Why Job Descriptions Need to Tell a Story
The article below was written by me and published on ReWork, CornerstoneOnDemand's online ezine on November 16, 2015.
Just as branding — both personal and professional — is essential to marketing or sales, it's increasingly crucial for HR.
Job candidates have understood the power of personal branding for quite some time — the key to landing a dream job is to craft a concise, first-person narrative about who you are and the value you represent to potential employers. For recruiters and hiring managers, tired beyond belief of bland, hackneyed descriptions of “results-driven, self-motivated team players," it's a welcome relief to read about actual people, not automatons.
Now, flip the equation.
With relatively low unemployment rates at 5 percent, employers also need to craft a compelling brand in order to attract the most qualified candidates. What more obvious place to craft your employer narrative than through your job descriptions?
How to Tell a Brand Story to Candidates
A job posting should focus on convincing a talented candidate that he or she belongs at your company. Just as a great resume speaks directly to the hiring manager's needs and shares a unique story, a great job posting should speak to the needs of the candidate's ideal employer and offer a narrative for his or her "character."
1) Lead with a non-stock photo image
The image at the top of the post — a woman on an indoor swing in an art studio — lets interested candidates understand that this is not a buttoned-up, corporate type of job; the company obviously wants to attract creative, daring people.
2) State the company's mission
Candidates immediately get a sense of the employer brand through the image, and a succinct, strong description of the employer confirms the bold brand: "We launched First Round Review to offer a better brand of advice to the startup ecosystem." A link back to the employer's site invites candidates to explore how the Review's mission aligns with the broader vision of First Round Capital and its clients.
3) Invite the candidate to join the adventure
Immediately following the Review's mission, the post states, “That's where you come in." That's right — the posting speaks directly to the candidate, just as candidates should speak directly to the hiring manager through a resume or cover letter.
4) Craft a character
Instead of writing up a laundry list of skills, the Review's posting focuses on character traits: Phrases like "You call yourself a writer first;" "You're curious about people;" and "Tech fascinates you" indicate certain skill sets, but put them in an individual, relatable context. By focusing on such character traits, First Round Review attracts potential hires that may not have every specific skill desired, but certainly have the right interests, approach and personality.
5) Start a conversation, not an application
First Round does have a senior HR executive, one whose strategy seems to empower managers to determine whom they want to interview. Nowhere does the posting instruct candidates to “upload your resume and cover letter." Instead, a link to the manager's email encourages applicants to “talk" to her directly. Terrific! A company that eschews ATS software in favor of an actual human who can identify candidates based not only on their resume, but also on what she intuits.
The New Standard for Job Descriptions
HR professionals have developed a comfort zone with old-style job descriptions that are completely out of sync with the contemporary world of work. Continue posting jobs this way, and I predict that the quality of your candidates will quickly match your behind-the-times recruitment strategy.
I can hear the protests already from companies that require highly specific skills and consider the example I've provided above too "warm and fuzzy" for their culture. But the point is not to copy the exact language above; it's to clearly communicate your company brand and tell a story about the person you're hoping to find.
Think about it this way: When buyers shop for a house, realtors encourage them to envision themselves living there. The specs on square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms matter, of course, but the buyer also needs to believe the specs that make up that house could be a home.
The same thing applies to your company's potential talent pool — your job description should invite the candidate to not only imagine working at your company, but belonging there.