How to write to better IT job descriptions: 8 steps

IT job descriptions play a big role in the hiring process. Don’t unwittingly turn off ideal candidates, prolong the search, or cause other trouble. Consider these expert tips
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One of the biggest mistakes IT hiring managers can make when they have an open role is not writing a solid, carefully thought-out job description. Without that, managers are setting themselves up for delays, the possibility of making a bad hire, and frustrated candidates, according to Ryan Sutton, district president for Robert Half Technology.

Leaders struggle to identify essential versus “nice-to-have” qualifications.

Crafting an effective job description takes some work. Identifying essential versus “nice-to-have” qualifications, identifying interpersonal and soft skills needed for the job, and accurately describing job duties were the three biggest challenges cited by 2,800 senior managers surveyed by Robert Half.

However, with some additional effort and time, IT leaders can create more compelling, accurate, and effective depictions of the roles they need to fill.

[ Is your interview process reasonable? Read also:  5 IT hiring mistakes leaders are in denial about. ]

And remember, the job description is not all about you. If you turn off qualified people or fail to attract the folks you need, the whole effort is wasted. Consider these eight strategies:

1. Don’t mindlessly recycle old descriptions

A common mistake is to dig up the old job description when a long-time employee decides to leave. “Oftentimes, tenure means that an employee’s roles and responsibilities have shifted – often dramatically – from what they were originally hired to do,” Sutton says. “This may actually result in is mismatched expectations – giving a false sense of a bad hire - when you find your new employee isn’t doing the same things your former team member was doing.”

Instead, take stock of what the exiting employee was actually doing day to day, Sutton advises. “You may actually be looking for a more skilled professional who is at a different experience level.”

2. Don’t outsource the writing to HR

There are many things HR does well; explaining technology roles is typically not one of them. “This can be challenging if the HR team isn’t technical, because they may not use the right terminology or the job description may not make sense, and then it discourages qualified candidates from applying,” notes Jenna Spathis, team lead for technology services at LaSalle Network. “If HR does write the job description, the hiring manager or team should review it for accuracy.”

3. Get consensus on requirements and responsibilities

Often, IT leaders have only a general idea of the position’s responsibilities and requirements when they sit down to write the job description. “But these could change as more colleagues weigh in and the hiring process continues,” Sutton points out.

Begin with a quick survey of stakeholders in the position.

A more careful and planned approach to putting together a description should begin with a quick survey of stakeholders in the position. “Consider the details and responsibilities of the job, seeking input from key team members who will work with the new hire,” says Sutton. “What skills are needed for this position? What professional qualities will help the person succeed in this role?”

4. Edit those requirements down. Ruthlessly.

“Kitchen sink” job postings will turn away far more candidates than they attract.

“Kitchen sink” job postings will turn away far more candidates than they attract.

“Many job descriptions are extremely wordy and read like a laundry list of requirements. This is problematic for two reasons,” says Spathis. “First, some qualified candidates will not apply because they don’t have the ten technologies listed. Second, the opposite could happen: you receive a flood of applications from unqualified candidates. In this market, speed is of the essence, so it’s important to make your job descriptions concise and to the point, so you are receiving qualified applicants.”

Sutton advises IT leaders to decide what skills and experience requirements are absolutely necessary and include only those in the job description. “Any other preferred abilities or qualifications could be added bonuses if the candidate has them,” he says.

As Katie Ross, managing director for Heller Search Associates, recently told us, this point about exhaustive requirement lists is important to remember for hiring managers and job seekers alike. “IT leadership roles are becoming broader in scope coupled with the need for deep technical chops. These candidates are few and far between,” Ross says. “Many clients are betting on the right step-up candidates to fulfill their needs.”

5. Tell a story

While a long list of skills is a turnoff, showcasing the specific day-to-day responsibilities of the position is a plus. “Include projects this person would work on and problems they’d be tasked with solving. If possible, make it specific to the role itself and not the team they are working on,” says Spathis.

Also, highlight how the new hire will intersect with other functions. “Include who this person would work with and how they would interact cross-functionally within the organization,” Spathis advises.

6. Avoid quantifying years of experience

“A candidate could have three years of experience but have been promoted two times and done more in their short time than someone with seven years.”

The number of years a candidate has worked in IT has never been a great barometer for skills or talent, and this can lead many otherwise qualified professionals to opt out of the hiring process. “A candidate could have three years of experience but have been promoted two times and done more in their short time than someone with seven years of experience,” Spathis points out. IT leaders can instead use terms like “mid-level” or “senior-level” to describe the role.

7. Go beyond your needs: Appeal to the job seeker

“This may be a job seeker’s first introduction to your company, and professionals will be turned off if the description doesn’t give enough details about the position or organization, or if it’s just a list of skills and experience needed,” Sutton says. “Include a compelling introduction that will connect with readers and get them excited about the position. Talk about your organization by promoting the company’s strengths, mission, and overall corporate culture. This will help the job seeker learn if they’d like to work with you.”

Spathis calls this “emphasizing the sizzle” – anything that might get candidates excited, such as why other employees enjoy working there, potential career paths, and opportunities for growth.

8. Delay publication until you’ve done your homework

Sure, speed is of the essence, but don’t rush the process. “Make sure you have a well-defined job description before posting or socializing the open position,” Sutton says.

[ Download our free eBook: IT job searching in 2019: A practical guide. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.