Creating job descriptions that attract top talent


If you are a startup, a smaller company or a recruiter on a budget, how can you compete for top talent against giant corporations? Offer your top talent the chance to make an impact, work on projects that interest them and develop their own career. To do this, begin by transforming your traditional job descriptions into impact descriptions. Investing the time early on to re-think your job descriptions will save time and money in the long run by helping your team define, attract and hire better candidates.

How traditional job descriptions get it wrong

Most candidates think job descriptions are unclear.

As reported by HR Dive in 2016, 72% of hiring managers say they provide clear job descriptions, while only 36% of candidates say the same. Don't be afraid to scrap your existing job descriptions if you find yourself inundated with under-qualified applicants - or worse, no applicants at all!

This is especially true in industries with flexible or creative titles. A "Customer Happiness Driver" could fill 5 different functions at 5 different companies!

Traditional descriptions hurt smaller companies and non-profits

Relying on lists of job responsibilities and requirements, without investing time to woo competitive candidates, puts smaller companies, companies in competitive job markets and non-profits at a major disadvantage. No matter what role you're trying to fill, there's one question to keep top of mind during the hiring process:

Why would a prospective candidate apply to your company if another company is hiring the same role for twice the salary?

Generic descriptions could apply to any company

Nothing makes our hearts hurt more than generic job descriptions copy-pasted in their entirety from a random online database. Small companies without dedicated recruiting teams are most likely to rely on generic job descriptions - but they're the least likely to be able to offer competitive salaries, vacation policies, etc. to sway candidates. That generic database doesn't know about your organization's incredible culture, or the exciting projects you're working on, or the importance of your mission! Only you are able to make the unique value of your organization shine through.

Generic descriptions focus on benefits to the company, not the candidate

It's easy to get caught up describing your expectations for a new role. We understand - when it feels like the company is on fire, you can't stress enough how much you need a fire extinguisher! But hiring is a two way street, and it's important to step back and consider what you can offer top talent. Companies operating in a competitive talent pool need to lure candidates away from deep pocketed, high-profile industry leaders. Assume that those all-star candidates you're contacting on LinkedIn have heard from 4 recruiters already this week - why will your role grab their attention?

Crafting your postings for maximum impact

Here is a text we received from one of our own applicants:

Can I tell you a weird thing, which is that job posting is one of the best I've ever read? The way Lever breaks down the timeline of expectations is so helpful.

Write impact descriptions, not job descriptions

job description with a traditional list of generic skills

Impact description with an action plan

We recommend adopting performance-based descriptions which identify two important dimensions of the job:

  • What is the candidate expected to own, teach, learn and improve once they're on the job?
  • What should a candidate accomplish by when? How will the candidate's career progress throughout the year?

Get your hiring manager on board

Here's a quote from a hiring manger expressing a sentiment we often hear:

The 1/3/6/12 month breakdown is incredibly helpful. Most orgs have no idea what's coming up in the future, and clearly laid out plans and expectations signal to the candidate that there's thoughtfulness and they'd be set up for success.

Your hiring managers are busy, and it's normal for hiring managers to feel rushed to publish a job. But time invested upfront crafting a thoughtful impact description is time saved reviewing hundreds of poorly qualified candidates filling up your pipeline! Spending 15 minutes on a job description instead of 90 minutes on a quality impact description isn't a good strategy if you'll waste many hours interviewing candidates who aren't a good fit for the role. Set up a kickoff meeting with your hiring manager to build out the worksheet below.

Understand the role and your ideal candidate

Here are good questions to ask before drafting your first impact description:

  • Who are the top performers on your team? Describe their qualities.
  • What will this person be responsible for? What would they be the primary owner of?
  • What kind of people wouldn't be successful on your team?
  • How will the business/team goals be affected if we can't make this hire?
  • Who will this person work closely with and how?
  • How does this role at our company differ from the same role at another company?
  • How will this role look different 6 months from now? 12 months from now?
  • Let's say you hire someone, but they aren't ramping up quickly enough. How will you know they aren't working out? What would that look like?

Draft your initial impact description

Here's an example of how you can frame an impact description:

This person is someone we can count on to...
1 month this person will...
3 months this person will...
6 months this person will...


Match and showcase motivators

Are your dream candidates looking for growth? Fun? Stability? Salary? Make sure you're appealing to the most appropriate candidates, without attracting applications from candidates with misaligned motivations.

Review your impact description with the leaders of your hiring team

Keep these best practices in mind while you review your impact descriptions:

  • Be narrowly defined and differentiated (as opposed to universal).
  • Give people a clear idea of what it would be like to work at your company, in that role.
  • Highlight interesting projects & visible impact - inspire and get the right people excited!
  • The more specific/concrete, the better! Paint a picture of what the role entails and what success will look like.
  • Adopt a casual/friendly tone. Don't be afraid to sound like a human! Read your impact description out loud - would you say this to a friend?
  • Remove arbitrary requirements: pedigree, years of experience, skills that can be learned on the job.

Remember, the purpose of a traditional job description is to weed the wrong candidates out. The purpose of an impact description is to get the right candidates excited!

Do not neglect your job description's closing

Job descriptions which simply fade away after a long list of bullet points don't linger in the candidate's imagination. Your job description's Closing section is the final material top talent will read before making the decision about whether to apply. Get their attention by answering questions like, "What makes this company so special? What makes us exciting? Why should top candidates apply right now? What do we have to offer candidates who could choose to work elsewhere?"

Learn how to create a job posting template to craft opening and closing paragraphs that can be re-used within a specific department - or across your entire organization:

Posting template editor

Diversify your candidate pool through gender-neutral job descriptions

Unconscious bias can begin at the moment your organization crafts a job posting. Female candidates tend to be more concerned with being a perfect fit before applying, and are more likely to opt-out of a job application which contains laundry lists of unrealistic qualifications. Write better job descriptions by focusing on your must-have skills and qualifications, and using gender-neutral or feminine words to describe them. For example, instead of writing, "We're looking for an ambitious and aggressive individual with 3-5 years of experience selling into Fortune 500 companies." try using, "We're looking for an enthusiastic salesperson with great interpersonal skills who has a track record of success selling enterprise products."

Evaluating whether your impact descriptions are working

Monitor how many candidates are under-qualified - or better for another role

Receiving a large number of under-qualified candidates may be a sign that you haven't defined the role clearly enough. Similarly, if you're receiving lots of applications from otherwise terrific candidates who would be better suited for other positions, that may indicate that your expectations aren't clear.

Admins can learn how to use the Conversions chart on their Pipeline dashboard to monitor overall application trends.

Conversions chart on the Pipeline dashboard in Visual Insights 

Hiring managers can learn to use the Postings dashboard to view the same numbers for a specific job posting.

Collect feedback from your candidates and hiring managers

Here's another quote from feedback we received from an applicant:

This job description is unlike anything I've seen, the detailed milestone timeline makes it clear there's an emphasis on expectations for success which I highly value. Every company should write job descriptions like this.

Close the feedback loop between your candidates, your hiring managers and your recruiting team! Here at Lever, we make sure to flag feedback about our impact descriptions so our recruiters can see how candidates are reacting. Receiving "thank you!" emails from your candidates? Hiring managers going into interviews feeling extra-prepared? Getting shoutouts on Twitter and LinkedIn? Make sure your recruiting team knows they're on the right track!

What's next?

If you would like to learn more about how to build and circulation job postings in Lever, check out the resources linked below:

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