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Writing Job Descriptions & Attracting Candidates: Pro Tips for SMEs

First impressions are everything and your Job Description will be the first time many of your employees will encounter your fledgling business. A basic Job Description usually contains the job title, duties, skills and competencies, a bit about the company and a salary. However, you’ll probably agree that ‘basic’ isn’t quite in line with your company vision.

Your workforce is one of your most important assets and you want to attract the best.

With this in mind, it’s worth investing considerable time to ensure your outbound communications are effective. In the long run, this will save you time and resources (after all,  recruitment is a time-hungry animal).

In our recent survey, we learned that 69% of business find recruitment difficult. As many as 3 in 4 SMEs struggle due to lack of applicants, or getting applicants at their intended level.

We are committed to helping small businesses with their HR challenges and providing easy to find, expert-advice online. So, we called upon our friends in the industry who kindly shared their wisdom and sound advice.

We asked them:

How Do You Write A Perfect Job Description?

Making the role stand out

There’s a deficit of attention in our information-rich world.  So cut to the chase: What is special about working in your SME? Avoid meaningless buzzwords and instead create a short story based on one of your existing employees. Here’s an example:

Nina was looking for work where she could stretch her imagination and learn whilst doing creative projects.  Nina found that because at SME Ltd, we thrive on flexible, adaptable and highly self-directed people.

Pitch at the right level

Describing the impact a role has can be of more value than a list of competencies, and a range of accountabilities.

Mihai wasn’t looking for another Head of Accounting role.  He wanted to be close to the people who needed sound economic advice, forecasting and investment management.  He found that with us because we understand our customers’ world and what’s the best out there to help them succeed in tough financial markets.

Get the right candidates

It’s often how it feels rather than what precisely you’ll do that will attract the right candidate.

Marsha knew she wanted to be in a place where you were given a tough assignment but all the support and opportunities to succeed.  We don’t interfere with how you want to work, we provide the conditions that help people flourish and keep our clients happy.

Ensure that who you hire, stays

Commitment and belonging mean more than entrapped by contract or stuck doing “just enough”.

Josh has been with us for 2 years and was our first hire into a customer liaison role.  Now leading our entire Customer Experience division, Josh is an example of how we’ve grown with our people. Creating opportunities is as much how we work as generating new business and increasing our impact in the marketplace.

Perry Timms is a Chartered MCIPD, Founder & Chief Energy Officer at PTHR and author of the newly published “Transformational HR”. In 2017, he was awarded “HR Most Influential Thinker”, following his high revered TEDx talk: The Future of Work.

Follow Perry on Linkedin here.

Adverts are as much about raising awareness about the company as they are about actually attracting people to work at an organisation. In fact, the return on adverts is typically quite low, especially if the company has a negative brand image elsewhere (e.g. people might research what it’s like to work at that company before actually applying) so it’s important to get your entire company message consistent and positive.

Get them excited

Your ad is about attracting people to want to talk to you so it should get someone excited. The key thing to get across in an ad is what the person applying stands to gain by getting this job (e.g. will they get specific training, will they work directly with clients/the business leaders etc). To get this right, you need to know your audience and what will appeal to them. You need to show some ‘upside’ to the candidate for applying to the ad.

Go beyond skills

It’s becoming increasingly important to convey how someone would feel doing the job they apply for. A list of skills that they must have doesn’t tell them what’s in it for them as an applicant, it just includes or excludes them. Absolutely include what skills are required but that should just be a part of the advert.

Make sure the advert is detailed

People often think that if they keep the advert light on details, they will attract a broader and larger population of people. An ad isn’t successful because of the number of applicants but because of the accuracy of the candidates on what you are looking for. Better off getting 10 relevant candidates than 100 of which only 5 match what you are looking for. People are more likely to apply for an ad if they know some detail about the environment they are signing up to, some detail on the job they will do and what they stand to gain. They are less likely to apply if there is little detail.

Keywords are your friend

Most job boards will place ads based on how many times you use the keywords in the ad (i.e. the title of the job and key skills required). People are more likely to apply for the first three jobs that match their search criteria so make sure your ad shows up in their searches by smartly using keywords throughout the ad.

Make the title simple

People don’t search for ‘fantastic opportunity’ when they are job searching. They search for e.g. ‘Marketing executive’. Have the job seeker in mind when writing the title. Think about what they would search for.-

Kunjal Tanna is the Director of LT Harper, a recruitment firm set up in response to a global skills shortage in the Cybersecurity sector. With 15 years experience working in the technology space, she specialises in placing highly sought after professionals with IT Security skills.

Follow Kunjal on Linkedin here.

Know exactly what you’re after

Be very clear in your own mind exactly what the role is and what it is you want the person to do, before even attempting to write a description. Asking for someone who is “good with customers”, or “can generate business leads” is not specific enough.

