POSTED: October 03 2018
Modern mistakes when writing job descriptions

Modern mistakes when writing job descriptions

With more competition for jobs it’s tough to write a job description in a world where skills quickly become out-of-date. With the help of Investors in People we look at how organisations need to market themselves with attractive, compelling adverts that give an honest appraisal of the job.

Check against the IIP’s list of seven modern mistakes organisations make when writing job descriptions.

Non-standard job titles

There’s been a rise in non-standard job titles, with the most commonly-cited being the Chief Happiness Officer. This is driven by several trends: firstly, the increasingly generalist nature of roles makes job titles harder to define. Secondly, organisations are trying to ‘humanise’ the workplace, which includes job titles.

Some companies use non-standard roles to attract more candidates and stand out in crowded markets. It’s hard for candidates to compare these positions to others or judge whether they are suitable, because it’s often not clear what type of background or career path the organisation is looking for.

Yet non-standard job titles are not bad per se and can be an effective way to bring in new talent. It’s exciting (and can be culturally-stimulating) to create a new role with no historical precedent, but bear in mind that you’ll need to include more ‘orienting’ information so that prospective candidates can both judge their suitability and tailor their application.

Overpromising to attract candidates

Job descriptions should sell reality and a vision of the future. People understand that roles have both good and bad points and you should be honest about the less exciting aspects of the role. You also need to be honest about where the job will go in the future – the career prospects.

And even if you’re being honest on growth prospects, be careful you aren’t overpromising on timeframes. If you tell a prospective candidate they’ll be able to ‘build a dream team of five people,’ but this will rely on consistent business growth over the next five years, you need to make this obvious, or risk creating a flight risk due to unmatched expectations.

Failing to indicate salary

Modern recruitment software makes initial sifts easier and less time-consuming, which encourages organisations to ‘cast the net wide.’ One way of doing this is by leaving out indicative salaries, in the hope that more candidates will apply.

This gives you the flexibility to hire a less-qualified or more-qualified person with different salary expectations, but it may discourage applications from qualified candidates. Why? Because people naturally assume that organisations leave off salary details when they are underpaying relative to the market.

Salary remains a reasonably reliable indicator of seniority, responsibility, career status and more and helps prospective candidates judge their suitability. If you’re worried about putting people off, use a salary range – but make sure it’s not too wide (see below).

Too wide a salary range

Putting too wide a salary range can have the same effect as not putting a salary range: it stops candidates assessing whether they are qualified to apply. It may indicate to people that you don’t really know what you want and you’ve not efficiently benchmarked your salaries to get someone appropriate to the role and position.

You may put people off applying because, at some organisations, company policy is to start candidates at the bottom of the salary range. Too high a salary range may also end up overrewarding employees, which some researchers believe is as detrimental as underreward.

On the positive side, realistic salary ranges may encourage applications from women. Research suggests that women apply for jobs when they meet 100% of the criteria, while men apply when they meet 60% of the criteria, so a salary range may encourage applications from women for whom the job would be a step up in salary.

Overweighting small parts of the job

What companies think should go into job descriptions is dictated and influenced by what they think job seekers are looking for. This can lead to job descriptions that give candidates an unclear picture of the core features of the job.

Autonomy is a good example. Since autonomy is considered a core part of what makes a ‘quality job’ nowadays, organisations are keen to big up autonomy and freedom in job descriptions. But there’s a degree of autonomy and freedom in every role and it’s important that job descriptions don’t overplay the hand.

This can create significant interpersonal friction after the candidate starts working, because their expectations of autonomy may collide with very different expectations from their line managers and colleagues.

Is autonomy (or any job quality) a fundamental part of the role or is it a small part of it? Be specific: even if it’s only a small part of it, you can mention it as long as you qualify and quantity your claims. This helps candidates judge whether the role is suited to their needs.

Failing to address timeframes/interview steps

Job descriptions should (realistically) appeal and excite to encourage applications, but don’t forget that simple things like unhelpful or unclear timings may prevent applications. When will you look to make an appointment? When will you interview candidates? Will you initially interview by phone and then move to face-to-face interviews?

People lead busy lives and need to plan in advance. This is especially true for those with caring responsibilities. And don’t forget that people often accommodate interviews without telling their current employer. Your timings and their timings need to coincide. Be as flexible as possible and as clear as possible.

Not being granular enough when it comes to flexible working

Many job descriptions say that flexible working is ‘offered’ but don’t really say what the options are. This may indicate a flexible working policy that is poorly defined and therefore the actual flexible working options rely on a personal conversation between line manager and employee.

But those who most value flexible working will typically need more granular information about what’s offered. Is it core hours? Compressed hours? A nine-day fortnight? Just paid time off for medical appointments?

There are degrees of flexibility and for many people their application may be dependent on the flexibility offered matching the flexibility necessary to suit their lifestyle, such as parents or – as mentioned above – those with caring responsibilities.

advo is an Investors in People Gold employer.


You can view more articles like this at the IIP Knowledge hub. Click here.