How to Write a Job Ad (That People Actually Want to Apply For)

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

February 2, 2021

Illustrated by

 Jeffrey Phillips

Hiring is an expensive and time-consuming process. Writing a good job description has a significant impact on who applies. Vague descriptions will deter top talent and potentially invite candidates who don’t meet the criteria, increasing the hiring team’s workload. A descriptive and inclusive posting can yield a better candidate pool and a better hire. Great job ads are scarce, but they can speak to a healthy and welcoming company culture (however, they are not the only denominator). Unless the candidate already knows your company, this is a chance to stand out of other jobs on the market.

An exceptional job description creates an entryway to great hires but does not guarantee employee retention. Efforts in building safe and inclusive work environment, sustainable employment practices and having frameworks for feedback and growth will be critical. It’s vital to note that while attracting potential employees is essential, supporting them is even more critical.

A few months ago, we opened applications for the fourth employee at Calibre. As a small, bootstrapped company, we didn’t have the leverage of millions-of-dollars tech companies’ reach and resources. So we decided to approach hiring in our own, unique way. Without external advertising and using job boards, in two weeks, we received 300+ applications from all over the world, resulting in a successful hire within our timeline.

Read the full job description for our Front-end Developer role here.

This guide focuses on how we wrote a successful job ad. In the future, we will be disclosing how we approached other steps of the hiring process.

Choose a role that defines the job best

The role you are hiring for is likely to be the first and most prominent thing people see. Have a lot of role names on your mind? That’s great, but in this case, creativity might work against you.The clearer the role name is in communicating what the job is, the more likely you are to attract the candidates you are looking for and get them to engage with the ad.

If you have precise requirements surrounding skills, on-the-job tasks or stack, don’t be afraid to include them. Some examples of narrowing down through the job title would be: “Front-end Engineer (React.js)”, “Email Designer” or “Ruby Engineer”.

Avoid exclusionary buzzwords such as “ninja”, “guru”, “rockstar”, “unicorn” or “gangster” (yes, you read that right) when workshopping the title. Not only they fail to describe the person you are looking for, but they are also actively deterring candidates, especially from underrepresented groups.

Choose an exact, specific job name to attract the right candidates. Don’t be afraid to get specific. Avoid jargon and buzzwords.

We avoided narrowing our Front-end Developer role further despite having a very well defined stack. At Calibre, while we all have specialised roles, we are also competent generalists. In our context, it wouldn’t make sense to commit ourselves to a very narrowly-defined role when, in reality, we are all independent contributors who can context-switch. Our size also allows us to change direction or stacks when necessary swiftly and brings many opportunities to contribute and learn to those who are willing.

Introduce your organisation

Each time we meet someone, we introduce ourselves. We should do the same in the context of job descriptions. Inevitably, people will land on our job ad in multitudes of ways—from a job board, directly from your website, from a friend who forwarded them a link. We shouldn’t be making assumptions about the level of knowledge a candidate might or might not have about us.

The more you can concisely describe what your organisation does and how it feels to work there, the more likely you are to capture someone’s attention.**

Write a short introduction for your company—who are you, and what do you do? Consider mentioning a handful of core values or the way you work. Always link to your About page.

At no point would we assume that we are or aren’t known. We introduced ourselves by choosing essential facts about the company and our guiding values so that candidates who identify with our mission and work ethos are more likely to apply.

Specify the must-have requirements

Every role will come with skill and logistical requirements and prerequisites that are non-negotiable, such as the time commitment, remote or on-site, timezone or a critical set of skills. Highlighting must-haves upfront makes it easier for candidates to determine if they can meet them or not (although you’re very likely to receive applications that disregard those requirements unless using software that will prevent applications like this from being submitted).

Describe essential requirements that the candidate must meet to make it to the first round of interview. Those conditions might vary between skills, tool familiarity, timezones and other working arrangements.

There were several factors that we were open to exploring and some that were dealbreakers. For example, the role was full time, but we were open to varying levels of experience, depending on skill and promise. We were ready to hire remotely worldwide, as long as there were at least 4 hours cross over with AEST between 8 AM and 6 PM local time (roughly our working hours).

Explain the day-to-day tasks

Job descriptions that solely rely on a list of requirements, skills, and tools do very little to portray how a day at work might look. While some might be inclined to apply for a job without that context, a good description of daily work duties increases the chances of the answer to” do I want to be doing this every day?” being yes.

Compile a list of typical tasks on the job. List tools and methodologies, so candidates have a good idea about how you work.

We wrote a comprehensive list of most typical tasks for a Front-end Developer, such as “Building customer-facing user interfaces in Calibre itself (React, Styled-System, Apollo/GraphQL, Rails, HTML, CSS / Styled-components)” or “Remotely collaborating via Slack, Notion, GitHub, Figma and a weekly video chat”.

