A few tips from my 20+ years of writing job descriptions:
Put First Things First
The most important rule of the first sentence of a job description (or anything you write) is to get the candidate to read the NEXT sentence!
So, you should always put the most important information first.
- Your opening lines of a JD should describe the main benefit(s) of the job as that’s what’s most important to the candidate.
- A Responsibilities section should lead off with the most powerful bullet, followed by the second most powerful bullet, etc.
- Requirements should likely include the number of years of experience as the first one or two bullets because that’s typically one of the one or two most important requirements.
You should never assume that the reader is going to read the second sentence in a paragraph or the last bullet in a set of bullets.
This is not to say that the content towards the end of the job description is not important.
It’s ok if you have a really important piece of content (like salary or benefits) towards the end of the JD because other sections need to go first (e.g. Responsibilities/Requirements, etc.). This is ok as long as the job description sections are formatted clearly.
That way, the reader can quickly scan down to see where Comp/Benefits are included.
“Think Like Google”
The world is specialized and it pays to be as specific/unique as possible in describing a job. This should include rich keywords such as industry phrases, brands and product names.
Those are the words that catch the eye of a candidate. E.g.
- A data scientist wants to know if SAS (a tool) is a requirement.
- Internal Product Names — Candidates are interested in knowing the name of the product they work on (e.g. at Disney, many new hires are working on a new product called “Movies Anywhere” — that’s an important brand name that belongs in the JD.
When writing job descriptions, you don’t have to be an expert at what these tools/products are — you just need to be an expert at SPOTTING them and including them in the copy!
A lot of job descriptions have fluffy/vague words such as:
Those words are often necessary but don’t overuse them.
If you have too many of these fluffy words you’ll be watering down your job description. Neither candidates nor Google (for search engine optimization) value this.
What’s great about Google is that they are experts in words (in SEO, this is called Keyword Density) and they are a proxy for the candidate.
So if you use a higher/denser percentage of rich keywords (see “Think Like Google” above) and minimize fluffy words, then Google will more effectively relay your job descriptions to candidates.
And candidates reading your keyword-dense job descriptions will more quickly determine if the job is a good fit.
Keep Sentences “Short and Punchy”
It’s been proven that readers start losing attention when they read a lengthy sentence (see Write Tight Sentences Like the Times.):
- When the average sentence length is 8 word sentences, readers understood 100% of the story
- At 14 words, the understanding rate drops to 90%
- At 43 words per sentence it was below 10% understanding rate
My advice for job description length: Keep sentences to a range of 8 to 13 words per sentence.
A tip for keeping your sentences shorter — Search your sentences for a comma or any conjunction such as:
…and replace that with a period (i.e. break the sentence up into two!).
Unfortunately, many of us grow up with academics teaching us how to write and they recommend that paragraphs be 3 to 8 sentences.
But those are academics. They are not copywriters. Check out this passage from CopywritingTipsGuide:
Long paragraphs dominate in academic writing. Copywriting is closer in paragraph pattern to journalism. One- or two-sentence paragraphs rule the pages of brochures, advertisements, webpages.
My Recommendation: When you’re writing a job description (and a JD is a job ad!), then stick to an average of 2 sentences per paragraph. It’s ok to do a 3-sentence paragraph and, yes, it’s also ok to write a 1-sentence paragraph!
Active Voice Versus Passive Voice
Most sentences should be written as follows: [Subject] then [Verb] then [Object].
For instance, here’s active voice (good):
“Tesla is innovating the field of energy.”
Here’s passive voice (bad):
“The field of energy has been innovated by Tesla.”
The passive version is more poorly written because it’s clumsy and longer.
There are exceptions of course. When you’re writing in the style of Plain English, it’s encouraged to be conversational.
So, it’s perfectly ok to write a sentence that reads: “Let’s innovate!” because it’s short and punchy!
1st/2nd Person Versus 3rd Person
Do you know that an Apple iPhone ad was measured for words and the words “you” and “your” were mentioned 110 times (more than any other phrase in the ad including “iPhone” and “Apple”.
Writing sales copy for an ad and writing job descriptions are no different in this way.
Writing in first person (“We” and “Our)/second person (“you” and “your”) has the critical advantage over 3rd person (“It”, “[name of company], “[name of job]”, etc.) because it is more conversational.
Here’s an example of 1st/2nd person style:
We welcome you to join us as a data scientist at Apple
Here’s 3rd person style:
Apple is looking for a data scientist to join its team
It can take an employer a while to switch fully to 1st/2nd person. Usually, that’s because they’ve been using 3rd person in their job descriptions for a long time so anything else feels radical.
Break Things Up with Bullets
Bullets are a great way to break up a job description for easy candidate reading. A few rules of thumb for bullets include:
- Use bullets for around 30% of your job description words;
- Make your first bullet the most important bullet (this is a reminder of “Put First Things First” mentioned above;
- Don’t use the same word to start 2 bullets in a row (the candidate will perceive you as lazy)
Did you notice how the bullets I just used above helped break up this section and article? 😉
Don’t Always Spell Out Numbers
Numbers are a great way to give the reader a break in reading letters. So, err on the side of using the numeral instead of spelling out the number.
We are a top 3 brand in cloud computing
is preferable over
We are a top three brand in cloud computing
The candidate will appreciate the break you’re giving their eyes!
It’s OK to Start a Sentence with “And” or But”
Again, forget what your English teacher told you (unless she was a copywriter for Ogilvy Advertising!) about how to start a sentence.
It’s ok to start job description sentences with And, But or However if makes the copy more conversational.
“And, you get to enjoy are amazing 401K too!”
Ongig’s software analyzes job description text for diversity, positive sentiment and keyword density. We also have a professional copywriting team to rewrite job descriptions for you.