Inspire Me with your Job Description

Listen up all you recruiters and companies looking for great talent. I wrote this for you. I expect more from you, just as you expect much of me. I want to be inspired by you, your role and your company.

When I’m looking for work, or even when I’m not, I’m always checking out what jobs are available and what the new trends are, specifically in Product Management. But even more than just checking out trends, I hope, perhaps subconsciously, to find a company that inspires me to risk it all for them. Yes, we all want to work on a product that will change the world, but it isn’t always that clear cut. Over time, I’ve found that finding that next great thing is less about the product (although important) and more about the people, the culture, and the team I’ll be in the trenches with as I fight the great battle in the Valley of Death that every product faces.

Do you want to hire amazing talent?

There is no question, if you want your company to be great, you must have great people. Great people attract other great people and they form rockstar teams that will take the hills for your company.

If you want more than simply ‘good’ or adequate people, then you need to listen to this word of advice; build a job description that inspires. Companies spend a lot of time and effort on recruiters and advertising for positions trying to persuade. They throw events, sponsor actives, and give away tons of swag. I can’t tell you how much $$ I saw spent by companies at SXSW simply on alcohol. Once they hook someone, they spend months interviewing trying to find that one perfect match. I’ve seen companies looking for candidates for over 6 months, never finding what they want. Yet they seem to have ignored one of the greatest factors; that is that their funnel rim, the initial point of contact with the job applicant, is cutting out the very people they want from the very beginning. The applicant reads the job description, and being uninspired, moves on.

The job description is the first thing I often read about when encountering a potential employer. Generally, I see it before I dig into their website and before I check out their leadership and team. This is after all, the nature of job search engines today. I believe job descriptions are important because they reveal a lot. It not only tells me about what the employer is looking for, but it also tells me:

  • The company culture
  • Their competitiveness in hiring amazing talent
  • How clued-in they are to the industry
  • If they truly understand the role itself
  • Most importantly, Are they someone I’m willing to give up over half of my life in order to labor along side them for their goals. i.e. are they inspirational.

Let me give an example of a fail. Recently, my headhunter sent me over a PDF job description from a company looking for a Product Manager. While I won’t say who it is, I’m sure if you’ve looked at job descriptions, you’ve found similar ones. The description of the position and role could have been from Wikipedia’s definition of a product manager. It gave little to no hint on the company, nor the uniqueness of the roll. It sputtered off requirements like an automaton trying to hire another automaton. Do you believe it that I’ve found Product Manager job descriptions that have listed MS Office under desired skills? I read it and became utterly depressed. How could a company be so uninspired? How could they be so utterly missing the target? While the document explicitly said nothing about the company, it was written all over it between the lines. BORING. MECHANICAL. UNINSPIRED. OUT-OF-TOUCH.

Sadly, this is not a rare occurrence. The vast majority of job descriptions I’ve seen have focused more on mundane requirements, insane wish lists of every skill they could find, or blatant copying from other company’s job descriptions. It is apparent they spent little or no time on thinking about how to get someone that would revolutionize their company, someone of real substance that would be a rockstar. Now don’t get me wrong, requirements are important, but if you don’t inspire the exceptional and driven people to apply, it doesn’t matter if they fit the requirements, they’ll pass on by discounting you. Not to mention, amazing talent doesn’t know everything, but they will learn anything. Most requirements are learnable, and relatively quickly, but talent and passion is not a learnable trait.

It’s Not Arrogance

Now certainly what I am saying can seem arrogant. But anyone who’s building a career, and passionate about what they do, cares about what they do and who they do it with. Life is too short to spend being mediocre. This is fine for many people, but a select few who are driven want more, and if they can’t find it, they’ll just choose to build their own products rather than building another’s. So if you want to attract great talent, then you need to attract them from the very beginning. Your job description needs to hook them.

A Ray of Light in a Dark, Dark Land

There is good news. There are some companies out there that get it. I find them every once in a great while. A job description that truly inspires. So get out your notebooks and let’s take a look at an example of such a job description.

It all began last night, as I was perusing job descriptions, I found something that truly inspired. In fact, I was looking on my phone in the cell phone lot waiting for my brother at the airport when it caught my eye and I was literally stunned. Knowing I found something special I emailed it to myself waiting to dig into it. Immediately on arriving back at home I ran to my laptop and opened it and read it more carefully.

Who wrote this job description? Zapier, a company I hadn’t paid too much attention to before. Yes, I knew of them, and even recently had used their product, even submitting a feature request. It was so inspirational to me that I spent a large portion of my day working on applying for it, and the rest of the day evangelizing to others about how this is how job descriptions should be written. Indeed, it even inspired me to write this blog article because I want more people to write job descriptions like this.

The job description can be found here as a PDF. It should be framed.

There are several things that I found important in this job description:

  • A human wrote it, and his name is Mike. I like Mike.
  • They clearly layout the day to day of the role, in friendly human language
  • They have values, and a Code of Conduct
  • Their description drips of clues to their culture, and what’s not part of their culture
  • Benefits are clearly marked, but they exude the culture of the company and why each benefit is important
  • The application process is absolutely amazing and shows the applicant that they can express themselves in a way that Mike will know if they are a fit. It simply asks relevant and fun questions.
  • Mike, promises he will respond to every entry, and is honest that it might take some time.

So let me unpack some of the above points.

