Writing an effective job description

February 2012 » Columns » SEARCH SAVVY
Jeremy Clarke

Developing a formal job description serves two critical purposes. First, the process forces your hiring team to establish consensus regarding the key characteristics, responsibilities, and requirements of a job. This consensus serves to "calibrate" the hiring team regarding the preferred candidate profile before conducting a search and beginning the selection process. Second, a formal job description can be an incredibly helpful marketing tool to attract talent —€” the right talent, if written correctly. Both outcomes —€” calibration and marketing —€” can produce a more efficient and accurate search, saving your company valuable time and resources.

Characteristics that distinguish great job descriptions fall under three key headings: format; content; and language. Format refers to the general structure of the position description. Content refers to the information provided within each element of the format. Language refers to the use of language to describe and convey the content of each element. This article discusses format; I'll address the content and language components next month.

Format
A good job description is expressed in a format that creates incremental context across four key elements. First, it offers a brief company profile that describes the firm. Second, it offers a brief position summary that ties into the broader company profile. Third, it offers a description of the position responsibilities that support the broader position summary. Finally, it offers a description of the position qualifications that support the broader position responsibilities.

Notice that each element is intended to support contextually the element preceding it. The purpose is to create a cohesive description that brings a vivid and accurate portrayal of the opportunity. We want to attract the most relevant candidates and at the same time hold their qualifications accountable to the overall needs of the position. Here are examples of each element and their respective characteristics, using snippets from a template I designed for use at ZweigWhite:

1) Company profile (narrative, descriptive, concise)
Twice named to the Inc. 500 list of best firms, ZweigWhite is the nation's leader in enhancing business performance for architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting firms. The ZweigWhite team consists of experts over a wide variety of disciplines...

2) Position summary (narrative, descriptive, concise)
ZweigWhite has an exceptional opportunity for a Recruiting Specialist to join our Executive Search Consulting Services team at our corporate offices in Fayetteville, Ark. This role will serve as a critical partner in efforts to identify, attract, and deliver competitive candidates for our clients in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry...

3) Position responsibilities (bulleted, informative, concise to one line)
In Support of ZweigWhite's Executive Search Consulting interests, Recruiting Specialist will be entrusted to:

  • Source candidates through established processes, including research of and participation in...
  • Closely pre-screen applicants prior to submitting to clients for further consideration...

4) Position qualifications (bulleted, resolute, concise to one line)

  • 1-2 years experience in a related research, recruiting, or sourcing capacity.
  • Successful cold-calling and interviewing experience at all levels of a corporation.

Pay close attention to the cohesion across all four elements, each supporting the broader purview of the element preceding it. The goal is to communicate an opportunity by way of a logical format that "paints" a broad, contextual, cohesive picture of the position. The result is a description that is easy on the eyes and more enjoyable to read. The summary elements are informative/narrative summaries. The responsibilities are measureable, attainable, concise, and easy to understand. Finally, the qualifications are structured in a way that endeavors to hold applicants accountable to the resolute requirements of the position.

Much more can be said on this topic. Equally important is the content we deploy in each of these elements and the language we use to convey that content —€” topics for next month's column.

Jeremy Clarke is director, Executive Search Consulting for ZweigWhite. He can be contacted at 479-582-5700 or at jclarke@zweigwhite.com.


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