Writing An Effective Job Description

Writing an Effective Job Description

The ideal hiring process has a complete lifecycle unto itself. This includes: candidate definition, skills definition, formatting and then finally writing and editing the job description.

The whole process must start with getting very clear on whether you need anyone at all. If you really do, then what exactly do you need and how should you best go about finding that person? How long do really need them for – permanent, contract-to-hire or simply a set-term contract?

Step 1: The Reality-Check List — Don’t Write Anything Yet

Before you start the process of looking for someone, go through the following checklist and answer the questions below. Have each person that will be involved in the hiring decision (HR, hiring manager, team lead) answer these questions separately. Share your responses at the first meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Clarify the need and scope of the hire before proceeding.

  • Why are we hiring?
  • What are the key skills & experience that the organization (or the specific department) needs in a new team member?
  • Can someone else on the current team do what needs to be done without impacting morale or overworking the team?
  • Does this require a new full-time person or would a contractor be sufficient?
  • How much extra productivity/revenue would this person have to bring to the team/company to make a new hire or contractor worthwhile?
  • What is our company / department culture?
  • What personality type would definitely not work well given our culture?
  • What personality type would be the best fit for our current and future needs?
  • If we are going to hire someone which of the following is truest about our situation:
Criteria Years of Experience

Junior (1-3 Years)
Intermediate (3-5 Years)
Senior (5+ Years)
Meets ALL technical requirements; Does NOT require on-the-job training; Can LEAD a team

Meets ALL technical requirements; Does NOT require on-the-job training; solid team member;

Meets MOST technical requirements; Requires some training, in the form of SELF-LEARNING potential to become a leader

Meet MOST technical requirements; Some company training provided;

Meets MOST technical requirements; will be a solid team member;

Meets SOME technical requirements; right culture fit; trainable

Be clear with yourself, the hiring manager and anyone else involved in the decision about the extent to which you are willing to train your new hire. If you’re not prepared to do any training, that’s fine. The important thing is to be clear and consistent in your communication with new hires — DO NOT promise training and then fail to provide it.

If you would like a PDF of the clarifying questions posed above and the matrix of your requirements, click here.

Step 2 Skills Definition — Putting Together The Information For Writing The Job Description

The job description should be written by one person with input from key stakeholders in the process:

Consider what you already know about the job so that you don’t re-invent the wheel. Is there an HR manual with a thorough outline of the duties and responsibilities of this role? Is there someone currently in the same or similar role who you could ask to describe their role and all that it entails or review the final description for accuracy? Have you seen a recent posting from another company that sounded similar to the role that you are filling? Do a quick job search before you begin writing, to see what is out there. Who else is looking? How much are the roles paying? Get whatever intelligence you can from internal and external sources.

If you have posted for this position before and you have the job description, meet with the team and determine if the description is still relevant to the job, the company, and the market. How successful was the job posting previously? (In advertizing lingo, how well did it “pull”?) Revise the job description as necessary.

If you are starting from scratch, have one person write so that it has a consistent feel throughout. Then have the technical hiring manager provide input on the technical requirements and the day-to-day expectations. HR, on the other hand, is best positioned to describe the company’s business, culture, perks and benefits. Once the description is done, the hiring manager MUST review the description to ensure that the technical side of the role has been accurately depicted.

Step 3 – Formatting the Job Description

Title Section: We are looking for someone with this title or who can do this job

I prefer to make a job title very specific and unambiguous. This saves my own time and that of the applicants. For example, if I post an ad for a Business Intelligence Developer, this could attract applicants with inappropriate skills from the myriad of business intelligence platforms and tools. There is no use in having people with experience in Business Objects and Microsoft apply when I am specifically looking for a Cognos BI developer.

Furthermore, I will mention the oldest version of the software that they should be familiar with. If I’m running Cognos 9 then someone with Cognos 7 or older is not a good fit because there were major changes brought in with Cognos 8. I also mention the experience level of the resource I’m looking for and sometimes the industry, if I deem it relevant. Rather than, “BI Developer” my title might now read “Intermediate Cognos 8 Business Intelligence Developer for Large Healthcare Organization”.

Position Summary Section: If you are this person and have these skills — you should apply.

My suggestion is to open with a one or two line description of the company, the role and perhaps why you’re hiring.

Arborio Semiconductor is a 5-year-old fabless semi-conductor company currently expanding into new markets. Our fast growth has meant expansion in all of our departments and as a result we are currently hiring an experienced intermediate systems administrator to manage our largely Microsoft -based environment.

This first paragraph gives people a sense of the company and the role. This encourages those with the skills and interest to read further. With any luck, it also wards off those who are not suitable.

In the second paragraph you go into the heart of the description of just exactly what the ideal candidate will be doing:

As a Systems Administrator, you will be one of three people on our infrastructure team responsible for the day-to-day monitoring, maintenance and administration of all production and development servers. The environment is fully virtualized with VMWare and Microsoft servers. These servers run our internal corporate systems, design systems, QA and external customer systems. Besides the technical aspects you will be involved in business requirements definition, functional and technical specification writing. Additionally, you will be customer/vendor facing so you must be able to communicate your ideas well in writing and in person.

