Startup Hiring: How to Write a Job Description

This is part five of an eight-part series, exploring the ins and outs of growing your startup team. From attracting talent to developing an interview process, get ready for a complete crash-course in building your early-stage startup team.

Click to read all eight parts as a complete post, or download as a PDF.


Now it’s time to get a bit more practical, and take a closer look at the nitty gritty involved in hiring someone. First, I want to cover how to write a job description, before we move on to building-out a seamless hiring process for your startup.

Gil Belford

In many instances, a job description is a candidate’s first impression of your startup. To help you nail that first impression, we’re digging into the dos and don’ts of writing a great job description.


STANDING OUT FROM THE CROWD

One of the biggest hiring challenges facing your startup is standing out from the ever-growing crowd of other early-stage startups. Your job description needs to engage and excite potential candidates, while also listing skills and experience required to be suited to a role.

Joel Grossman

To overcome this challenge, it’s essential that you avoid copycat job descriptions that sound just like the twenty other open vacancies for that type of role on popular job sites. Work out what makes your startup unique, what makes your company culture unique, and find a way to inject that personality into your job description.

Startups who do a great job at this: Buffer, Drift, HubSpot.

JOB DESCRIPTION LANGUAGE: A WORD OF WARNING

Startups (and established companies) work hard to inject personality into their job description. However, it’s worth considering your choice of language from an inclusivity and diversity standpoint. Many of the phrases used to bring energy and personality into your job descriptions can be perceived as indicators of an ingrained ‘bro culture’, and can put-off female and minority candidates from applying.

Which words to I mean? Well, here’s a short selection (Huffington Post covers this in more detail):

  • Ninja
  • Hacker
  • Kill / crush the competition
  • Work hard and play hard
  • Ambitious*
Laura Mather

*Of the five words and phrases above, the top four are fairly similar: they indicate an ingrained ‘bro culture’. However, the fifth is slightly different: ‘ambitious’ is one of those words that has different connotations when associated with different genders; an ambitious man is viewed much more favourably by society than an ambitious woman.

Particularly when listing desirable traits for candidates that go beyond practical skills and focus more on attitude and culture fit, it’s important to assess the terms you’re using for inclusivity and gender neutrality, to avoid building yet another all-male, all-white startup:

Adam Pisoni

WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR JOB DESCRIPTION

Gil Belford

There are three main parts of a written job description: a section about your company; one about the role and specific requirements; and finally, one about the benefits, perks and compensation.

1) ABOUT THE COMPANY

This is where you need to sell your startup to prospective candidates. What is your startup’s mission and key values? What do you do, and why does it matter?

The ‘about the company’ section of your job description is where you aim to make your startup stand-out: it’s likely you’ll be listing your job advert on popular startup hiring sites where it will be viewed alongside dozens of other roles, so it’s essential to make it unique and memorable.

2) ABOUT THE JOB

For your earliest employees, writing about the on-the-job requirements can be difficult, because there’s so much to cover. An extensive list of requirements is likely to negatively impact diversity in your startup: men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

To counter this, a better approach could be to focus on expected results, rather than specific requirements. What will the ideal candidate need to achieve in the role, in order to be successful? Alternatively, if you do want to include a list of required skills and experience, you may want to consider splitting the list into ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’, rather than having a long list of requirements that appear set-in-stone.

3) PERKS AND COMPENSATION

Startup compensation for early employees comes in two parts: salary and equity. If you’re offering equity to employees, it’s essential that you mention this, as it forms a crucial part of their overall compensation package.

Listing salary can be difficult, particularly for cash-poor early-stage startups. However, it’s important that you provide a salary range where possible: equity won’t pay the bills, and it will be a waste of your time to interview candidates who have over-estimated your startup’s salary offering.

Perks are another important consideration. True story: one big thing that appealed to me when applying for my job at Cobloom was that we provide employees with free books.

You might look at later-stage startups, who offer a wealth of employee perks, and see nothing but dollar signs. But there are plenty of perks you can offer relatively inexpensively: snacks in the office, a monthly book order service, a fitness tracker, dedicated personal development time every month… None of these are prohibitively expensive, but these perks are a great way to translate your startup’s values into something tangible.