The Anatomy of a Killer Job Description

Matt Treacey
Jul 18, 2018 · 14 min read

Anybody who’s searched for a job online knows how noisy and competitive it can be.

Job seekers often compete with hundreds of others for single opportunities, and many submit cookie-cutter applications in order to save time, applying for as many jobs as possible. On the other hand, employers seem to know there is a always a large number of job seekers, so many put in little effort to write attractive job descriptions as they know people will apply anyway.

This makes the job hunting process annoying for everyone — job seekers want to find something as soon as possible to get back into employment, and employers get buried up to their necks in useless applications that often aren’t even tailored for the position they advertised.

The leverage in overcoming this negative feedback loop is in the hands of the employers. Employers often miss out on the best applicants by not optimizing job descriptions to really sell the position and attract the types of applicants they wish would apply.

There is a big gap between the average online job description and the rare few that attract the most desirable applicants. At GetApprenticeship, we always tell employers we work with how companies often spend massive resources marketing their products, but none marketing their opportunities, when bringing in better people would solve the latter problem faster.

How can you make sure you’re attracting the best people for the job? How can you make sure your job description is one that sells your position for what it is?

How to Successfully Write a Killer Job Description

Through running GetApprenticeship, we’ve helped a lot of companies go through the hiring process, and so we’ve learned a lot about the different stages. While we’ve covered the interview stage in another post, the job description is the marketing material that allows you to have solid applicants to interview in the first place.

I’ve put together this guide from some of the key lessons we’ve learned over the last two years helping companies hire ambitious entry-level remote talent, and it has all our best practices we use for writing the best job descriptions possible.

In fact, early on in our matchmaking process, the most significant time investment when working with a new client is getting to know all the details about an employer’s vacant position. This way, we can go away and put together a job description we are certain will attract what we agree will be the ideal person for the role.

We’ll be breaking down the job description into four sections that help sell the position to the people you want to hire:

  • Section One: Why You Should Work With Us — All about your company and why it’s the best place to work.
  • Section Two: Position Details — A grand overview of the position and what the role is all about.
  • Section Three: Position Competencies — Experiences / skillsets / traits required
  • Section Four: Position Outcomes — What the applicant will be directly responsible for.

We’ll also walk you through the correct mindset you’ll need to adopt when writing your job description, and how you can make sure you avoid time wasters by including a simple “easter egg” hidden in the description.

Why You Should Spend Time Writing a Killer Job Description

The hiring process has multiple stages, and with revenue-driving opportunities being ignored in lieu, it’s often the last thing employers want to be spending time on.

When it comes time to putting together a description for the role, founders will often not want to think about it too much and move onto other things. What you get is job descriptions that are generic, uninspiring and lazy. Unfortunately, in the world of hiring, opposites don’t attract, and it’s common for employers not spending enough time on this stage to get out exactly what they put in.

The common practice of throwing together a job description and “opening the floodgates” is something you see all the time. As part of sourcing relevant opportunities for GetApprenticeship, we see hundreds of job descriptions from companies from all over the world, and it’s hard to overstate how much of a difference a good job description makes in attracting the best applicants possible.

It also making the whole hiring process a lot less tedious and more efficient for everyone involved. By writing a killer job description, you’ll be improving the following:

1. Applicant Fit/Quality

By selling the benefits of the position as clearly as what skills and competencies will be required, you’ll be telling mismatched applicants up front it’s not worth applying. Applicants who spam employers with cookie-cutter applications generally choose roles where requirements haven’t been tightly specified.

The best applicants are going to be more picky about the roles they apply for. If you’re an employee who knows you’re valuable, you’re going to be searching for a company that aligns with your values and gives you what you’re looking for. The types of applicants who apply for everything and anything are often those who don’t have much to offer in return.

Be specific in what you’re asking for, and you’ll find people who are specific about what they want.

2. Applicant Volume

The idea of throwing together a bare bones description often stems from the fundamentally incorrect assumption that “So many people will apply, there are bound to be good applicants in there somewhere.”

This is the “floodgates” mental model we’ve mentioned previously, where an employer assumes everybody in the job market is going to be interested in their position and apply, or at least so many people will be that they won’t have to worry. They’ll simply sort through the massive numbers later on and pick out the diamonds.

Yet you’d be surprised by how often companies struggle to find a sufficient volume of applicants for their positions. Even well-written and attractive job descriptions can have trouble attracting enough candidates, so it’s important to set your expectations lower in terms of what volume will come your way.

Gaining access to job markets is expensive. Unless you have your own targeted list of applicants to source from, as GetApprenticeship does, you’ll have to look elsewhere in order to access your target audience’s attention.

