The art of the job description

Ever seen those job descriptions with 200 job duties and 300 qualifications and nothing about the people or the purpose? Gee, you probably said, sounds fun. I’d love to work there.

You don’t want the perfect jobseeker to pass your job posting by. And you don’t want robo-resumes from underqualified job candidates. How can you craft a job description that helps, not hinders, the hiring process?

Writing a job description is marketing. It’s  selling your organization–mission, culture, and brand—to the candidate you want.

Last week we talked about where to post your opening. Today, some dos and don’ts of the standout job description.

1. Headline the mission of your organization. Jobseekers should understand your purpose and values right away.

2. Briefly explain your structure and operating model. Include budget, staff size, where your money comes from and your key programs.

3. Describe the vibe. Give jobseekers a sense of your organizational culture. Everyone wants a job that’s fun and interesting. (But don’t lie. You might need to actually make the job fun and interesting first. And don’t use the word “dynamic.”) Market what matters, like “we brainstorm over Thursday night tacos and Friday is Bring your Dog to Work Day.”

4. Who is your ideal candidate? Craft one good sentence about the skills, personality, and background you’re hoping to find.

5. Thoughtfully frame the job. State the key responsibilities, framing them as opportunities rather than drudgery.

6. It’s a description of the job, not the person leaving it. A new hire is an opportunity to thoroughly analyze and articulate what your organization needs. Your mental starting point shouldn’t be “everything the last guy did.”

7. Don’t be vague. “Support the program directors in accomplishing their goals”? Waste of space.

8. You’re not a sweatshop. Don’t list three pages of responsibilities and qualifications. Superwoman doesn’t need a job, so be realistic. (While we’re at it, you’re also not a circus, so let’s not mention juggling, m’kay?)

9. Explain the relationships. Describe how the position works with others, not just through reporting or supervising, but also through collaboration and coordination.

10. A degree is just a degree. Consider honestly whether you need someone with a certain degree. Liberal arts education has a long history of training people to think and write well. Does it really matter whether the candidate got her master’s in Cuban poetry? Probably not, but it does matter that she can analyze questions, articulate ideas, understand people, and solve problems.

11. Technology is transferable. Don’t include a long list of  software applicants must know. If you chose your technology well, it can be taught. If you choose your candidate well, she can be taught.

12. List a salary range. Most useless expression in a job description? “Salary commensurate with experience.” Why waste a candidate’s time, or your own?

13. Brag on your benefits. List the key employee benefits your organization offers, like health insurance, retirement, and professional development.

14. Who you gonna call? Out of respect for candidates and their former employers, don’t ask for references with the resume. Jobseekers shouldn’t have to ask for references for every job they apply to, only those for which they’re being considered. But prepare them: “References will be required from candidates selected for interviews.”

15. Shakespeare would write an awkward cover letter.  If you don’t want to readI believe my skills will be an asset to your blah, blah…,” then say what do you want to read. The cover letter should be a writing sample and an introduction to the candidate as a person. Ensure you don’t get formulaic cover letters by giving guidelines. Organizer: “Describe your vision for racial justice.” Artistic director: “What is your favorite opera and why?” Health counselor: “In your experience, what are the best pathways to promote smoking cessation and dietary change?”

Agree? Disagree? Got any tips to share for nonprofit job descriptions?


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