People who are driven want to be working with other driven people. Excellence attracts excellence, and anyone who has worked with other great people knows that 1+1 = 4 or more. That’s where Mike comes in. Mike wrote the job description, and it helps me visualize working for Mike. I work for people, not for companies. Companies are abstract and cold, humans can be collaborative and sharpening. Immediately Mike strikes a tone that lets me know here’s a person, and this person is a real person and I’d be working with this person. Mike even started off by saying, “Hi”. Hi right back at you Mike! This tells me a lot about his management style and that communication is a strength of his and the company.

Another fascinating point that reveals a lot about the culture is the code of conduct. Every company has a code of conduct written or unwritten. Even if written, I’ve never seen any put it front and center. This is a value statement, and if you read the code of conduct it’s all about people. This creates resonance with the job description actually being written by a human, Mike. The culture of the company is very clear here. People are humanized and they are important.

The benefits, which is of course ever cares about, are actually framed in a way that again reaffirms the culture of the company. Instead of a list of benefits the benefits are explained in a way that again reaffirms that humans are in this machine called Zapier, and the people run the machine, not the machine running the people. Humans are valuable at Zapier. Thank you Mike for recognizing I’m a person!

In the end, that one promise from Mike made one of the largest statements I’ve seen in any application. It was a simple promise, from Mike to me. “Finally, wait for me to reply. I reply to everyone, even if we don’t seem like a good fit.” Mike, I really like you. Mike treats every applicant as a human. He gives respect to the applicants and says, you are not a number, even if we aren’t a fit. I have never seen this before in any application. I expect Mike to keep his promise, and don’t doubt that he will.

Now I honestly don’t know Mike. So let’s not put Mike on too high a pedestal. While I think he’s probably a great guy, there’s no telling. He could be something completely different, but the tone and style of the job description really grabbed my attention and I certainly want to know more. This is my point, he hooked me, and to such a point that I do want to know more.

The Application Process

I wanted to spend some focused time on the application process. This makes Zapier stand out over all.

The application process consists of 5 very simple, very powerful and poignant steps. No where does he ask for the resume. Right off, he wants to know about me. He wants to see what I’ve been working on, my portfolio and my Twitter. Mike is interested in me.

Since Mike is looking for a Product Manager, he asks for examples of “living works” that I created and wants to know my story and process about how it came to be. This is vital to product management, and yet very few companies that I have ever interviewed have ever asked this important detail, or if they did, waited until the very end of the process. Of course if you are passionate about managing products, you want to tell your story. Who doesn’t want to tell a story about how they raised their child? Product Managers have extreme ownership over what they do, and they love to talk about it. This gives the opportunity for me to tell a story, something product managers love doing.

Then, Mike does something very clever. He asks me to prioritize a list of roles in the company, the top 5 you enjoy and the top 5 you least enjoy. Wow, I can’t tell you how insightful this can be to the company, but also to the applicant. It was so much fun working through this list and how thought provoking it was to ask myself, what I don’t enjoy as much. Added to this, he asks me to submit my work in GitHub Gist, which tells a lot to Mike about what I’ve been up to if he digs deeper into my Github. Kudos Mike, kudos.

Summary

I applied to this position, and I enjoyed every bit of it. It literally took me a good portion of my day to do it, but the process was enjoyable. I didn’t mind spending so much time working on it because I knew, no matter how much time I’d spend, Mike would look at it.

So, what about your job description makes people like me inspired enough to spend time to apply? What excites them enough to go far above and beyond and really want to impress you in the initial process of applying? This wasn’t just creating a cover letter, it was telling a story about me and my products.

Do yourself a favor, make it harder to apply for your positions by asking questions similar to the above questions. Make the questions enjoyable to the truly passionate candidate to answer. Spend some time crafting your job description to be attractive. Whatever your culture is, I believe the job description reveals it. So the question you should be asking yourself, “Is my job description supportive and inspirational for attracting top talent? Or is it black and white and drab.”

Having a hard time finding excellent candidates that fit your role? Consider, the candidates you get, are always the candidates you’re attracting.

Final Word

I don’t normally gush over job descriptions. Perhaps it was because I’ve been reading them too much as of late. But I truly loved Zapier’s job description, and wish I read more like them. I wrote this article hoping others will catch on and experiment with their job posts. Unconvinced? Try some A/B testing and let me know how it works for you!

NOTE: This article was also published on my LinkedIn.


About the Author

Mark Stephan is an entrepreneur and product enthusiast.

Starting off as an Archeologist, Mark graduated university with 5 majors and 3 minors, and worked on his masters in History and Archeology. However, taking an abrupt turn, in 1999 he entered into the tech world by working at Trilogy Software in Austin, Texas. After the DotCom collapse in 2001, Mark moved to Istanbul, Turkey where he taught entrepreneurism to persecuted communities and refugees. He also attended Istanbul University, learned Turkish, and on graduation started his own software company in Istanbul and ran it there for 5 years. In 2008, Mark moved back to Austin, Tx moved his company and ran a consulting company helping start-ups start up. In 2012, Mark closed his consulting company and focused full-time on his new product start-up, Community Raiser, launching a crowdfunding platform for non-profits. In 2015, Mark took a short break from his start-up to work at a human-centered digital product design agency as product manager helping clients build the products of their dreams.

Today, Mark is still very involved in giving back to the community and serving refugees and persecuted communities around the world. He is also working on a new product at his start-up Community Raiser, and is about ready to launch a mobile app to build generosity of thought. Afterwards, Mark is intending to work for a yet to be determined product company building the next great thing.

Want to learn more about Mark Stephan?

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Mark Stephan’s story.