and helps new employees hit the ground running.
Managers who know how to write an effective job description have a head-start in attracting and retaining the best people. Let me show you how.
(Related: 5 Types Of Feedback That Drive Team Performance).
What Is A Job Description?
Job descriptions, also known as position descriptions, document the key responsibilities, working conditions and daily tasks of a role.
They can be internal documents held by HR or publicly shared through your recruitment process.
Three reasons to write effective job descriptions are:
- To give your company an internal ‘source of truth’ about responsibilities, duties and pay scales associated with different roles; and to assist in workforce planning, streamline hiring efforts, and inform performance management.
- To give new hires (and their managers) a clear view of what’s expected to help employees onboard faster, direct their efforts where needed, and set personal and team performance goals they’ll be evaluated against.
- To let candidates self-assess their suitability. Making job descriptions available during recruitment helps prospective candidates judge whether their skills, experiences and preferences make them a good fit—before they apply or proceed.
You can use job descriptions to quickly extract the bones of a job posting. However, job descriptions are typically more in-depth and less dynamic than a job posting—the emphasis is on clarity rather than persuasiveness (although you should definitely sell your role and your company).
Are Job Descriptions Really Necessary In 2023?
There’s no legal requirement to write job descriptions. But carefully-structured job positions can:
- Reassure jobseekers or motivate new hires by providing hard-to-research context and additional detail about the job, the team and the company.
- Help you avoid employment law issues by providing proof of job requirements that might be disputed during unfair hiring or dismissal cases.
In its advice to employers about managing employees whose work has been unsatisfactory, Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman says its best practice to “set clear expectations from the start, such as writing performance expectations in a position description or performance plan.”
What To Include In A Job Post?
A major reason people resist writing job descriptions, or let them become out-of-date, is that they’re not equipped to comprehensively define and document their structures, work models, responsibilities, workflows, processes, benefits or team cultures.
Ideally, a hiring manager and HR specialist or recruiter will work together to:
- Analyse your workforce gaps, and current and future needs within the team and company.
- Consider how the role interacts with team members and roles in other business functions.
- Determine the policies and work models that apply to the position, such as OHS considerations, diversity goals, whether you can offer flexible arrangements, and whether there are compliance/training requirements?
- Use desired outcomes to identify the work required to achieve them, plus any genuine constraints around the worker’s capabilities, knowledge or how results are achieved.
- Clarify what ‘success’ in the role could look like and how it will be measured.
This exercise prepares you to write a clear job description, but how should you structure the actual document?
Firstly, some notes on formatting:
- Use personal pronouns like ‘you’ and ‘we’, not dry language like ‘the employee’.
- Break information into sections with sub-headings and bullet points.
The best job descriptions also include:
1. A Meaningful Job Title.
Include keywords and industry terms that qualified candidates actually use, rather than your internal hierarchies, lingo or program names.
Spicing up job titles with trendy terms can confuse the issue for best-fit candidates—for instance, including the term ‘social media’ in the job title for a role primarily focused on public relations management.
2. Job Type, Location and Conditions.
It’s important to clarify whether the role is full-time, part-time or something else, whether it’s permanent or a contract, and where exactly the future employee will carry out their work.
You might also include details about:
- Working hours or work schedules.
- Flexible work options available.
- Travel requirements.
- Physical or health requirements.
3. A Compelling Company Description.
Summarise the role and how it fits into the broader company structure and contributes to your company mission, purpose, strategies or goals — touch on the importance of the role in realising these company objectives.
You might also cover some top-tier benefits of belonging to your organisation and what makes your company unique. What will the employee gain from working there?
4. Team Dynamics And Culture.
Cover the basics like to whom the new position reports, how the team operates, and important relationships or shared processes with other departments or external suppliers.
Aim to describe what working in the team looks and feels like, such as:
- What a typical day or week might entail.
- How the team collaborates.
- How wins are celebrated.
Strengthen your employee brand by communicating the company values and examples of how these are expressed day-to-day within the team.
5. Core Responsibilities And Job Duties.
Provide a list of the specific tasks and operations performed regularly, including technical matters. You might also describe any important outcomes the person in the role should strive towards.
You may also want to clarify the limits of their responsibility or accountability.
Gallup research shows one of the most important things people look for in their next job is a role that plays to their strengths. Gallup recommends recruiters “make the extra effort to understand what really excites a candidate about their work.” And give candidates a “realistic job preview” highlighting the daily routines, team interactions and workloads they can expect.
6. Required Skills, Knowledge, And Qualifications.
A common approach is to outline:
- Essential qualifications.
- The minimum years of proven experience.
- A list of both hard and soft skills.
- Nice-to-have skills and must-have skills.
A targeted approach to writing this section is critical, so you don’t exclude or deter people who lack some elements but are a good match otherwise.