If you’re not 100% clear on your expectations, it can lead to moving goalposts or evolving the role once the hire has started. This leads to a decline in professional trust. Also, candidates can sense when an employer doesn’t really know what they want, and anyone with experience will know to avoid. The benefit of role clarity is that the description will be more appealing to the right people.

Make sure the JD honestly reflects the role

If a company is struggling to recruit, or the company needs to recruit with a sense of urgency, it might be tempting to exaggerate the positives of the role and/or gloss over some of more mundane expectations.

Whilst this may increase the number of applications, it may also increase your turnover rates if new staff feel the role hasn’t met expectations. This ultimately leads to a waste of time and resources. So, make sure you’re job description accurately reflects what the person will be doing day to day.

Set the scene

Build a future into the role, let the candidate see the opportunity to progress, grow and develop.

Be clear on the hierarchy and where the role sits within the company structure.

Bring desirable qualities to life by including both enablers to success, such as ‘Have a great personal and professional integrity and inspire this in others’ and barriers such as ‘Not fully ‘buying in’ to our company culture’ to let candidates know if they will be a good fit.

Use the department’s targets, company values and behaviours and hierarchy to cascade and bring alignment to roles, if the department head’s role is ‘Accountable for providing reporting and feedback to monthly management meeting’. It should follow that their direct report’s role may read ‘Responsible for providing insights and contributing towards department reporting’.

Rebecca Clough is the Managing Director of In Car Safety Centre, the UK and Ireland’s leading car seats specialists. She joined the company after 13 years in finance and procurement with Diageo.

Follow Rebecca on Linkedin here.

Writing a job description may feel like a chore but it’s one of the first pieces of literature a potential employee is going to read about your company and first impressions count.

You may think the ball is in your court with candidates wanting your job opening, but for the excellent people that your organisation really needs, you have to give an excellent impression at every step of the hiring process.

With all your employee communications you need to start with your vision. Where is your company going and why? This is important to get candidates who are motivated by your purpose and who will support it.

At Countingup we talk about creating a really simple way to run a business by giving every small business accounting and banking in one place. That’s our vision.

An employee wants to know where they stand in an organisation. At Countingup we refer to this as roles and goals.

  • Roles are what you do
  • Goals are the outcome of what you do

It’s important to let candidates know in a job description what their roles and goals are as this gives clarity of accountability and sets mutual expectations.

You could list loads of values and behaviours that you would like a candidate to have and they would probably all be worthy attributes, but we prefer to focus on just two that are key for us:

  • Are you committed to getting things done quickly and with excellence?
  • Do you speak the truth and listen with an open mind to improving?

The next step at the interview stage is of course ensuring that a candidate actually measures up to the template you’ve set out in the job description.

Tim Fouracre is the founder & CEO of Countingup, the new finance solution for SMEs offering accounting and banking in one place. Previously, Tim founded Clear Books plc., which provides small businesses with clear & simple cloud accounting and payroll software. 

Follow Tim on Linkedin here.

Writing a Technical Job Description

Writing a technical job description can throw up a number of challenges. This is commonly observed in specialist fields such as IT. If the prospective candidate can poke holes in the job description, it can be very off-putting. To the prospect, this is usually a sign that the company doesn’t really know what they want and anyone with skills and experience will know to avoid.

Therefore, whenever creating a technical job description, it is vitally important to avoid these common pitfalls:

Too broad

While we’d all wish to recruit that one person who can do everything, it’s not very practical to expect it. Try not to expect skills across multiple domains that have no relationship. For example, asking for an expert graphic designer who is also an expert software developer. People will be one or the other, but not both.

Too specific

Don’t fill your job descriptions with obscure minor skills, nor list them as must-have requirements. Again, this can occur when a non-specialist recruiter is handing a job and there is the potential to fixate on small details.

For example, competent web developers and coders can quickly pick up specific nuances between common code resources that are based on standard programming patterns. It shouldn’t really matter if they have hands-on experience with an exact resource if they have knowledge that is directly transferable from similar projects with minimal effort.

Too advanced

While you want to make sure the description covers all bases, try not to add requirements that aren’t essential, or ask for skills that rarely get used. This risks reducing the amount and quality of applications for the role. Unnecessary requirements deter people who are genuinely competent with the job’s main requirements, leaving the applicant list with a higher percentage of people who exaggerate their capabilities. It also pushes up the salary expectation while alienating junior applicants who are capable of doing the job.

Working with recruiters

Finally, make sure the person handling recruitment has a fair understanding of the role they are recruiting for. Seems obvious enough, but is often overlooked. This is particularly relevant to those in SMEs, whose businesses are often niche and specialist in nature.

For example, a classic mistake is when recruiters attempt to recruit JavaScript developers for a Java role. JavaScript is a completely different technology to Java; in the same way that English is different to French – both are European languages, but you can’t pass one off as the other.

Leon Brown is an award-winning education content developer & technology writer. He owns and operates, offering a no-nonsense and jargon-free approach to learning maths and programming skills through interactive software, content and training programmes.

Follow Leon on Linkedin here.

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