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How to write job postings that perform well

Ah yes, the dreaded job posting: an onerous administrative task, in which hiring managers strain desperately to think of synonyms for “teamwork,” “strategic thinking” and “adaptable.” Most job postings end up as bland statements that lack any personality and contain an excruciatingly long list of qualifications that must be met in order for someone to be the right fit.

Hands up if you’re guilty of exactly this behaviour. I know I am.

I’m here to let you know it doesn’t need to be this way. And in fact, by taking this approach, you are harming your chances of landing a fantastic hire who can unlock acceleration in your business.

Who is your audience for the job posting?

A lot of companies write broad, sweeping job postings designed to attract the highest volume of candidates in the hope that one of them meets their vaguely defined expectations. The outcome is a time-consuming process, as your team takes the time to screen hundreds of resumés that aren’t actually aligned to what you need.

Instead, focus on writing your job posting for the perfect candidate. Be specific and exact in your needs, challenges, opportunities and skills development so the right person can self-identify.

One of the barriers to building a diverse team is creating job postings that create unnecessary obstacles that disqualify folks who can bring new perspectives and different experiences. Think about creating the lowest barrier to application to attract a wider range of people.

How to structure a job posting

There is no hard and fast rule here—in fact, being creative will help you stand out from the crowd (a video job posting, perhaps?)—but here are some tips to help you get started.

  1. Explain your company, mission and purpose.
  2. Outline the challenge(s) this person will solve and the impact they will have.
  3. Link these challenges to your company mission and purpose.
  4. Include the absolutely critical skills or experiences they will need on day one, and which ones they can learn on the job.
  5. How does the company work/operate day to day (this is where you can share company values).

1. Explain your mission and purpose

Assume candidates have never heard of your organization or the space you are operating in. Be clear why it is important to achieve your mission and who you are impacting by building this company.

2. Outline the challenges they will solve

As mentioned in my article on prioritizing talent acquisition, start by making it clear why you are hiring for this position. Share notes on the key challenges and have everyone in the company review them to ensure there is alignment around your interpretation of the challenge and situation. You might be surprised by some of the perspectives you hear, which could change the way you think about who you should hire.

From there, use three bullet points to define what experience is absolutely necessary to solve this challenge. I guarantee you can refine it down to three bullet points, even though it feels unnatural.

By forcing yourself to use just three points, you will have to stack-rank your needs and give yourself clarity on what you really must find in this hire. It will then serve as the starting point for your job posting, interview plan and interview questions.

Additionally, this approach prevents you creating artificial barriers to application for a more diverse range of candidates. When Hewlett Packard researched job application trends between men and women, they found that women needed to meet 100% of the job criteria whereas men only needed to meet 60% to apply. By keeping it to three bullet points, it’s much easier for a wider range of folks to feel confident enough to put their resumé forward for the job.

Your job posting should focus on explaining your problem statement with enough context to get the right candidate excited.

3. Link the challenges and impact to the mission

This might come naturally through the description of challenges, but once again, I urge you to be explicit. Don’t assume a candidate on the outside can make the connection.

For example, how does your first product designer help you scale your logistics business? By creating an intuitive platform that engages your non-technical customers and helps them leverage technology to run their businesses more efficiently.

If you can’t link what the new employee will be doing to the company mission, reflect on whether this is a critical hire at this time or if you have fully defined the problem statement.

At Opencare, we chose to highlight what impact the individual would have in their first six months, and within their first year. This helps the candidate to imagine themselves in the role and see what their professional growth will be, and if that aligns with what they want next in their career.

4. Include critical skills and experiences

Use your three bullet points as the core of the critical skills required, and be careful not to scope creep and fall back to creating a laundry list.

Keep the list short and very explicit. When you say the position requires “experience scaling a sales function,” what does that mean to you and your organization? Are you adding 15 new accounts this year—or 1,000?

Clearly call out which skills will be needed from day one and which ones will be taught, nurtured and developed over time. Employment is a reciprocal arrangement, so make it clear to the candidate what they can gain from the experience as well.

Perhaps you have ambitions to start scaling your organization internationally in 18 months. That’s an exciting growth opportunity for some candidates, but if you make prior experience with international growth a minimum qualification, you will miss out on great candidates who will bring commitment and enthusiasm to navigating this challenge.

You should also be open-minded about candidates with deeper domain experience that your organization currently lacks. They might educate you on what is needed to be successful in solving the problem statement, so don’t be too prescriptive and rule these folks out before they even apply.

5. State company values and operating principles

Most early-stage startups will have some form of core values or principles. I find them very valuable for aligning thinking and they facilitate more effective decision making if they are clearly defined.

In the job posting, outline how you work and why this approach has been chosen. If you have no hierarchy, why did you choose to prioritize that way of operating? Or how does being “data-driven” manifest day to day?

Be transparent and provide examples so the perfect candidate can decide whether your company is the right place for them to be. 

Finally, run your job advert through the Gender Decoder and adjust the language to ensure it is using inclusive and balanced language.

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