If a company considers its most significant asset to be human capital but continually fails to attract the right talent, what’s the likely reason? Probably job descriptions that, while trying to entice qualified applicants, provide misleading or confusing information.

While only itemizing essential skills in a job posting – a description of the job that will be used to draw in the qualified and screen out the unqualified – sounds like the best approach to communicate required skills, it’s really not. Candidates at large seek specific rules for success in which they will be performing their skills. How an employee performed a skill for a previous employer, however, might not align with a prospective employer’s expectations.

A job description for a resource dispatch trainee, recently posted online, illustrates what it means to successfully perform the required skill of “planning.” The would-be trainee “is expected to exercise the ability to think ahead and plan within timelines and resources; develop scopes, plan and schedule work; set priorities and goals; anticipate and adjust for problems; evaluate workloads…”

Related success factors include: identifying the criteria of the company’s planning process and anticipating and adjusting for problems. This key information strategically deters candidates with no experience in forecasting problems from applying – and ultimately narrows the applicant pool to candidates possessing the fundamental skill of planning and identifying potential issues down the road.

A common skill identified in job descriptions today is “collaboration.” Illustrating how company teams actually collaborate is more likely to attract relevant candidates than simply promoting “team-oriented” as a required skill.

The resource dispatch job description defines team skills as: “Accomplishes tasks by working with others … Recognizes how his/her decisions may impact others; seeks input from others.”

Candidates reading the job description now know that one way in which they will be successful in this role at this company is to proactively seek input from others as well as gauge the ripple effect of decisions they make on the job.

What to avoid

A global consultancy firm recently posted a sales job description that identified the following necessary skills:

  • Experience working on opportunities run by third party advisory firms
  • Strong local contact base with access to alumni, local associations, industry associations

These required skills indicate candidates for this job will be required to work with and influence external parties. Yet, the job description neglects to talk about how these skills will be performed. Are they expected to solve problems, speak persuasively, network proactively, manage vendors?

In another posting, a company described its need to hire a “marketing guru,” the company’s term for a marketing professional who does his or her “best work with a small, dedicated team.” The term guru implies a leadership role, but the job description never uses the terms “managing” or “leading.”

Failing to connect the right dots between how a company operates and the roles of its employees is a common problem with job descriptions. It can be solved in many cases with clearer language.


How to write a job description:

  • Illustrate how required skills will be performed in the role
  • Identify opportunities for career advancement by mapping opportunities for career growth, or at least providing a framework for skills development
  • Illustrate the company’s mission, purpose and culture with case examples
  • Use inclusive, gender-free and ageless terms – as well as a contemporary tone
  • Define in percentages how much of the role is to be performed independently versus collaboratively