How to Write a Job Description

The Problems

Description of the Company

When you look at the careers page and job ads at your company, the first thing you are likely to notice is that there’s a pitch about why your company is great, which is usually just boilerplate stuff that doesn’t distinguish your company from many others (“our people are our biggest asset” and all that fertilizer). In fact, if you’ve been working there long enough, you might even get a good chuckle at how overly-idealized your company sounds relative to your and others’ experiences. You might even learn random fun-facts about your company that don’t actually matter and are a waste of time for all but the most staunch history buffs.

Overview of the Position

Continuing to read a job ad past the company homage, you find an overview of the role that contains so much in it that you might as well light the Bat-Signal. It basically says that the new hire needs to interface with a bunch of different teams and create deliverables for each of them, all while doing both menial and high-level tasks that cover a range of skillsets too broad for even two people. To get all of this done each year, someone would probably need to put in 80–100 hours in the light weeks. Usually, this sort of position description happens because there has been no communication among the various stakeholders that need tasks completed. They all sent wish lists to HR and hoped for the best, and HR, not knowing exactly how to prioritize these wish lists, concatenated them into an impossible amalgam of roles-goals-tasks. This massive conglomeration is so extensive that applicants will be left guessing if they have the right stuff to apply and/or writing cringe-worthy amounts in their resumes and cover letters.

List of Tasks/Deliverables

Further down in a company’s ad, the list of tasks/deliverables is probably reminding you of the opening theme of Superman. Even if it doesn’t, you probably have a list that’s at least 8–10 items long (imagine putting that many items in your resume about your current job!), which probably contains such broad strokes that no candidate can propose a way to reasonably fulfill all of it. In other cases, the set of requirements is so generic that every employee of every company needs to do it! Just pulling up some random job descriptions (you’ve heard of some of the companies that provided them, too), I found things like:

  • “Strengthen [company’s] position as an elite [field] organization for all key stakeholders”
  • “Conduct cross-functional client workshops”
  • “Analyze and explain changes in the company’s key performance indicators”
  • “Communicate insights on a regular basis to the appropriate level of management.”

Credentials

How relevant are these in your job and those of your coworkers? Barring legal requirements, they often don’t matter. When I see things like “bachelor’s degree from a top-tier university” I actually start laughing, if only because the notion is pretty random when you stop and think about it. Degrees rarely matter beyond the entry-level (if that!), and the number of years of experience also doesn’t matter. Both may correlate with high-performance, but what matters most is the actual experiences someone has. It’s possible to be a VP in a dead-end job for years and to stagnate, and also to be in an entry-level job for two years and get amazing stuff done.

The Solution

Description of the Company

Begin with a blurb about what the company does, why it exists, its unique value proposition, and a quick overview of some unique facets of the company culture. It should be a statement that people in the company, from top to bottom, understand and agree with.

Overview of the Position, Tasks, and Deliverables

Get the key stakeholders together in one room, and find out what everyone needs — this won’t be a short meeting, but it will be very effective if you pre-game correctly using the following procedure:

Credentials

Don’t bother with silly requirements like a particular degree, and focus instead on what you want candidates to show you that they can do. Often, the people who can perform at the required level end up having the degrees and years of experience you would have put down anyway, but you may get some really cool surprises.

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Orin Davis

Orin Davis

Self-actualization engineer who makes workplaces great places to work. PI at Quality of Life Lab (www.qllab.org). Consultant. Professor. Startup Advisor.