Our top tips for creating highly effective job specs to attract the best talent

Recruiting is extremely competitive. The best candidates are only available for a very limited time and failure to get the fundamentals right could be catastrophic for your business. Many hiring managers already struggle with the first hurdle - writing the job description.

Job specs are key to attracting the top candidates for your vacancies. A bad job description could deter potential candidates and in some cases, the result could be having to start the whole recruitment process over again.

In this article we will share the process with you that we used to hire an amazing Marketing Lead. Our job description attracted over 400 great applicants. Don’t worry, it’s not hard if you follow these four basic principles when writing the job spec:

  1. Empathise with candidates before focusing on your business needs

  2. Focus on the job role and not your company

  3. Focus first on attracting great candidates instead of not deterring the bad ones

  4. Prefer clarity and simpleness over completeness

These insights are the result of combining our own experiences and those of the many customers we’ve worked with over the years.

On their face, these principles sound obvious, but many companies still don’t follow them. That’s because these principles require a shift in our way of thinking from “I need” to “I can offer” and from “the candidate should” to “the candidate needs”. Putting yourself in the shoes of the candidate can be hard, especially if you’ve not been job hunting in a while. Also, the way talent professionals think about applying to jobs is probably not representative of the general population. So, let’s get you up to speed.

Why do candidates spend little time reading job descriptions?

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Hiring is a big deal for any company. It takes energy and money and any hiring manager knows they have to spend a lot of time. It’s natural to expect candidates to do the same.

In reality, candidates, even the motivated ones, don’t.

To get your hiring process right (and especially the early stages) let’s try to understand why that is.

Before we get into that, I don’t want to hear any whining from you “Young people these days are so lazy, when I was applying for jobs I baked a cake and sent it with every application”. I know, times have changed but if you fail to change with the times, you’ll be left behind in the competition for talent.

We all have different habits. Baby boomers, Millennials and Gen Z candidates all have very different expectations of a hiring process, but your process needs to accomodate all of them.

So, here are four rational motivations why candidates don’t spend time on your job advertisement:

1. Candidates are busy people too

Candidates are just as busy as you. They are human beings with jobs and families and have limited energy and attention span. This means candidates have to spend their limited time wisely; there are a lot of jobs out there and your job spec is not at the top of their priority list.

2. Applying for jobs is a numbers game

Even the best candidates need to apply for many jobs to get one offer. You’re probably going to hire one out of 50 applicants (based on industry averages). That means a candidate (on average) has to apply for 50 jobs to get one offer. Based on our research we estimate that candidates apply for about 1 in 10 job ads they view - that means looking at 500 job ads to get hired. If you need to find the time to apply for 50 jobs you don’t have the time to read 500 job specs in detail.

3. Candidates don’t know your vision of the ‘perfect application’

Even if a candidate did have an unlimited amount of time to spend on applying for a job - and for their dream job, they might - no amount of time and effort spent could 100% match the application that you want to receive. It’s impossible for any candidate to know what that ‘perfect application’ looks like. Therefore the more energy being put into an application will yield diminishing returns for that candidate. And it still makes sense for a candidate to limit the time they spend on an application.

4. Candidates don’t know you yet

How can a potential recruit feel the same level of passion for your business as you do? There is nothing you can put in a job spec that is going to appreciably move that needle. It’s the job of the hiring team to create that enthusiasm during the interview process.

Bottom line, the reality is that most candidates don’t spend the same amount of time applying for your open position as you probably assume.

Meet the candidate where they are and build a relationship the right way

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Unless you’re Amazon or Facebook, most candidates will not have heard of your company. I know that hurts, but it’s time to accept that you’re not Facebook.

One thing that comes up on almost every call with our customers is that businesses want candidates that are really motivated to work for them. But if they don’t know you how can they be motivated?

This reasoning leads companies to fill their job specs with long histories of the company and long lists of accomplishments.

But the reality is that, unless you’re Oscar Wilde, you will not be able to get a candidate from “Meh” to “Wow” in the two paragraphs you can get in before a candidate stops reading. Your relationship with a candidate at this point is transactional.

They need a job, you have a job to offer, the only remaining question is about matching values and abilities. You can lay the foundation of a relationship here, by being transparent about what you require, what you offer, and what the selection process looks like. Not by telling them about how awesome you are.

Your primary goal as a job poster is to get qualified candidates to apply. Not to ‘sell’ to them, not to filter out time wasters, not to make them jump through hoops because you can. The objective at this point is to lay the foundation for your future relationship with a candidate.

