How to Write a Job Description
Venture capitalists often help their portfolio companies with recruiting. This help sometimes includes identifying, screening, or persuading individual candidates, but it can also include assisting with the design of good hiring practices. Writing a good job description is an essential competence for identifying and hiring the right candidate. The process of writing and using a good job description will help you accomplish three things:
- It will help you think about and define the role you are trying to fill, which will increase the chances the right candidate will succeed in the job
- It will help the right candidates self-identify and apply
- It will help you interview candidates to see if they are right for the role
It’s important to keep the job description to one page, to make it easy for candidates to review the opportunity. As a result, you’ll need to edit each section of the job description to include only the most important factors that accomplish one or more of the three objectives.
A good job description has six discrete parts:
Let’s review the purpose behind each of the six sections:
1. What is the Job Title and Location?
This helps the right candidate self-select whether she is right for the job — by screening out mis-matches. For example, if your job opening is in New York, but your candidate is committed to remaining in the Bay Area, it can be a very quick decision not to apply if the job description is clearly labeled. Similarly, a senior level candidate can immediately determine if the position is too junior, or vice-versa. For this reason, it’s important for the job title and location to be at the top of the job description. If you have some flexibility about the location or the title, you can indicate that, as well. This section should also describe if the job is part-time.
2. What is the Opportunity?
This section describes why the role and your company would be appealing to the ideal candidate. If you are looking for a risk-taker to join a startup, you should emphasize “getting in on the ground floor” or making a big impact on the organization. If your company is new, you should probably take a sentence or two to describe the business and why it has the potential to be a leader in its space. Don’t assume that candidates will take the time to research what you do.
In contrast, if you are recruiting a role player in a larger organization, you should highlight the aspects of the company that would appeal to candidates who may be seeking characteristics like stability, prestige, or above-market compensation. If you are recruiting for an entrepreneurial role inside a bigger company, you may be able to blend these techniques.
You may have noticed that the first two parts of the job description focus on the needs of the candidate instead of the needs of the hiring company. This is by design. If you don’t make your job opportunity appealing, it will be more difficult to get the attention of the best candidates.
3. What are the Responsibilities?
Now you can begin to tell the candidate what is required for the job. Again, this will help the right candidates self-select.
It’s also helpful to distinguish the responsibilities of the role from the characteristics you are seeking in candidates, to make it easy for you during the interview process.
The responsibilities of the position describe what the candidate will actually do on the job. You should be as specific as possible. For example, if the person hired will be responsible for managing a $10 million marketing budget to generate leads and revenue for your startup, say so. On the other hand, if the role requires generating leads and revenue by using public relations and social media marketing, with no budget, then you should find a way to say that instead. You can use a clear description of the job requirements to help design good interview questions that test whether the candidate can do the job. The more you can specify what is required by the role, the greater the likelihood you can avoid surprises, wasted time in the interview process, and potential mismatch with your eventual hires.
4. What Characteristics are Required?
The characteristics you are seeking are different than the responsibilities of the position. The characteristics sought are what the candidate brings to the job, both in terms of experience as well as personality. Here you can specify the educational background required, number of years of experience in prior roles, and the attitudes and cultural values that would correlate with success at your company. Again, you can use this section of the job description to define interview questions that will help you assess whether the candidate has the experience and temperament to do the job. While a clear list of requirements often won’t discourage the wrong candidates from applying, it will help you provide an objective set of screening criteria for positions where you generate a large number of applicants.
5. What is the Compensation?
This section of the job description again focuses on helping the candidate self-select. Now that you have described the responsibilities and requirements of the role, and the ideal candidate is intrigued, you need to “set the hook” with at least a minimal discussion of compensation. For most roles, this does not mean publishing actual proposed salary or equity grant figures (and your lawyer may advise against doing so). But you do need to demonstrate to your candidates that it isn’t just about what your company wants, and that the job will be a fair trade: hard work and dedication in exchange for on-the-job experience and compensation. And of course, unless the job is a volunteer activity, compensation will be a critical factor for most candidates.
How can this section be useful if you aren’t going to publish specific figures? Just indicate what the components of compensation will be, including salary (or hourly pay), the potential for a performance bonus, and whether the role includes any equity or other forms of upside, including commissions for salespeople. Knowing the components of compensation can be important to most candidates.
6. How can Candidates Apply?
The most egregious error in writing a job description is neglecting to tell the candidate how to apply. This is like forgetting to include your contact information in your fund raising pitch deck! Like the pitch deck, your job description must be a stand-alone document. For that reason, you should circulate it as a PDF, not as a Word document, and the instructions for applying should be very clearly indicated at the bottom of the description.
No matter how new or small your company may be, take the extra step of creating a dedicated email address for your job submissions, with your company’s web domain. This will make you appear more professional and more appealing to quality candidates. As an obvious example, email@example.com sounds far more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org. As as we’ve seen, the job description should be structured to appear professional and enticing to encourage the right candidates to apply.
It’s surprising how often job descriptions are slapped together with little thought. With the proper format for a job description, you may be able to improve the efficiency and results of your hiring efforts. If you’d like to see some sample job descriptions in this format, all of Touchdown’s current venture capital job openings are listed here.
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