Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Ensuring Your Job Description is Realistic

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When looking to fill a position, it’s not uncommon to craft what you feel is a great job description. Yet, only to find that you’re not attracting candidates who even come close to meeting your requirements, or, attracting any candidates at all.

The problem isn’t necessarily that there isn’t a strong match for the role. The problem could be that the job description itself is a little out in left field. There are several critical components to keep in mind as you look at how to write a description that will not only get the attention of applicants but also paint the appropriate picture of the position and your organization.

Be a Recruiter First

It’s easy to get lost in the technical aspects of a job description. What are the duties of the role, what expectations do we have, and what are the minimum requirements? But remember that at the end of the day, the job description is one of your most important recruiting tools because, after all, we are looking to fill a position here.

Use the job description as an opportunity to sell your organization. Be sure to address the kinds of things that your company can do for the applicant. In fact, lead with this at the top of the description itself. As much as you need a candidate’s talent and experience, they need to know whether or not it’s worth it for them. Be sure to describe your culture and all the benefits you offer.

Be Realistic

I’ll never forget an IT recruiting colleague of mine who was asked to find a candidate with a minimum of five years of experience working with software that had only been in existence for three. Her hiring manager didn’t want to hear that this was “impossible” when quite literally, it was.

Take a look at your existing job description. Does this combination of skills really exist? Do people with this background really live in the region you’re hiring for? You may consider utilizing recruiting artificial intelligence (AI) for this. Also, have your job description vetted by someone already doing this position to make sure that there aren’t unrealistic tasks listed that no one does or could do. Consider reframing your expectations if you find that you’re not finding anyone who matches what you think you ideally need. Finally, be sure that you call out the “minimum requirements” separately from the “nice to have” list so that applicants aren’t disqualifying themselves.

Be Careful of Buzzwords

There’s definitely a place for fun, clever, and trendy marketing. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to do this when recruiting. You’ll often see witty, attractive websites completely dedicated to attracting prospective candidates to a company and intense marketing campaigns run by slick marketing automation tools. It doesn’t hurt to have the pretty bells and whistles, but make the language you use to describe your positions fit the current job landscape. When it comes to the actual written job description, it’s best to stay away from buzzwords.

This is not to stay that the description should be dull or boring, however, using words like “ninja” and “guru” aren’t going to help anyone actually find your position. Write descriptions based on search criteria. Think about how people are going to look for a role and use those keywords. What are the industry standard words, phrases, terms and credentials someone would have on their resume? This is how both candidates and search tools will find you.

Be Thorough

I’ve seen plenty of vague job descriptions that give a few high-level points about a role, but they could be for almost any company and don’t give enough detail to help anyone really understand what they’d be doing all day. There are some specific things you always want to make sure you cover.

List specific day-to-day responsibilities, how the position interacts with the organization as a whole, who the position reports to (the title of that person), the size of the team that person will be on, and who they’ll be in regular contact with (who are their customers and/or contacts). Be sure to list the education, number of years of experience, skill set, and any licenses or certifications required. Include the work schedule and hours, and the percentage of any required travel. Also, while not necessary, consider listing a salary range to help narrow the pool of candidates earlier in the process.

Be True to Your Core Values

Potential applicants need to know the truth of who you are and what you stand for. This helps them decide if your culture and your mission are something they want to be a part of. When writing your job description, rather than focusing so much on your past and where you started, although important and not to be omitted, put special attention on explaining where you’re headed including any future plans for growth, or involvement with causes that match your core values.

Candidates need to have the opportunity to put themselves in your future story. Sharing your plans with them early on in the recruiting process helps them decide if they want to be a part of helping you build that future.

Be Honest

Though this should go without saying, it needs to be said. Do not hide or “sugar coat” parts of the job that people don’t love to do. No one wants to be blindsided about the realities of a position after they’ve already begun.

Be very honest about all of the expectations of a role, including things that have the potential to knock some candidates off the list. This goes for the job description as well as the interview itself. Throughout the entire recruiting process, no matter what, be honest.

It’s understandable that you may want an accountant who does customer service, runs the marketing department and teaches yoga classes in the company studio, but this isn’t a real job a real human can actually do.

As you write your job description, be realistic about what this position really requires, and what it takes for a candidate to be successful in that position. Think about your job description as a recruiting tool, as well as a realistic snapshot of the role and the organization. The right job descriptions will ensure that you’re attracting plenty of exactly the right candidates.


Jessica Barrett Halcom is a writer for, with specializations in human resources, healthcare, and transportation. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and currently lives in Nashville, TN.