Sites such as Indeed or Craigslist offer free job postings (with limitations on reach), but many of the larger job boards require payment to post to their site. These costs can be significant for a bootstrapped company, and add up very quickly when using multiple sites if trying to market your position widely.

If you combine these posting costs with a poorly written job description, you’ll waste a lot of time and money, only to achieve making yourself feel worthless about not being able to attract anyone to work in your company. Not ideal.

We want to help you avoid this, so the following guide will show you how to attract specifically the applicants you want, while avoiding time wasters and getting as many of the best people to pay attention as is possible.

How to Write a Killer Job Description

Remember: Sell, Sell, Sell

The most important thing to keep in mind when writing your job description is to sell it hard. You want to convince your dream applicant to come and work with you, so don’t be afraid to tell them why your position is a great opportunity for them.

This goes beyond simply stating what the desirable benefits of the position are. It means using all the copywriting tricks you know of, and also challenging your reader and letting them know the opportunity won’t be around forever.

Treat your job description as though you were writing a sales letter for your company’s latest product.

Without going into marketing 101, you’ll be pretty safe if you keep a clear image of your dream employee front and center in your mind while you write your description. Try to be as convincing as possible as to why they should come and work with you. Tailor the benefits of the position exactly to this person.


Want to hire an apprentice for your company? Click here to find out about our matchmaking service, where we’ll source ambitious entry-level talent for your company at a low cost, with fast turnaround and risk-free payment.


Section One: Why You Should Work With Us

Echoing the above point, we want to start the description off with everything that is great about your company and its founder, what benefits the position provides, and what you’re doing to change the world (however small).

Like Simon Sinek says in “Start with Why,” millenials don’t just want a job anymore — they want a cause to get behind and be excited about. Make sure you write all about why what you’re doing is important, the things you’ve achieved, and some information about the founder if possible.

This is your opportunity to share your company culture, so keep mind of your tone and how you express yourself here. We’ve found the best examples of this manage to convey the founder’s passion for the company, while showing the company’s “Why” and making it sound interesting in general.

Example: Marketing Apprentice at YesInsights.

We worked with Russ Perry to hire a marketing apprentice for his company YesInisghts, and this position proved to be really successful. Russ was so impressed with the applicants that came through, he ended up hiring two of them for different roles.

Note how the description speaks directly to the type of applicant the company is seeking, and the “Why You Should Work With Us” section constantly goes back to the idea of impact, meaning and purpose in the work they do. It gives all the necessary information about:

  • What the company does.
  • Why it does it.
  • The impact they’re seeking to make.
  • Why it’s seeking to make that impact.

You can read the full job description here.

Quick Version: Already got an “about” page written on your site? Many times these serve as a great introduction to the company. See if what you’ve written on your company about page can be used as a foundation or inspiration for the first section of your job description.

Section Two: Position Details

The position details section should segue naturally from the “Why You Should Work With Us” section, and give a broad overview of what the role will entail. Think of the position details section as the job description “abstract,” just like you would put on the front page of an academic paper.

The Position Competencies and the Position Outcomes sections will give all the details of the position proper, but the position details will include all the major key points while still being focused on selling the benefits as you were in the previous section.

Example: Marketing Analytics Apprentice at High Cappin.

We worked with Jamon Yerger and Matt Kowalak to help them find a Marketing Analytics Apprentice for their company, High Cappin. This was another highly successful position, and I think part of this reason was due to the fact that the benefits of the position were weaved throughout the description in a healthy ratio to the amount of responsibilities and hard work it would require.

This can be a hard thing to balance — you don’t want the position to sound like it’s all benefits and no work, but at the same time you don’t want it to sound like those who apply don’t seek to gain anything through applying.

Note how Matt and Jamon set a clear expectation that the applicant will be expected to deliver results quickly, but also the potential for great opportunities and benefits such as position flexibility, remote work and one-on-one mentoring.

You can read the full job description here.

Section Three: Position Competencies

The position competencies section will be where you list out all of the traits you’ll expect your ideal applicant to have, and include descriptions of each as they relate back to the position.

You can include anything here, really — soft or hard skills, technical knowledge, credential requirements — it’s really up to you. For this reason, this section tends to be one of the key sticking points for many employers, as it’s easy to get caught in a loop overthinking what traits you want your ideal employee to have, how to convey that in simple terms, and how to relate it back to the position itself.

At GetApprenticeship, we provide employers we work with a list of terms that we’ve found to be commonly used to describe position competencies. It’s worth noting that since GetApprenticeship deals with entry-level, remote roles in online businesses and startups, that many of these terms describe that type of ideal applicant, and these terms may not be ideal for you industry.