Other aspects of the role include the following:

  • Install, administer, tune, support and troubleshoot the full suite of Microsoft Server applications, including Active Directory and Exchange, Sharepoint, SQL, IIS, ISA, SMS, as well as VMware engineering & support, SAN and Netbackup
  • Install, administer, support, tune, and troubleshoot corporate systems such as PeopleSoft CRM, Epicore and Strata
  • Provide system, service, and process documentation
  • Assist in translating business requirements into functional and technical specifications
  • Assist in defining the IT design methodology and best practices
  • Participate in the evaluation of vendor software targeted for possible integration into the systems or environment, including strategic applications, tools, and utilities.
  • Support the evaluation and selection of enterprise server hardware, operating systems, administrative toolsets, and performance management systems.

You are a strong team player who also knows how to work collaboratively and effectively with other teams. You are a natural problem solver with excellent analytical skills. You possess strong written and verbal communication skills and have a track record of producing well-written documentation. Your excellent time management and organization skills allow you to stay on top of things. You stay calm under pressure and bring a sense of fun to your job and team.

The next section could either have bullet points simply listing the specific key technologies or provide a little more details as I’ve done below:

The aspects of this role that we REQUIRE you to have are the following:

  • A minimum of 4 years experience in a Microsoft systems administrator role supporting a multi-server environment running Microsoft 2003 and 2008 Servers, Active Directory and Exchange 2003 and 2007.
  • A minimum of 3 years supporting VMWare 3.0 or later
  • Office Sharepoint Server 2007 or later
  • Solid experience in SAN Architecture and Administration
  • SQL Scripting
  • Enterprise class back-up and recovery: Symantec Netbackup (preferred), Lynx, Acronis

We also have some Nice-To-Have criteria. These include:

  • Prior experience working in a 24/7 high-availability environment
  • MCITP, MCSA or MCSE or other relevant industry certifications
  • Previous experience supporting PeopleSoft CRM

With the last paragraph give a sense of what the company culture and pace of the organization is like as you want to attract people that will be on the same wavelength as the rest of your team. In this example, there are definitely people who will thrive in a start-up and others who will hate the experience and not at all be a good fit. You also want to give a sense of the compensation and benefits.

Who We Are

Arborio Semiconductor, founded in 2008 and based in Vancouver, is a global supplier of high performance semiconductor products for the gaming industry. Our chipsets are found in 25% of all of the slot machines in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Macau. We are a high-energy company revolutionizing the way people play games of chance providing compelling graphics, interactivity and an enhanced user experience. We hire great people with intelligence, talent and vision and let them innovate.

The company was ranked a Top 50 Employer in BC in 2011. We provide a generous salary and benefits package, support our employees in having work-life balance and provide a health-spending account.

In this section I feel the wording is very important. Many companies will say, ”if you are interested in this position” — frankly, I’m “interested” in a lot of roles, but I’m not qualified for most of them. This type of wording invites anyone and everyone to apply. That’s not what you want.

How to Apply

If your skills and experience closely match what we’re looking for and you’re interested in this position, please send your cover letter and resume in MS Word or PDF format to us, in confidence, at: careers@arboriosemiconductor.com

Optional: You may also want to let candidates know your time frame, process or simply thank them for applying and let them know what to expect. For example you might add a paragraph under “How to Apply” that says,

For those who apply, we thank you for your time and interest in Arborio Semiconductor. We expect to have someone hired by X-date e.g. August 30th. If you haven’t heard from us by August 1st then we have chosen someone else and we wish you much success with your search.

Some people may find the plain speaking of the second sentence somewhat blunt but at least people know where they stand.

If you are in an industry that may not be attractive to people on moral, ethical or religious grounds (gambling, porn, tobacco, alcohol) I recommend that you say so at the very end either in the paragraph asking them to apply or in a separate note below that. The reality is that for some people it will be exciting and enticing that you are in that specific industry. For those who feel the opposite, it is better to be upfront and save everyone time.

Note: We are a successful company in the gambling industry and are committed to adding value to our main core group of clients, which are casinos and horse racetracks.

Step 4 – Writing The Job Description

Once you are clear that you need a resource, and have defined what you need, and how to lay it out, then the writing is simple.

The format of the job description will likely remain the same for any job that you post but the content may change.

Use appropriate language, and emphasize the relevant aspects of the job, company and benefits, depending on who you are aiming to attract.

Bear in mind that although the document may be called a job description and be kept in an HR binder, it is really a marketing document. What it says and how it is written speaks loudly about the company and either reinforces or detracts from the stated brand image and promise in the eyes of your internal and external audience. It can signal the company’s level of professionalism and could even indicate how well the company is doing financially or how successful it is at keeping its people – morale and culture. Along with employees and candidates other constituencies who will be reading your posting are: competitors, recruiters, vendors, reporters and HR practitioners.

With that preamble, I hope that I have impressed upon you the importance with which you should take writing your job description. Ensure that it is well thought out, that you are very clear on exactly what would constitute the ideal candidate as that will come through in your writing.

Step 5 – Reviewing & Editing The Job Description

As I mentioned earlier, have one person (HR or the most proficient writer) write the copy so that it has a consistent voice throughout. This person should either interview others like the hiring manager who has the strongest domain knowledge in a technical area, for example. This allows the writer to formulate thoughts in their own words and also clarify immediately that they have the requirements correct. If an interview is not possible then the technical expert or hiring manager should summarize clearly and concisely what they are looking for and the writer should put in into their own words.

The writer should do a first draft, send it around for comment and correction and then do a final version. Ensure that the final text is proof read by someone who is not on the hiring team but who has a strong command of English. Do not publish it until it has been proofread.

If you would like a PDF of the clarifying questions posed above and the matrix of your requirements, click here.