We were explicit about tooling and technology not only for transparency but also to signal that this would be the working environment to whoever got the role. Being upfront about those details again allows candidates to make a conscious decision on whether they are capable (or willing to grow into certain skillset) and wanting to work in such a way.

Define the necessary experience and traits

The day-to-day roundup and must-have requirements are a good starting point, but we still have to state our desired hire’s necessary experience and traits. In a way, you could approach this as a research exercise of creating a persona for your new employee. What are they like, and what can they do? Explaining necessary experience in a more story-telling way makes it easier for people to compare their working style and skills with the description.

Write a bio for your future employee featuring desired skills, working style and personality traits. Try answering: “who are they and what can they do?”.

We mix-and-matched experience with personal qualities we wanted to find to describe who we wanted to hire. For example, “You’re self-motivated and can work independently”, and “You’re comfortable or have production-level experience with JavaScript, React, GraphQL, PostgreSQL and even the odd Bash script”.

We knew that working at a remote, soon-to-be four people company necessitates comfort with asynchronous, independent work and ownership, so we prioritised those qualities as much as the tools and tech.

List employee benefits

While many companies focus on everything the candidate must bring, we also emphasise what they will get in exchange (other than a salary). Hiring is a two-way street—you are more likely to attract more applications when you can effectively show how you support people’s life and being successful at work with the help of benefits.

Different individuals have varying requirements for their future job—from generous annual and family leave policies, medical care to a conference and learning budgets. Listing benefits makes it easy for them to decide whether applying for your job is worth their time. Employee perks shouldn’t be treated as a shiny bait to lure candidates but established to support work-life balance and holistic success.

Write a comprehensive list of employee benefits providing as much detail as possible. Put emphasis on the fact that employment is a mutual relationship.

While Calibre might be a reasonably small, bootstrapped company, we still had options to provide meaningful benefits within our budget. It’s possible for companies of all sizes and levels of revenue to curate budget-attainable perks. Ours align with what we hold dear ourselves: health, generous time off, professional development and a comfortable place to work.

Explain how to apply and the interview process

Looking for a job can quickly itself become a full-time job. With a vast majority of ads not mentioning the interview process at all, it’s impossible to guess the time commitment necessary to apply and proceed with the process. People approach job searching in diverse ways based on their background—for example, some might be privileged enough to take a few months to pursue new opportunities while others will be interviewing on top of their existing, often full-time, commitments. This (and many other factors) will affect which opportunities they might be willing to engage with.

Being explicit from the get-go in how the interview process looks and how long it takes shows that you respect the candidate’s time and efforts. Based on your description of the process requirements, people can make conscious choices, such as “does this appeal to me?” or “do I have the capacity to do this?”.

Describe how to apply and outline the steps in the interview process. Set timelines for the entire process. Communicate application deadlines and commit to responding to candidates in a timely fashion.

We weren’t using any hiring-specific software, so we deliberately outlined how we will be receiving applications. Excluding the initial application, our entire process would take no longer than 2.5 hours spanning over three calls. We committed to responding to every candidate, no matter what, and offering them feedback on the application. Our entire process took 21 days, as outlined in the ad.

Be inclusive and accommodating

Looking for a job and going through hiring processes is stressful, chaotic, intimidating and often straight demoralising. We kept coming back to one of our primary goals throughout writing the ad: to be as humane, kind and accommodating as possible. Words have power, and words chosen with care will leave a positive impression on your candidates.

Be critical of your language and phrasing. Is it welcoming and thoughtful? Does it exclude any groups and favour others? Continue educating yourself on fostering inclusion through language.

We tried achieving inclusion through multitudes of ways, such as: avoiding exclusionary language (for example: assuming gender), speaking directly to the candidate or offering help throughout the application and interview process to whoever might require it. We did our best to humanise what otherwise feels like a pretty inhumane ordeal by ensuring that everyone is welcome.

It’s important to acknowledge that the work of fostering inclusion and creating a safe working environment spans much further than writing a good job description. It’s an ongoing commitment that should be in the front of your mind in every aspect of your company and teams’ operations.

The best job ad is a humane and transparent one

From the minute we committed to hiring another person to join us at Calibre, we knew the importance of writing a great job description. We also wanted to avoid common mistakes we experienced firsthand while looking for new jobs ourselves. Transparency and being human are among the core ways we approach everything we do, so we successfully extended the same values in writing a job description.

Hopefully, this post has shown you that any organisation can write a great, effective job ad no matter its size or revenue.

Good luck!

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

Karolina is a Co-founder and Product Design Lead at Calibre. With years of design experience under her belt, she’s responsible for the comprehensive user experience spanning over product, visuals and content. Find her on Mastodon or LinkedIn.

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