Common Terms for Position Competencies:

Self-Starter

Fast Learner

Reliable

Confident

Gets Things Done

Highly Organized

Takes Responsibility

Analytically Minded

Systems-Thinking

Entrepreneurial

Competent Writer

Audio / Video / Image Editing

Not Afraid of Numbers / Good With Analytics

Content Ideation and Creation

Competent With (Any Software)

Experience With (Any Skill)

Example: Sales Specialist Apprentice at Enrollhand

We worked with marketing company Enrollhand to help find a talented sales specialist apprentice for their expanding brand. Notice how they used some of the common terms we’ve provided above to get them rolling (they’re pretty broad), but then they related each one back to the position specifically.

You can read the full job description here.

Section Four: Position Outcomes/The Terms.

The position outcomes section is where you’ll put into words exactly what the employee will be responsible for when they step into their new role, as well as responsibilities and tasks that may also be on the horizon. The purpose of the position outcomes section is that it works hand in hand with the position competencies to let the applicant know if they will be cut out for the role or not.

You’ll ideally want to be ready with a list of processes and tasks for your new employee to take over before you get to the job description stage anyway, so this should be as simple as putting those into writing. This is as simple as providing a description of the tasks you have lined up for the new employee to take over, or you can include description of projects still in the pipeline, or key performance indicators (KPIs) that you expect them to meet.

KPIs are definitely the recommended option if you have them, as it makes it much clearer to the employee exactly what their responsibilities will be, not just the tasks they will have to complete. KPIs are great because they encourage responsibility and entrepreneurial thinking in the role from the get go, challenging the applicant with a binary goal instead of a list arbitrary tasks.

Example: E-Commerce Marketing Apprentice

We worked with this company to hire an e-commerce marketing apprentice, and you can see from the outcomes listed that it gives a simple list of the tasks and a description of each about how it will help impact the company’s progress. The preface above the outcomes list about building new processes is a welcome addition, as it sets the expectation that the applicant will grow and direct new initiatives as the apprenticeship matures.

Tip: Include an Instant Disqualifier

One of the tricks we use to really make sure we get the highest-quality applicants in our positions is by using an instant disqualifier “easter egg” in all our job descriptions. By including an instant disqualifier, you’ll be selecting for those who read and follow instructions, and avoiding those who don’t.

You’d be surprised how many people can’t follow basic instructions, and as an employer you need to ask yourself if this is the type of person you really want working in your company. There are two options for including an instant disqualifier, and which one you choose depends on how severely you want to select for this trait.

The first option is placing the easter egg somewhere within one of the previous sections — usually at the end of one of the competencies or outcomes bullet points. This way, you can be sure that whoever applies has read the entire application and knows what they’re getting in for, that they’re thorough in their reading, and that they are organized enough to remember to use the word in the application.

The second option is in simply placing the disqualifier at the end of the job description, somewhere in the “How To Apply” section. At GetApprenticeship, we recommend this as a crucial minimum, because as we’ve said before, if your applicant can’t follow a simple set of instructions for how to apply to your position, it may be difficult to manage and help them further down the line.

Action Steps

By going through this guide, you should have a good, high-level understanding of how to put together a killer job description that sells your position for what it’s worth and helps attract a large number of those high-quality applicants you’re actually looking for when you hire. To recap the major points:

1. Sell, Sell, Sell. Always have copywriting and marketing in mind when writing your descriptions. Marketing your positions as best you can to the right talent will ultimately help you market your core products better, by building the best team possible.

2. Why You Should Work With Us. This is where the selling and marketing comes most in handy. Toot your own horn and let everyone reading know why you’ve got the best company in the world to work for, and how you can prove that’s true through the cool things you’re working on and the benefits you provide your employees.

3. Position Outline. Continue the self-advertisement as an abstract of the position itself, where you’ll slowly introduce responsibilities of the role interspersed with the opportunities it provides and how it’s a good catch for your ideal applicant. It’s a bit of a balancing act here, and this is the time to both provoke a challenge and describe an ideal future.

4. Position Competencies and Outcomes. List the traits you’re looking for and let the applicant know what they’ll be responsible for. This is a great place to add an instant disqualifier to make sure those who apply have actually read the job description, which we recommend as an important trait regardless of the position specifics.

5. Don’t Forget Your Personality. Your job description is ultimately another piece of marketing material, so you should let your brand shine through as much as possible. Use the tone you use with your regular customers/clients and let your culture be front and center, while still getting all relevant information across. If someone talented likes what you’re about, they’ll be dying to come work with you.

New to GetApprenticeship.com?

Click here to find out more about apprenticeships, and how you can get paid to learn valuable skill sets for entrepreneurship and online business.

Want to hire an apprentice for your company? Click here to find out about our matchmaking service, where we’ll source ambitious entry-level talent for your company at a low cost, with fast turnaround and risk-free payment.

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

Matt Treacey

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The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

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