Poorly written job descriptions share certain things in common.
I’ve analyzed (by hand) many thousands of job descriptions and created this checklist of the”worst job description practices” to avoid.
1. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Have Long Job Titles
The job title is key. It’s usually the first thing a candidate sees.
Job titles with 1 to 3 words had double the apply rate versus those with 12+ words (source: Appcast’s 2018 Recruitment Media Benchmark Report (see the “Shorter job ad titles led to higher apply rates” section).
In How Long Should a Job Title Be?, we recommend 1 to 3 words or about 10 to 20 characters.
The industry average is 6.1 words and 34.2 characters (more than twice as long as is optimal).
Things to avoid in the job title:
- Names of departments or products that most candidates don’t care about
- The name of your business
- Full-time versus Part-time
- Symbols (!, $, *, etc.)
- Mention of a bonus
2. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Try to Have Clever Job Titles
The “Dean of Copywriters” John Caples said that people often try to be too clever with their headlines.
Here are a few poorly written job titles from 50 of the weirdest job titles (courtesy of Mark Wilkinson, Owner of Coburg Banks (UK Recruitment Agency) along with what Mark interpreted the job to be once he read them:
- Digital Overlord (Website Manager)
- Digital Dynamo (Digital Marketing Executive)
- Dream Alchemist (Head of Creative)
- Chief Chatter (Call Center Manager)
- Beverage Dissemination Officer (Bartender)
A poorly written job title might puzzle the candidate so much that they don’t click through to read your job description.
Keep the job title simple.
3. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Start with “About Us”
Most employers (53.8%) begin their job descriptions with an About Us and it’s usually a mistake. Check out Why Starting Your Job Postings with “About Us” is Usually a Mistake for more details.
The gist of that article is that candidate cares more about themselves than you. So you’re better off starting your JD with something about the position or the team.
And Google agrees.
They give higher weight to the beginning of your job posting. So, if you have an identical About Us-type section in every one of your job ads, Google will consider it duplicative content. Translation: candidates will see your jobs lower on Google’s results pages when they search for a job.
4. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Are Written like Legalese
Since your job descriptions are usually the foundation for your job postings/job ads, you want them written like ad copy…not a legal contract.
One way to measure how readable your job is is to measure your job descriptions by readability according to the U.S. grade level system.
Check out Why I Write my Job Postings at the 8th Grade Reading Level (or Lower!).
Most job descriptions are written at the 11th grade or higher reading level.
Sounds fine, right?
Humans are busy. And the best candidates are REALLY busy.
That’s why you need to write at a much lower grade level.
Take Apple. They are very good at advertising. Did you know that their ads are written at the 4th grade level?
They aren’t trying to advertise to elementary school kids (well, maybe a little bit). No, they are advertising to adults with a lot more cash…but adults who they want to get their message across to in Plain English.
This goes beyond advertising. Mark Twain writes at the 5th grade level. Billionaire Warren Buffett writes at the 8th grade level.
Even the prestigious New York Times writes at a lower grade level (9th grade) than job descriptions.
A couple of tips:
- Make your sentences short.
- Make your paragraphs short.
5. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Are Written in the “3rd Person”
You’re usually best off writing job descriptions in the 1st/2nd person (e.g. using “you” and “we” type language) instead of 3rd person.
Too many job descriptions are written in the 3rd person such as this hypothetical one:
Newco is hiring a Data Scientist…
The job requires lots of math skills…
This role supports a team within the R&D division…
Newco is an equal opportunity employer…
The problem with this writing is that you’re treating the candidate like a cog in the wheel.
If you rewrote the above in the 1st/2nd person lingo, it would look more like this:
We are hiring a Data Scientist…
You are a good fit if you have the following skills…
You will support the R&D division…
We are a diverse company and welcome you to apply if you are qualified…
Isn’t that more conversational?
6. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Have No Questions
As seen in Tip#1 in 7 Examples of Well Written Job Descriptions [With Tips!], using questions in job descriptions makes the job ad more conversational.
You might even open up your job description with a question:
“How would you like to build software used by 48 of the largest companies in the world”
7. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Are Gender-Biased
7 Examples of Unconscious Bias in Job Descriptions pointed out how easy it is to find bias in job descriptions.
You can find them in:
- Job Titles (“Ninja” developer, “salesman”)
- Technology Concepts (“master slave” database architecture)
- Everyday Words (“guys”, “workmanship”, “manpower”, etc.)
These are easy to avoid. Just run your job descriptions through a bias checker like Ongig’s Text Analyzer or Textio. Pricing varies on job description text analyzers but they help you attract better talent and keep you out of lawsuits. It’s often worth the investment for any company hiring more than 100 people per year.
8. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Show Other Bias (Race, Age, Disability)
Poorly written job descriptions aren’t just gender-biased.
Check out and 7 Controversial Stories About Job Descriptions [With Key Learnings] (mentions Walmart (disability bias) and Carefusion (age bias) and 7 Examples of Unconscious Bias in Job Descriptions (mentions Cynet and one other job ad containing race bias).
You can now use bias checkers like Text Analyzer to prevent a job description with these types of biases from going out the door.
9. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Use “Complex Words”
5 Examples of “Complex Words” That Hurt Your Job Ads described 5 instances of using words that are more complex than they need to be.
Did you know that many of the best technical candidates have a learning disability and prefer words with fewer syllables?
A good rule of thumb is that when you have a shorter word to use, use it.
Examples — try using:
- “about” versus “approximately”
- “find” versus “ascertain”
- “more” or “extra” versus “additional”
- “help” versus “assist”
10. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Fail to Have a Benefits Section
This one is Tip #3 from 7 Examples of Well Written Job Descriptions [With Tips!].
Did you know that each benefit you include in your job ad increases your apply rate by 1% to 5%?
But, you might say, you already have your benefits listed in another part of your career site.
That doesn’t matter if the candidate is:
- Coming from a job board
- Finding your job on Google
- Being shared a job link from a recruiter or friend
Even if they came from your careers site, they might have missed your benefits or forgotten by the time they reached your job ad.
The point is that the candidate is at the point of purchase when they are on your job posting. That’s when you can close them with your key Benefits bullets.
11. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Fail to Mention Salary
I know. You might have fear around mentioning salary in your job posting.
All I can tell you is that candidates care about it more than anything else in your job posting.
see This Job Description Heatmap Shows You What Candidates Really Care About (and What they Ignore).
And you don’t have to be exact.
In 10 Easy Ways to Boost a Job Ad’s Apply Rate (Tip #5), we recommend that you could give a salary range or embed a third-party source (e.g. a Glassdoor widget) that shows what others say you pay.
Ongig’s Branded Candidate Experience software is the only solution in the world that can automatically add the Glassdoor and Comparably salary widgets on 100% of your job postings.
12. Poorly Written Job Descriptions Are Inconsistent
Poorly written job descriptions are also inconsistent. Check out 5 Easy Ways to Have More Consistent Job Descriptions. It recommends tips such as having:
- The same order/sequence of job description sections
- Boilerplate sections (e.g. About Us) that aren’t changed from JD to JD
- A single point of view (e.g. 1st/2nd person (preferred) or 3rd person but not both)
- Consistent Length — about the same # of words (employers should avoid writing some job descriptions with 300 words and others with 1,800 words)
For more tips on writing job descriptions, check out How to Write a Job Description — Best Practices & Examples.
Why I wrote this?
We’re passionate (here at Ongig) about writing the best job descriptions. Poorly written job descriptions are the villains we go after and conquer. Ongig’s Text Analyzer helps conquer those villains and turn you and your newly written job descriptions into the hero! Click our demo request button if you’d like to learn more.