Meet candidates where they are. Give them what they need, and the rest will come naturally

Why do candidates spend little time reading job descriptions?

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Having too many applications is not nearly as big an issue as having too few. If a qualified candidate does not apply, you’re flying in the dark, you cannot react to something you don’t know. If an unqualified candidate applies, that’s something you can at least do something about.

In other words, focus on your primary goal of attracting the best candidates. Worry about everything else later.

To attract the ‘ideal’ candidate, and convince them to apply, answer the 3 most pressing questions on a candidate’s mind:

1. What’s the job?

A candidate is seeing whether the title and responsibilities align with the type of role that they are looking for. It does not need to be an exhaustive list, just help them get the picture.

2. What’s the company looking for?

A candidate is seeing whether their skills match the company’s searching criteria - do they have a shot at getting this job. Again, focus on the most crucial criteria.

3. What’s the salary?

Candidates need to pay their rent. Don’t hold that against them.

The reality is that no matter how much you read online or have heard people say about job descriptions, candidates are trying to answer these 3 questions as quickly as possible before deciding to apply.

Help candidates find this information. Keep your spec short and use bullet pointed lists. Focus on the most important job responsibilities and qualifications. Here’s a checklist to help you on your way:

Do’s and Don'ts:

DON’T ⛔️

  • Don’t talk too much about your company

Either candidates have never heard of you so they are not invested enough to read a long essay or they do know your company so there is no need for a long essay. It’s 2021, link to your website, folks.

  • Don’t use words such as ‘superstar’, ‘genius’ or ‘ninja’

Just use clear job titles that help candidates understand you. Candidates are searching for terms actually related to their profession and will be put off by this ‘fun’ terminology.

  • Don’t list every possible responsibilities

The objective is to explain what this job is, not to every contingency. Lengthy lists detract from clarity. Only highlight the most important 4-6 duties.

  • Don’t use ‘years’ of experience as a metric

Years as a metric for experience is flawed. When recruiting, you need to forget the past and hire for the future. Some people learn in 2 years what others learn in 10. What matters is what problems a candidate is able to solve.

DO 🙌

  • Use a few lines to describe your company while offering a link to your website

Give enough information to get a candidate interested enough to want to learn more. It should be no longer than a tweet!

  • Use bullet points to list responsibilities and desired qualifications

The goal is to help candidates understand if this is a job they want and are able to do. List 4-6 core things needed to do the job instead of all different attributes an outstanding candidate might have. Remember, great candidates can learn to do new things.

  • Provide salary details

If you mention that you offer discount gym memberships but don’t mention salary range, you’re telling candidates that you think they can’t do math. Just be open about this. Trust is more important than saving a few dollars.

  • Share benefits that matter

Share the benefits that candidates cannot buy themselves with slightly higher pay. For example, remote work, flexible hours, work time for education, a pension contribution or health insurance. Candidates can buy their own gym, spa, hotel stays, phones, etc. if you just pay them a little better.

  • Tell them about the recruitment process

Let the candidate know what they should expect by applying. If they have time constraints or are in other processes, they may be unable to apply. It also gives them realistic expectations for the next couple of weeks should they be successful with the initial application.

A simple job specification template:

Following on from above, with those learnings, this is how we would format a job description to boost qualified candidates to any open job vacancy:

  1. Job title (No weird/quirky words - be real)

  2. Who are we? (A short company background)

  3. The role (List a maximum of 5 expected duties)

  4. Requirements (List a maximum of 5 requirements)

  5. Benefits (List form, salary first!)

  6. The hiring process (bullet point each expected step and include expected dates)

What does success look like?

Following the above strategy, Swyg, a small startup, attracted over 100 applicants for engineering roles and over 400 applicants for marketing roles. This included multiple amazing applicants and we made terrific hires.

To further benchmark the application process we conducted our own research of thousands of different jobs.

The number of applicants depends a lot from industry to industry. Job posts in industries such as Investment Banking and Luxury Goods had an average of 28 and 23 applicants per day respectively. Tougher industries include tech/engineering and healthcare with 7-10 applicants per day.

This gives you a reference point for what to expect.If you are currently receiving less applicants than these figures, your job spec may need some work.

We challenge you to change your ways and use our insight and format. We are pretty sure that you will start to hit those benchmarks and eventually exceed them!

Learn about Swyg and Peer-to-Peer interviews

Find out more here!

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