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6 Job Description Fails That Turn Away Your Best Candidates

When struggling to retain employees, most HR professionals or talent managers turn to analyze their company culture, mentorship programs, onboarding efforts, and the like. Sometimes It doesn’t even occur to most that employee turnover issues could start long before team members even step foot inside the office.

You guessed it: we’re talking about job descriptions! A job posting is your first point of contact with candidates, which makes them the gatekeepers to great talent. Top-notch job descriptions attract the right candidates who can thrive at your company from pre-hire onboarding, through their first week, and beyond—increasing employee engagement, reducing turnover, and optimizing productivity in the long run. 

On the other hand, poor job descriptions can hook the wrong team members (those unqualified or toxic ones that will eventually leave your company by their choice or yours). Not sure what qualifies as a poor job posting and want to avoid the most typical job description fails? If you see any of the following red flags within your job descriptions, you could be unintentionally sabotaging your efforts to recruit and retain incredible employees!

Job Description Fail #1: Buttered Up Language

Managers often write job descriptions using complicated language to sound more professional, or to fluff up the position in order to better appeal to candidates. However, this “bait and switch” can breed resentment among employees, which leads to a toxic office culture and higher turnover.

Stick with simple language that accurately describes the position. This doesn’t mean that your job description should read like it was written by a frat bro or that you should go out of your way to make it sound less exciting than it really is. Simply avoid unnecessarily complex language and communicate your company’s recruitment goals as clearly and effectively as possible.

For instance, let’s consider one organization’s way of describing a Full Stack Web Developer:

“Under the general direction of the department's IT supervisor, the incumbent will be a full stack web developer responsible for creating attractive and usable web-based interfaces for internal and world-facing tools and sites. Candidates should be comfortable communicating with sales people to develop working code on new sales software.”

Simple, to the point, and informative. Just the way we like it!

Job Description Fail #2: Including Everything in the Job Title

Trying to attract highly qualified job seekers by including too much title bling can have the opposite effect, deterring potential candidates who don’t understand insider lingo (or who won’t spend the time reading lengthy job posting titles).

Plus, according to Glassdoor best practices, long job titles are not SEO-friendly. They tend to perform poorly in comparison to shorter, more succinct job titles that match well with common search terms. The lesson here: keep job titles short, relevant to searchers, and professional for a better look and greater search functionality online.

That means avoiding extremely long job titles like “Ninja Level Full Stack Developer Angular/JS/Python/ETC (Remote: Telecommute From Anywhere)” when a simple “Web Developer” will do just fine.

Job Description Fail #3: Sloppy Grammar

Job descriptions with misspelled words or six question marks at the end of each sentence… they end up sounding more like unsolicited spam emails than legitimate job descriptions. Trust us, improper grammar, poor formatting, and sloppy syntax will make job seekers run away faster than you can say “apply here.” In fact, you can bet that most candidates won’t even get through the introduction of your job posting!

Be sure to use proper grammar and punctuation if you want to sound like a legitimate company and appeal to top-notch candidates. That seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised by how many organizations don’t put their job descriptions through necessary rounds of edits before posting. Additionally, avoid:

  • Run-on sentences
  • Disorganized posts—for instance, rather than scattering job requirements or preferences throughout the description, lump them all into one section titled something obvious like “Requirements”
  • Lengthy paragraphs (try bulleted lists instead)

Job Description Fail #4: Trying to Find a Perfect Match

There’s a reason that recruiting professionals call it a “purple squirrel.” Finding that perfect candidate is probably not going to happen, and in fact, having unrealistically high expectations actually blind you from finding great employees that may not be 100% what you’re looking for (but who, after a seamless onboarding experience, can become some of your most loyal and capable employees).

Differentiate between what you want and what you need before heading to your job descriptions to avoid intimidating candidates with unrealistic experience requirements. For example, requiring expert-level experience for a job that could probably be done by a middle manager with additional on-the-job-training? Probably not going to work out well if you’re trying to source a large candidate pool.

There’s no need to lower your standards; just consider whether you’re needlessly counting out applicants before they even attempt to apply. Then, adjust your job description content and language to show that you’re open to promising candidates—not just perfect ones.

Want to tailor your job descriptions just far enough to attract the right type of a candidate, but not freak them out with unnecessarily demanding specifications? Follow one of these job spec templates, already tailored for different job profiles and industries to help you get started. 

Job Description Fail #5: Negative Talk

Who wants to feel like they’re being lectured by nagging parent? Using negative language in a job description can produce this effect and cause candidates to pass on your posting, so avoid going into detail about what candidates can and can’t do before they’re even hired.

Switch out absolutes for open-ended, inviting language aimed at developing a relationship between the candidate and your company. Be wary of negative words like:

  • Don’t
  • Shouldn’t
  • Must
  • Unable
  • Never

Instead, switch them out for positive language such as:

  • Can
  • May
  • Choose
  • Succeed
  • Accomplish

Also, it’s worth noting that the best job descriptions avoid using racist, sexist, elitist, or otherwise discriminatory language. Offensive language—intentional or unintentional—can not only be extremely harmful to your brand’s reputation, but may also be illegal depending on the location of your organization. Aim for neutral, professional language that doesn’t color your message with any bias towards gender, sex, race or politics.

Job Description Fail #6: Walls of Text

Have you ever read an article or book filled with giant, unbroken paragraphs? If you’re like most people, your eyes probably gazed over the moment you saw that monstrous wall of text.

The same goes for your job seekers. They want their information fast! What qualifications should candidates have? What are the pay and employee benefits? (Don’t be afraid to mention pay within your job description!) How can applicants submit their CV?

Don’t make applicants work unnecessarily… or bore them to tears. Keep paragraphs short and succinct to ensure that readers get to the end. How short? Although there are no hard and fast rules on paragraph lengths, there are some ideal lengths of online text elements. In the age of Tweets, most people probably prefer to read a paragraph’s worth of information in just one sentence.

Once you snag those great candidates, you need a way to keep them. Onboarding is the secret to retaining your employees for longer and keeping them more engaged and productive.

See a demo of our customized onboarding product to learn how to build (and retain) your top performers!


Topics: HR
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