I got a surprising amount of positive feedback on a job description I wrote recently, both internally and from candidates. So, I figured I’d write up my process here in case it can help anyone.

Caveat up front: There are lots of ways to do this well; this is just one way that happened to work without a ton of effort on my part.

A Window Into Your Company’s Culture

The job description is a way for you to live your company’s culture. Use that to your advantage. Does it reflect the values of your organization? Does it reflect the way you intend to show up as a leader? Think about key words and ideas that reflect your culture/value that you feel strongly about and work them into the post.

Candidate Self-Selection and “Signaling Phrases”

Job posts are a filter – and that’s okay!

I believe the art of a good job post is candidate self-selection. I want to inspire candidates who would be a great fit to self-select into the role, and I want candidates who wouldn’t be a fit to self-select out.

That means that a job post in a sense has to be performative – it should evoke a response in order to get candidates to do one of those two things.

In our case, here are some key phrases I used and the signals I hoped to send to get candidates to self-select:

Phrase Impression
“We are embarking on the next phase of our product offering” A sense of adventure and also the unknown.
“We’re also looking to the future with an eye toward new products” People looking to learn and build, and who are comfortable in emerging work streams.
“We are operating on the cutting edge of our ecosystem. Our platform runs on .NET 8 (on the first day of its launch!)” Staying current, learning together, moving quickly. A “no BS” signal and a “low management/process overhead” signal.
“We embrace and cultivate a culture of humble leadership and support. We thrive on input and collective ownership.” Team members will need to provide input; we want and need to be comfortable driving things forward. We will support each other.
“We take our work seriously, but also care about work/life balance.” It’s not a 9-5 job; we need people to care about impact. We also have flexibility because we’re more results-oriented than time-oriented.
“If this sounds like you, we encourage you to apply, even if you don’t tick every box” We care about helping people grow. Our goal isn’t to just weed people out our “hire elite people”.
“You don’t mind a little bit of chaos. 😅” We need people who are comfortable in dynamic environments and are willing to help things grow. People who need well-established systems or lots of process will not do well here.
“You care about radiating information and ‘working out loud’” Attracting people who are happy to work transparently, which is important for a small team.
“You know that we all grow together.” We want someone to be comfortable both learning & teaching.
“a team that wants to level each other up” Again, growth mindset and expecting that to be a two-way street.
“You want to continually improve your working process and tools to enable you and your team to deliver better and faster.” Continual improvement and the motivation involved to accomplish that.
“You’ll talk directly to the hiring manager” We’re a no-BS company.
“Salary: Depends on experience. We’ll make sure nobody’s time gets wasted.” I had a decently large range on the salary, and I wanted people to know I was interested in paying what they’re worth in our market, and I also didn’t want to waste time doing a negotiation dance if I could help it.

The goal of all of these phrases: to get motivated people who are tired of being constrained and who want to do their best work on a team that moves quickly to self-select in. And conversely, people who might be looking to hide amongst process or shuffle along in a 9-5 kind of way in a big org would hopefully self-select out.1

Several applicants made reference to the description of “humble leadership” and “thriving on input”. People also had great follow-up questions about the “chaos” that helped me go deeper into conversation to see which candidates would bring the most to the org. Several were excited about the growth opportunities and were attracted to the idea of building new and emerging things. And a few candidates mentioned “leveling each other up” as a strong positive signal for them.

Sections of the Job Post

The structure of a job post also sends a message and is performative in its own way.

I like to structure a post in the form of:

  • About Us
  • About You
  • About This Role
  • Where You’ll Grow

“About Us”

Here, I add brief company background in terms of mission and who some of our customers are. I give a brief look into the future of where the org or team is going. Here is also where I put a lot of the signaling phrases above about culture and organization and the tools we want people to be excited to work with.

“About You”

I try always to include a phrase similar to:

If this sounds like you, we encourage you to apply, even if you don’t tick every box. It’s okay to let us know where your strengths and weaknesses are on this list.

I want to ensure that great candidates don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome and opt-out because they’re weak on one bullet point. I also give special considerations to candidates to tell me where they’re weak on things, because it indicates self-awareness and a willingness to grow.

I try to keep the list of bullets here to the absolute “day 1” skills. The rest should be able to be learned. I also add a list of additional skills and note that “We’ll prioritize candidates who bring one or more of the following” to further encourage stand-out candidates to self-select in.

The skills list here contains technical skills but also core skills around attitude & philosophy (“you value ‘working out loud’”, etc.) – we want to people to self-select in when they feel like it describes them.

“About the Role”

I keep this more high level and tend to talk about the ways this role will contribute to team goals, and a little about the day to day.

I also try to mention an area of focus for the role. This is partly to help set expectations, but also to see if people ask any questions about that specific focus (a strong positive signal in my opinion).

“Where You’ll Grow”

This section exists specifically to send a signal that we want people to want to grow, and we’ll support that. Our goal isn’t to have team members just churning out the same code all day long. This is a great place to attract folks who have a development skills and may be seeking more ownership in the overall delivery process but don’t know how to acquire those skills, which might be “day 1” skills in other roles.

Authenticity is Key

This is the hard part. I think job posts will perform best when they come from someone who’s the hiring manager or close to the hiring manager, and who can speak to the highlights of the organization’s culture. That’s what allows a job description to be infused with authenticity.

The key phrases you use in the job description and the signals you send are things that have to be based in your organization’s current reality instead of wishful thinking. Otherwise candidates – or, even worse, new hires – will sense this and feel duped, leading to bad outcomes and wasted time.

If you can’t post authentically positive things about your organization / team, you probably should work on that first. Let’s make job descriptions real again.

What were the results?

I had a number of candidates I really liked for this position, and in the end, I was able to make offers to two phenomenally talented coders.

In many cases, applicants saw this job post through messages from other professionals in communities who sent it to them and said “this sounds like you”, and they felt the job description authentically described a place they wanted to be. That feels like a resounding success.

  1. Nothing wrong with that, by the way. I don’t think someone’s job has to be their life. But I do need a certain dynamic in our organization at this point in time. 

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