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How You Should Format a Job Description in 2020

Executive Summary

The Millennial wave has been slowly crashing on the national and global workforce for years, and now, the generation accounts for more than one-third of the labor population. Now, a Centennial whirlpool is brewing, and the business world is being forced to reconsider how they are attracting these new types of candidates with different values, attitudes, and interests.

  • Human resource trainer and consultant, Diane Arthur, recommends that companies start developing a shorter job description format with more visuals and text that demonstrates a knowledge of what Millennials and Centennials want and how they talk about it.
  • When you are done with the first draft of your updated job description, run it by the target demographic; get feedback from Millennials and Centennials within your organization or social circle.
  • By understanding how the current majority of the workforce defines themselves by their roles and their work, you will be better situated to acquire resumes from the most qualified candidates.

The essential elements of an effective job description format, including identifying tasks, education, work experience, and specialized skills and knowledge, are covered in my book, Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting & Orienting New Employees Sixth Edition. As important as these categories are, however, consider taking additional steps if you want to target two specific groups of candidates: Millennials (1977-1995), who have taken over Baby Boomers in population, and Centennials (1996 -), with the oldest members now part of the workforce.

Keep It Short

Millennials and Centennials prefer brief, meaningful information about what they need to know in order to quickly decide, “am I interested in this job?” Instead of a lengthy description of what the job entails, limit yourself to simple headings with no more than three concise statements under each heading:

  • “The Job” cites three core responsibilities
  • “You“ identifies key employee traits
  • “Us” offers appealing information about the company

Be clear about how a person can apply, placing this information at the top and again at the bottom of the job description. Your goal at this stage is to generate interest; you can provide a full, detailed job description during the interview.  

Incorporate Visuals

The eye takes in visuals far more quickly than the brain can process words. Visuals also improve cognition. Color images accompanied by engaging fonts of your company’s brand, images of employees performing various tasks, and intriguing photos of the work environment all take an instant to absorb and can make a strong impact. For example, if you want to promote your workplace as one that promotes diversity without relying on words, show members of your workforce who represent various ethnicities, generations, genders, and disabilities, all performing jobs at different levels of responsibility.

You can also go beyond these visual basics by creatively using interconnecting shapes like Venn diagrams, or incorporating cartoons, riddles, pop culture references, interactive games, pie charts, and graphs. While these will make you stand out, be careful not to stray from your brand by suggesting an environment that doesn’t realistically represent your workplace.

View Your Culture Through Millennial and Centennial Eyes         

Millennials and Centennials are collectively recognized as wanting to know from the outset what life at work will be like beyond their actual responsibilities. While generalities are usually ill-advised, certain traits set each generation apart from one another in some significant ways, including what defines an ideal corporate culture. Millennials expect their employers to provide a technologically current workplace, anticipate immediate feedback and rapid results, are proactive, and less patient when it comes to career advancement. Centennials share these traits and are additionally characterized as being able to multitask and process information faster than previous generations.

Adding “we’re looking for employees who are technologically adept, quick thinking, proactive, and want to get ahead” to your job descriptions can yield positive results. Just make sure it’s true.

Consider the Tone of Your Words

The tone of a job description can be as significant as the actual words and should

reflect the culture. Some workplaces are, by virtue of their product or service, more likely to warrant a lighter tone suggesting a less structured, more creative environment. Statements about open work spaces, casual reporting relationships, and greater flexibility in work schedules should be supported by the tone of your words. Conversely, a laid-back tone could come across as unprofessional in a more conventional workplace.    

Note that certain words, such as “rockstar,” ninja” and “hacker” are said to attract more men and thus may convey a gender-coded tone.

Additional Tips

  • Make mobile-friendly job descriptions. Reportedly, 68% of Millennials and Centennials search for jobs on their mobile phones and digital devices. This may mean reevaluating the formatting of your descriptions for easier reading.
  • Refresh your online presence. Offer a varied social media experience through appealing and up-to-date postings on your website, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter.
  • Highlight the advantages of working at your company. Include the caption, “What Sets Us Apart,” and convey, preferably through images, why someone would want to work for you. Do you have an onsite gym? Allow pets at work? Cater lunch? Provide a nap room? Don’t limit yourself to what you offer; say what you don’t provide as well, e.g., an atmosphere of micromanagement.
  • Show that the job is just the beginning. Stress growth opportunities by identifying the available job as part of a succession path.
  • Focus on skills and traits. Many Millennials and most Centennials do not yet have much experience, so list the characteristics that you value in your next hire.
  • Check out your competition. What are they offering that you’re not? What messaging are they using in their job descriptions?
  • Run your job description through a filter. Ask Millennials and Centennials at work for anonymous feedback regarding the content, tone, and appearance of your job descriptions.

By staying abreast of what Millennials and Centennials value in a job and work environment, you’re more likely to increase your chances of finding the best possible candidate.

Bring It Home

Both sides of the recruiting table are difficult to master. But oftentimes, finding the solution that will satisfy all stakeholders' needs starts with a job description format that accomplishes two things: 1) Increases enthusiasm for the right candidates and 2) Effectively communicates who the right candidate will be. How do you entice the best possible candidates through your job description format? What's the worst job description you have seen? Join the conversation below. ~ HarperCollins Leadership Essentials

Diane Arthur

Diane Arthur is the founder of Arthur Associates Management Consultants, Ltd. Human Resource Development Specialists. For the past 30 years, she has provided training and consulting services to numerous organizations in all facets of HR, especially in both nonprofit and corporate work environments. Click here to learn more about Diane.

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1 comment

  • Great article. This was helpful for me in writing a new job description for an entry level marketing position.


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