You’ve heard me talk about “readability” in job descriptions recently. It’s vital.
I now think of readability as one of the 3 main levers for writing a more effective job description (the other 2 are gender-neutrality and positive sentiment). The more readable your job descriptions, the higher the apply rates (we’ve measured this with machine learning).
Before you read any further, you might want to check out Why I Write my Job Postings at the 8th Grade Reading Level (or Lower!). It explains more on why readability of job descriptions is so important.
But the gist is that the best candidates are busy. They will respond better to JDs written by Mad Men copywriters than they will JDs written like your employee handbook.
Here are 7 tips on how to make your job descriptions more readable:
1. Job Description Length
We see apply rates go down for most job postings that are 700+ words.
At the same time, you can’t be too short. I’ve seen job postings with 150 or fewer words get poor apply rates. This may be because the candidates don’t think it’s a very important job (or a real job at all) if it has just a couple of paragraphs.
I recommend the 300 to 650 words range.
And there are signs that shorter job postings might be trending better. Job postings of less than 300 words received higher apply rates than longer job postings, according to this analysis of 4.5 million job postings on LinkedIn. Textio’s Allie Hall also mentioned this trend in her 2017 talk where she suggests jobs be in the 300 to 700-word range.
Note: Check out our free Job Descriptions Guide — it tells you everything we know about writing job descriptions.
2. Use fewer words per sentence
I recommend you use about 8 to 13 words per sentence. That compares with an average 17 words per sentence in employer job descriptions Ongig has measured.
The shorter your sentences the higher the comprehension rate of candidates.
The American Press Institute found (source):
- 100% comprehension for sentences of 8 words or fewer;
- 90% comprehension for 14-word sentences
- 10% comprehension for 43-word sentences
3. Shorter paragraphs
Most job descriptions have paragraphs that are 3 to 4 or more sentences.
Try using paragraphs that are 1 to 2 sentences — they are easier to read.
A 3-sentence paragraph should be the exception not the rule.
4. Use Easier Words (with fewer syllables!)
Did you know that 1 in five students, or 15-20% of the population, has a language-based learning disability (Dyslexia is the most common).
I was one of them.
Many candidates with Dyslexia will have a hard time reading words with multiple syllables.
Here are some examples of words/phrases that have easier synonyms with fewer syllables:
- Personnel (use “team”)
- Is responsible for (use “handles”)
- Require or Requirement (use “need”)
- Regarding (use “about”, “of” or “on”)
- Implement (use “install” or “put in place”
- Purchase (use “buy”)
I love this stuff — it’s fun to cut the fat!
Here’s a shortcut:
You can cut out many adverbs because they are often 3 or more syllables and are not needed (see #7 tip below!).
5. Give your reader eye-breaks
Candidates often reject job descriptions whose strings of text that are too long.
Try giving the candidate a reading break by using:
- Bullets — try looking at a job description with zero bullets versus one with about 30% of the content bulleted
- Using numbers (“7”) and not spelling out the numeral (“seven”)
- Try using symbols when you can. Did you notice that I used “700+ words” in tip #1 above instead of “more than 700 words” (my way is shorter and gives the reader a break)
- Have clean section headings (About You, About Us, etc.)
6. Write in a conversational way
My two best tips for you to write in a more conversational way are to:
- Ask questions: e.g.
“How would you like to help create a product that millions of people might use?” (e.g. for a software developer)
“How would you like to get paid while we train you to sell?” (e.g. an entry level sales rep)
- Write in the first person/2nd person — e.g. Using “We/Our” (first person) and “You/Your” (second person)
7. Eliminate most adverbs
Take this sentence from a Fortune 100 company job description Ongig analyzed:
“You could potentially work on board room presentations” (if you take out the word “potentially” the sentence has the same meaning).
Here are some over-used adverbs that, if deleted, take nothing away from the value of the sentence:
Deleting adverbs could save you 10+ words per job description AND make it more readable for 100% of your candidates including those who are a bit slower to read.
You’ll also notice that many adverbs are 3 or more syllables (see tip #4 above). Most adverbs in job descriptions are just plain not needed!
If you want your job descriptions to be more readable, you might go read my article on 5 Free Tools to Write Better Job Descriptions. For even more tips on writing job descriptions, check out How to Write a Job Description — Best Practices & Examples.
You can also try the Ongig platform. It’s not free but includes readability, positive sentiment, gender-neutrality, video, pictures, ratings and reviews, maps and much, much more! We also have copywriters who can rewrite job descriptions for you.