How to write a killer job spec

Employers often preach the importance of a cover letter that stands out. But they rarely practice what they preach when it comes to publishing a job description. Instead they take the lazy route of wrapping some boilerplate “about us” around a few poorly scoped bullets that fail to properly articulate the job description and candidate requirements.

This is an expensive mistake. A job description is your first impression and done poorly, it will be your only impression with a standout candidate because you will never hear from them.

Let’s examine a better way.

Tell a story
A proper job description is a page turner. Seriously. If a relevant candidate picks it up, they should feel compelled to read it in its entirety. Feel free to use a combination of long-form storytelling, humor, graphics or really whatever makes it compelling to read. You are not trying to attract drones or robots. There’s a human on the other end of your job description, so talk to them like one!

Don’t lead with a ton of boilerplate
While it’s important to educate the reader on what your company does, don’t lead with a long, drawn out boilerplate “about us”. Your business might be your baby, but by and large nobody likes to read about other people’s babies (note: I’m a parent and founder which gives me license to write these things).

Instead keep the overview brief and then weave the rest of what you want the candidate to know about your business into the narrative of why you’re hiring for the role.

Why are you hiring for the role?
Too often folks defer to bullets to describe the role. That’s a mistake. Bullets are task lists. And top candidates don’t like tasks — they like challenges they can sink their teeth into.

Consider including a section entitled “Why are we hiring for XYZ role?”.

From there, excite the candidate by: 1) laying out the challenges you’re facing, 2) conveying the importance of solving these challenges and 3) leaving the candidate with the impression that she will be a hero if she helps you overcome the challenges.

And no bullets (for now). Go long-form. Include data, charts and graphics. Feature enough detail to assure the candidate that you understand the role you’re hiring for (which quite commonly, isn’t the case!). To that point, this will not only ensure you come away with a more compelling job description, but also serve as an important exercise in helping you — the hiring manager — understand your expectations.

Now bring in the bullets
Bullets are great for laying out the facts, including ongoing responsibilities of the role as well as requirements. But they’re not a substitute for the exercise you completed in the last section, so no cheating! Oh and as for those requirements, ensure that the candidate knows they’re merely a wishlist. Rarely does a candidate check every box so why chase qualified people away with faux “requirements”?

Identify the hiring manager
Be sure to lay out the protocol for a candidate to follow when applying for the job.

But also name the hiring manager. You don’t need to include her email. Just the name. It’s always interesting to see which candidates go above and beyond by obtaining your email address and taking a chance on sending you a compelling note.

Don’t worry — you won’t get a ton of unsolicited applications this way. And if someone sends you a terrible note (which is rare if they’ve gone through the trouble of finding you), there’s no rule that you need to respond. So give it a shot — name the hiring manager in the description.

First impressions matter
Again, oftentimes a candidate doesn’t know much about you or your business. And since the job spec is doing the talking, put your best foot forward. You’ll be rewarded in attracting better talent.

Founder, PikTek. Portfolio Advisor, Pilot Growth Equity. Co-founder / former COO, CB Insights.

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