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5 Secrets to Writing a Job Description that Attracts Top Talent

5 Secrets to Writing a Job Description that Attracts Top Talent

Friday, July 29, 2016/Categories: hiring-and-human-resources

Some parts of running a small IT business can be a drag, like…

But before you can even worry about forming that disc golf team, you need to find and hire the right employees. And while you may be fluent in hrefs and divs, the thought of having to write a job listing might make your stomach churn. Never fear: here's how to write a killer job description into five easy steps.

1. Write for the Candidate, Not for You

Remember, actual humans will read your job description, so try to write it with them in mind. Whether you’re hiring employees, freelancers, or contractors, the listing has to be engaging if it's going to attract good candidates.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

  • Think about the title. “Although titles can be meaningless, they affect the way a job is advertised, pulled up in search engines, and perceived by applicants,” says PJ Ogden, a sales engineering recruiter at (@BettsRecruiting). “Having a title that is too specific may prevent your job from appearing under search queries. Alternatively, a generic title that doesn’t indicate any experience level or department can attract unqualified candidates.”
  • Job descriptions should speak to the candidate. “Always use the word ‘you’ in the job description,” says Marissa Letendre (@therightrecruit), a recruiter and Certified People Sourcing Professional (CPSP). “It increases engagement and allows candidates to envision themselves in the role.”
  • Consider the role from your applicant’s perspective. “The best job descriptions stand out by writing for the audience, not for yourself,” says Sonja Hastings (@sonhastings), software and tech sales recruiter at . “If your job description reads something like 'Dear Santa, I want…' you’re not doing it right.”

2. List Specific Job Duties and Desired Skills, but Be Realistic

List the job's core responsibilities and duties, but make it concise. The goal is to give the applicant a sense of what it would actually be like to work at your company.

“Paint an accurate, but brief, picture of what they can expect within the current culture and workplace environment,” says Chad MacRae (@HeRecruits), founder of (@RecruitingSoc).

And be careful not to turn your job description into a wish list full of skills or experience few candidates will have. It can make you look out of touch and might turn off potential applicants.

“I can’t tell you how many developers roll their eyes and pass over postings that list, ‘Must have five years of experience with X,’ where X represents a technology that’s only been on the market for two years,” says John Chapin (@johncchapin), a software developer and consultant at (@capitaltech). “Good programmers are going to recognize that the set of developers that have five years of experience in a technology that has existed for two is zero… and they’re going to move on to the next ad.”

3. Focus on Hiring the Right Person, Not on Sounding Cool

As our work culture has become more casual, so have job descriptions, especially in industries like tech. The result can be disastrous.

Think twice before you post something like: “Looking for amazing tech demi-god to create world-class code that will make clients’ minds explode at how much awesomeness you are throwing down! When you need to take a break, we’ve got a fridge stocked with endless snacks and Red Bull!!!

Don’t be that person.

“Don’t say you’re looking for a superstar, rock star, or ninja to work in your company,” says Chapin. “You’re likely discouraging applicants that see such language as the mark of a boss with unrealistic expectations. You’re probably also discouraging women from applying by referencing gender-stereotyped characters and depicting a workplace where they’re not going to be seen as a professional.”

And while snacks are awesome and frankly, all offices should stock them, maybe don’t lead with that.

“Do not talk about free snacks unless you want to attract people who are very interested in snacking,” says Hastings. “Instead, talk about what makes you different, where they company is going, and the journey ahead.”

4. Don’t Make it Hard to Apply

Make the application process as smooth as possible. Writing a cover letter is time-consuming enough. If you’re going to make an applicant spend another 45 minutes filling out your online application, expect a lot fewer candidates.

“There are so many modern and streamlined applicant tracking systems that make your life easier – and the lives of your candidates,” says Letendre. “Application abandonment rates are extremely high when the application takes forever. There’s no need to make a candidate fill out their work history again when they are including a resume.”

5. Easily Eliminate Candidates Who Lack Attention to Detail

If you’re worried about being inundated with too many responses, you could try including a simple test in your listing to weed out some of the initial applicants.

“No matter what position in my organization I'm hiring for, there are two easily-tested qualities that I want every employee to have,” says Ed Brancheau, an SEO expert and the CEO of (@Goozleology). They are…

  1. The ability to follow simple instructions.
  2. The ability to pay attention to details.

“We simply test each applicant by asking, ‘Can you follow simple instructions?’ And then we instruct them to start each cover letter with, ‘Yes, I can follow simple instructions.’ 90 percent of applicants don't do this simple step and it’s really easy to delete their applications.”

For more on hiring, check out our article “5 Ways IT Professionals Can Attract & Keep Top Employees.”

About the Contributors

Ed Brancheau

Ed Brancheau is an SEO expert and the CEO of Goozleology in San Diego. He helps businesses worldwide create detailed, actionable digital marketing blueprints and establishes his clients' online presence to dominate their competition.

John Chapin

John Chapin is a software developer and consultant at Capital Technology Services. He has 17 years of experience in the software development industry, primarily in the healthcare and government sectors. As a software development manager at an agency in Nashville, John built several development teams working with small and medium businesses as well as large corporate entities, including Caterpillar Financial. His recent experience includes contract engagements on special projects with HealthStream Inc., as well as developing applications and IT strategy for healthcare startup Milligram Inc.

Sonja Hastings

Sonja Hastings is an executive software and tech sales recruiter at Optimal Sales Search. She has more than a decade of recruitment experience placing mid-to-senior level professionals in executive positions. Sonja has worked with software firms at a variety of stages to place key sales talent and leadership positions. Her functional recruiting expertise is in sales. In this capacity, she has worked with CEOs, chief revenue officers, VPs of sales, and human resource leaders to recruit and hire key sales and sales leadership talent.

Marissa Letendre

Marissa Letendre is an accomplished recruiter and Certified People Sourcing Professional. She has worked as a recruiter and resume writer, giving her an understanding of the industry from both the candidate and employer perspective.

Chad McRae

Chad MacRae is the founder of Recruiting Social, a Los Angeles- and Vancouver-based recruitment company that donates 10 percent of profits to education charities. He has more than 10 years of recruiting experience and has worked in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East. Chad lives and works in Los Angeles. Follow him on Instagram @herecruits.

PJ Ogden

PJ Ogden is a sales engineering recruiter at Betts Recruiting, a company that brings a customized approach to each search – ensuring that hiring managers find the best person for each position they are looking to fill and working with each individual candidate to understand their goals, career growth, and experience. Previously, Ogden was a research and recruiting associate at NEXT Strategic Search and a search engine optimization associate at

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