Better Job Descriptions Can Help You Attract and Retain Talent

By Kathaleen Emery and Eric Hellige

 

June  11, 2024

10 min read

Behold the job description. With versatility rivaling that of duct tape, its usefulness goes well beyond recruiting. Job descriptions can aid in discussions about compensation, identifying and addressing skills gaps, measuring employee performance and complying with federal or local regulations.

 

In this article, we will discuss why a well-written job description is essential to the talent acquisition, skills development and retention objectives of any organization.

Why Well-Written Job Descriptions are Crucial

There are several reasons why well-constructed and up-to-date job descriptions are crucial for both employers and employees. For employers, they help to attract and onboard the most highly qualified talent, convey the organization’s culture, understand skills gaps and measure employee performance. For current or potential employees, they provide transparency and guidance, remove uncertainty and inspire confidence. 

Attracting the right talent for every role

A well-constructed job description will go a long way in support of your talent recruitment and onboarding efforts, helping you to attract a qualified applicant pool. From the applicant’s perspective, it will help them determine if the job is a good fit. A strong mutual benefit is its effectiveness as a discussion guide for evaluating and interviewing candidates.

Katelyn Rose, a member of DeVry University’s employer relations team, notes that:

“A good job description honestly portrays the work expectations, hours, pay and potential for growth.” 

Retaining talent

We tend to think of job descriptions in terms of recruiting and performance evaluation, but they play a crucial role in helping employers retain high-potential talent. In emphasizing the role job descriptions play in talent retention, DeVry’s Linda Carpenter, another member of the university’s employer relations team, stressed the importance of updating them regularly, stating:

“If a job description is used to help retain talent, then it needs to be updated when the role adjusts.”

She noted that roles often evolve. Employees may take on more duties or unofficial supervisory roles not reflected in the original job description. Carpenter recommends reviewing roles and descriptions yearly to ensure they align with the actual job being performed.

Conveying your company’s culture

An effective job description gives you an opportunity to convey the company’s culture, which you should do as succinctly as possible. By conveying the company’s values alongside the duties and responsibilities of the role, you’re giving prospective talent something to slip into when determining if they would be a good “fit” with your organization. 

Understanding skills gaps

During this time of rapidly advancing technologies and historically low unemployment, it’s more important than ever for employers to carefully consider whether to lean into a “build” strategy, in which employees are taught new skills that align with emerging technologies and processes, or recruit talent from outside their organizations. With a complete set of up-to-date job descriptions, employers can have a reference point for training and development, more readily identify skills gaps and decide when to build or buy talent.

Measuring employee performance

Job descriptions serve as neutral and objective reference points for measuring talent performance. If they are clear, they help employees gain a more complete understanding of their responsibilities and can lead to higher productivity in the short term, and improved job satisfaction and reduced employee turnover in the long term. 

About Kathaleen Emery

#image

Manager of Employer Relations & Internships

Kathaleen is a high energy and collaborative business professional with over 20 years’ experience in higher education and recruiting. Kathaleen excels at building relationships with job seekers, and employer/community partners. She uses creativity to be successful in an ever-changing economic climate. She completed her MBA with Keller Graduate School of Management and holds her BS in Child & Family Services from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. She also has her PHR and CPRW certifications.

Related Content

Is There a Downside to Strong Job Descriptions?

It may seem like an odd question, but there actually are some potential downsides to be avoided:

  • They can be too limiting: While it’s the job description’s job to specify team members’ roles within departments and organizations, the wording relative to the employee’s responsibilities can sometimes be too limiting. In areas where team members perform multiple functions, job descriptions should be written to allow for this. Managers should carefully consider and understand the full scope of potential duties the employee may be required to perform. 

  • They require regular updating: Job descriptions have a definite shelf life and need to be periodically updated as an opportunity to reflect changes in qualifications and responsibilities. These could be brought about by new technologies and skills requirements, changes in the company’s management or operational structure, or other factors.

  • Lack of consistency: In some organizations, departments or work teams update job descriptions without consulting a knowledgeable party or the HR department. The result is a lack of consistency across the organization with each department having a different template with different headings and a different look. Using job description software can mitigate this problem if your organization is willing to invest in it.

  • Problematic if poorly written: A poorly written job description can have lingering negative effects on nearly every aspect of your human capital management – recruiting and hiring, performance evaluation, retention and upskilling. The importance of a well-written job description can’t be overstated, and that’s why we’ve devoted the next section to just that. 

How to Write Better Job Descriptions

What are the characteristics of a good job description? DeVry University’s Katelyn Rose advocates brevity and transparency in compensation, saying the following:

“Job descriptions shouldn’t be too long, and should include salary ranges.”

DeVry’s Linda Carpenter agrees, noting that a job posting is a marketing piece, and is different from a job description: 

“A job description is an attempt to define the tasks, duties and requirements needed to perform a job. These are usually reviewed and approved by HR and legal. A job posting is posted to the public to highlight a role and attract job seekers to apply. A good job posting needs to be brief, relate the top tasks and responsibilities, list the truly needed skills and background for the role and why an applicant should be interested in the company.”

 

With these insights in mind, here are seven top tips for making job descriptionsand the job postings derived from them more engaging:

 

  1. Keep it short, simple and compelling:

    The copy should be short, without getting in the weeds about processes. Cover the aspects of the job that will make people interested in the role without overloading it with details or providing a lengthy requirements list.

  2. Use inclusive language:

    By using descriptor language that is inclusive, highlighting access to opportunity and a positive environment and culture, you can make a more effective connection with candidates.

  3. Use your brand voice:

    Make sure your job description sounds like you. If your culture is more informal, job description language that sounds too formal or formulaic could be a turn-off and a missed opportunity to use your true brand voice. 

  4. Include performance measurements:

    Employers tend to list the duties of a role but not the actual performance measurements candidates will be required to live up to. Noting some of these up front will give candidates more information to see themselves in the role.

  5. Consider adding real employee feedback:

    A section including insights from real people who’ve done the job before could help to humanize and add personality to the role. This could be an effective engagement driver.

  6. Clarify “necessary” and “desired” skills:

    In the requirements sections of job postings, let candidates know that the listed skills are a desired skill set that would add value to the organization, and selected candidates would not be expected to be proficient in all of them. Doing this will demonstrate a supportive workplace learning culture and may allow you to attract more non-traditional and diverse applicants. 

  7. Include pay ranges:

    Pay transparency2 is mutually beneficial, helping to set expectations for the candidate and support the recruiting team by eliminating some hurdles and streamlining the job offer and negotiation process. In some states and cities, employers are required by law to include pay ranges in their job postings. 

Explore More Articles and Resources

Uncover more insights around talent acquisition and retention, tuition benefits, upskilling and reskilling and other topics by visiting our thought leadership page. You’ll also find resources for employer partners and managers, DeVry University research and news about upcoming events.

1.            Want To Write a Better, More Effective Job Description? Follow These 14 Tips, Forbes (October 2021)

2.            Pay Transparency: What It Is and Laws by State, ADP (March 2023)