We need to change how we write job ads in tech.

Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash

Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment? Are you a rockstar at your job? How about an enthusiastic problem-solver? Do you have a proven track record? What about a strong understanding of skill X? Do you feel comfortable with uncertainty? Are you able to multitask? Are you a fast learner? A self-starter?

If you are in tech, I’m almost certain these words are familiar to you.

Not only do most tech job postings cram a surprisingly large number of superfluous, generic, obvious and subjective wording into nearly every sentence, they tend to follow a very predictably misguided and lengthy format.

Usually it starts with a few paragraphs describing the company (punctuated by one or two vanity metrics) and summarises the role. The middle sags, overpopulated by a reem of bullet point responsibilities and requirements/ qualifications with “bonus” requirements frequently tacked on the end. And if you aren’t overwhelmed by this point, the end is wrapped up with a few final words on benefits, how amazing the work culture is (of course) and how they are an equal opportunities employer.

The typical job post somehow manages to say both a lot and yet not much at all. Perhaps this in itself could suffice as a red flag.

The purpose of a job ad is not just to describe a job opening, but to attract quality candidates. It is one of the first interactions future employees will have with your company. Not only does the job ad set first impressions, but the quality of it is likely going to influence the quality of the candidate. If you write a mediocre job ad without putting much thought into it, then perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised if you get mediocre candidates that didn’t put much thought into reading it.

But writing a good job advertisement doesn’t mean you need to write a lot, throw around flashy numbers or boast about your hipster workplace culture. It just means you need to understand what real people want to know. And it’s rather straight forward.

  1. Compensation: “How much will I get paid?”
  2. Qualifications: “What is required to apply for the job?”
  3. Job details: “What will be expected of me?”

That’s pretty much it, and preferably in that order.

Your company’s number of clients, or sales per year, or summer pool parties, or egg-freezing programme rarely warrants the real estate it normally gets on the page. As much as you’d like to believe that people want to work for your company because of its vision or size, the hard truth is that the vast majority just want get paid fairly for doing a job with reasonable expectations that they can find some joy in. Everything else is secondary. The more you use your job advert to connect and show you’re in touch with humanity, the better. For diving a bit deeper, I’d highly recommend reading the book Nine Lies About Work.

I’m no expert in writing job descriptions, but I have written a few over the years and done my best to put myself in the shoes of the candidate. Here are just a few tips that might help you avoid writing just another generic job description that turns the right candidates away:

  1. Share the salary range.
  2. Unless you’re looking for candidates with patience, keep it short and to the point. A recruiter once gave me some great advice. Never use more than eight bullet points to describe the responsibilities of a role. If you can’t narrow the description down to eight points, you either don’t know what you’re looking for, or you want someone to do the job of five people.
  3. By all means introduce the company, but avoid aggrandising the organisation with numbers that don’t mean much.
  4. Drop the “bonus” requirements. You either require the candidate to have it or you don’t.
  5. No need to get clever. Speak plainly. Avoid jargon and internal abbreviations.
  6. If you’re going to say you are an “equal opportunity employer”, the absolute minimum you should do is at least run it through a gender decoder to ensure you’re candidate funnel isn’t just going to consist of white, middle-aged men.
  7. And one last point — add a few sentences on what to expect from the hiring process. Most candidates send their applications into a blackhole with no idea what comes next. Give them a helping hand or settle some nerves by being transparent.

Writing a good job advertisement does take time, but it will be easier for everyone in the long run if you spend it wisely.



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Austin Mackesy-Buckley

An Agile Coach and dad who writes from time to time about his thoughts and experiences of work and life.