Include only the most relevant requirements and rank them in terms of importance, so people can tell whether it’s a must-have or a nice-to-have.
A 2023 study from Boston Consulting Group found that reducing biases and barriers can help a company increase its talent pool: “They may, for instance, put less emphasis on formal requirements for attributes such as degrees and years of experience and focus instead on skills, motivations, and potential. Employers may also consider hiring potential candidates who are a 70% fit and then training them to quickly come up to speed on the remaining requirements.”
7. Goals, Milestones And Timeframes.
If you already have performance management metrics for a role, you can include them in the job description.
Or you might define key outputs you expect the new hire to deliver across the first one to six months.
“Develop a strategic communications plan within the first month in the role.”
8. Compensation And Perks.
This includes a breakdown of the salary range, superannuation and standard employee benefits offered.
You could also include details about performance review and salary increase cycles, how your company manages internal promotions, bonuses, stock options, training budgets, reward and recognition programs, and succession planning.
It’s an opportunity to convey the full breadth of opportunities for reward and advancement.
It’s wise to include contact details for someone who can answer specific questions about the role, but ensure it’s someone with the capacity to respond quickly to queries.
How To Describe Duties And Responsibilities.
Be realistic about the depth and breadth of activities and outcomes you can expect from a single human being.
Be specific when describing tasks and why they matter:
- Avoid vague statements like ‘You’ll manage email marketing.’
- Instead say, ‘You’ll use Marketo software to develop a new series of automated client onboarding emails to support a lift in retention rates and satisfaction.’
Be honest about the work involved, but try to convey how different activities challenge or develop the person, or make an impact within the company or industry. An increase in job scope is a motivating factor— especially for active job seekers.
(Related: Ultimate Guide To Employee Onboarding).
Don’t limit a person’s opportunity to innovate or use their creativity and initiative. Showcase tasks enabling the new hire to improve and enhance your business’s operations.
Is adherence to a certain process a core responsibility, or could the new hire re-imagine how a certain objective is achieved?
How To Sell Your Job To Job Seekers.
Changing jobs is one of the hardest decisions people make and it comes with risks—financial, emotional and physiological.
If a person makes the wrong choice, their career, relationships and well-being can suffer through increased stress and stalled progress.
Write your job description with this question in mind: ‘Why should a person choose your company and care about this role specifically?’
- Highlight appealing benefits such as work-life balance initiatives, extra leave or perks.
- Highlight your team culture by describing real examples of successful projects, team celebrations or group activities.
(Related: What Is Human Capital Management?)
How To Make Your Company More Attractive To Candidates.
Hiring is a marketing exercise as well as an HR process. Landing talented people is similar to lead generation—it works better when people feel like they know and trust you.
Include relevant details about:
- Attractive working conditions and approaches that job seekers want, such as remote and hybrid work. Don’t just say ‘flexible’ or ‘we care about work-life balance’—be specific about how these conditions are applied to avoid confusion and overcome scepticism.
- What your current employees value about your company through written testimonials or links to videos and images that provide ‘social proof’.
- Your company’s reputation and potential such as major awards, prominent leadership figures, high-profile partners and clients, and your future roadmap and growth plans.
(Related: Ultimate Guide To Psychometric Testing).
Top 3 Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Job Descriptions.
Let’s discuss the common traps that HR professionals fall into.
1. Discriminatory, Cliched Or Negative Language.
Are the words, phrases and requirements you’re including inclusive, or putting up unnecessary barriers?
or example, are you using aggressive language with a masculine tone or implying that only young people would fit your culture?
- Assumptions about the background and demographic of the ideal candidate.
- Cliches and hyperbole, don’t throw around terms like ‘rockstar’ or ‘guru’.
- Unfriendly or imperious statements like ‘You won’t like it here if you’re afraid of hard work.’
2. Impossible, Unwieldy Expectations.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect a marketing graduate to be proficient in three different kinds of enterprise software and be able to both write incredibly well and also be able to produce professional-grade videos.
Also, job seekers and employees relying on the job description will lose focus if the lists of job responsibilities and skills are too long and complicated.
3. Not Keeping It Current.
Your job description will become misaligned unless you keep reviewing and tweaking it to match what’s required in the role right now.
Update job descriptions regularly to reflect changing skill sets, such as new hard skills required to use new business technologies or soft skills that match an updated policy direction.
You moved to a remote-first work model during the pandemic and now require employees to use specific online systems.
Write A Job Description That Works.
Lazily-compiled job descriptions can create walls that qualified candidates may not be willing to overcome.
A compelling job description can be a rich resource that convinces potential candidates they’ll love working for you, kick-starts the hiring process, and helps you manage a person’s performance moving forward.
Follow these few tips on how to write a good job description to improve the effectiveness of your recruitment efforts.