What Your Job Postings Need (and what they can do without)

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The internet was buzzing about a job posting for a nanny/household manager/best friend last week because it was so over the top. It was also 1475 words. That’s longer than many Atlantic articles. Most of what you read online is less than 1000 words.

In other words, this wasn’t a job posting; it was a fantasy novella about this hiring manager’s dream employee.

I wish I could say that she was the only one who writes fantasy in place of actual job descriptions, but long job descriptions are common.

You can find job descriptions listing 40 or more skills that a particular candidate needs to have. Do you know what that is? A fantasy novella. 

You want the right person for the job, but the right person doesn’t mean the person that has every single one of the characteristics you can brainstorm. The right person is the person that can learn to do the job with a reasonable amount of training.

And no, you can’t find an external candidate that needs no training. It doesn’t exist. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk couldn’t just swap roles even though they both built huge companies. They would need to learn about internal processes and procedures and how to access their new email accounts. (And, Bezos probably needs to learn a bit about crazy moon-related ideas, and Musk needs to learn a bit about how to not be crazy about moon-related ideas, but I digress.)

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Job postings aren’t supposed to cover every task a person may have to do at some point in the job. Instead, they are general overviews.

I know, I know, there are legal reasons for wanting to include everything, but you can put that on the formal job description. Your job posting is a marketing document.

Yes, you heard that right. At any given moment, there are millions of available jobs. You need to make your post stand out.

This doesn’t mean lying about what you want and need – but it does mean focusing on the essential things and not just listing everything that pops into your head.

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What Does Marketing Mean?

Marketing is promoting or selling products. When people write resumes as marketing documents, they are trying to sell themselves. When you write a job posting as a marketing document, you’re selling the specific position and the company. 

The difference between marketing Coke and marketing a job is that your audience is minimal. If you’re hiring a Chief Scientific Officer for your new biotech startup, you have a somewhat limited target audience. If you’re hiring an administrative assistant, on the other hand, there are a lot more audience members.

So, you need to target your marketing, but it still needs to be accurate. Coke doesn’t say, “Hmmm, let’s attract people who don’t want caffeine by leaving it off the label!” they make another product for those people. But, they also don’t highlight the number of grams of sugar per bottle. That information is available, but it’s not the center of your marketing efforts.

You don’t attract the right candidate by leaving off the problematic parts of the job–then you get someone who is not a good fit. But you do attract the right candidate by including the most critical parts of the job and dealing with the ephemera later. 

Why Not Include All Skills?

There are two answers to this. The first is that people stop reading if your job posting is too long. If they can’t get through it, they won’t apply. The second is, plenty of people who could do a fantastic job won’t apply if they don’t have all or (at least) most of the skills. This is especially true for women; we only apply when we meet 100 percent of the criteria, while men apply when they reach 60 percent. 

In other words, with every additional skill that you add, you decrease the percent of women who will apply dramatically. Yes, we should teach women to apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the criteria, but remember, you are trying to market to candidates here – not teach women how to behave.

Yes, if you include ten skills instead of 20, men will apply when they only have 6, but you’ll also get men who have all ten and women who have all 10. Cutting the number of skills listed shouldn’t hurt the number of qualified male candidates you get, and it should increase the number of qualified female candidates.

Training Is a Thing

If someone has a Ph.D. in Statistics, they can learn how to use WorkDay to track their billable hours. You don’t need to include that. They can also learn to use a different statistical program, your enterprise software system, and practically anything related to that. Sure, their skills at trumpet playing may be lacking, but you’re limiting your talent pool if you need someone with a Ph.D. in statistics who also plays the trumpet. I’d re-evaluate your actual needs.

You want people who can learn new things. Your business constantly changes. You have to learn new things all the time. The exact skill set you need for today may not be the exact skill set you need in three months. So, hire someone who can learn new things.

How can you tell? Well, anyone with formal education has proven they can learn new things. Anyone who has changed jobs since school demonstrated that they could learn new things. In other words, almost everyone can learn new things.

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The question is, do they want to learn new things? That’s something you can ask in the job interview. You can see how they have learned new things – have they changed jobs, been promoted, taken extra classes, or obtained certifications? Look for that rather than someone who can tick every checkbox.

The best job descriptions get the core functions of the jobs but don’t overwhelm the potential applicant.

Market accurately and attract more candidates than your wordy competitors. 

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