Top five reasons why you shouldn't start your job description with a question

If I had a quarter for every job description I’ve seen that starts with a question, I’d be in Aruba right now sipping cocktails, and not in my home office in my flannel and Birkenstocks. I’ve been in and around the recruiting industry for 25 years (wait, whaaat?) and in that time, I’ve seen the trend of companies starting their job descriptions with a question, which has coincided with the increase in the usage of internet tech for hiring and job seeking.

I get that hiring managers and recruiters rarely have writing backgrounds or an interest in elegant prose (too high a bar for job descriptions?). For them, writing a job description is an activity they would prefer to get over. Starting a job description with a question is a shortcut; it keeps them from thinking too hard about kicking off the description in a meaningful way. I’m not going to say that it’s a lazy approach, but if that’s the conclusion you come to after reading what I have to say, I’m not going to argue with you.

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So I thought I would give you my top five reasons why you need to stop writing JDs that start with a question.

Reason one: it’s old and overdone

Try to remember the last compelling job description intro you read that started with a question. Can’t do it? That is because everybody is doing it. And everybody is doing it wrong, so there’s that. Every time I look at a job description for a company I admire and see that they have done this, I think “ugh, you too?” It’s boring because we see it so frequently. Speaking of boring…

Reason two: it’s the same core question, over and over

Does your job description start with these four words: “are you passionate about”? If so, you need to stop it right now. “Do you enjoy?”, “Do you want to?”, “Have you dreamed of?” “Do you want to make an impact?” Ugh.

Listen, I get it. Many of you work at companies with recruiting taglines that include the word passion (I’ll blog about that another time). But a recruiting tagline is a one-size-fits-all kind of proposition. And you are marketing a specific group and job. So don’t fall back on the mad lib approach to writing job descriptions. It’s inherently uninteresting.

Reason three: people don’t talk like that

When was the last time you said to a friend “I’m really passionate about…”? I don’t know about you, but I don’t talk that way. I’m more likely to day “I really love gardening” or “I can’t wait to go antique shopping”. Passion is such a high bar and it’s reserved for very few things in my life. And if you got the advice that you need to find a job you are “passionate” about, you got bad advice, kid. Very few of us have the luxury of feeling “passionate” about what we do. Interest, probably. Enjoyment, maybe. But passion? I mean you wouldn’t rather be doing anything else? If you have that job, good for you…sincerely. But I’d venture to guess that most people don’t feel passion toward their jobs. There’s a reason why you get paid for it. Passion is most frequently reserved for the thing you do for free.

Please don’t @ me explaining that you are passionate about your job, because all I am going to do is congratulate you. It ain’t everybody, but we all need to make a living.

Reason four: you fail to tap into all the reasons your job and company are exciting

I’ve written guides for clients on writing job descriptions, to help them frame their thinking before they put the proverbial (or actual) pen to paper. They key, I explain, is to actually think and plan before you write the job description. As with any other activity aimed at engaging possible job-seekers, you need to start with the job-seeker in mind.

What are likely candidates going to find interesting about the work? Notice, I am not asking what you find interesting. You need to get into the head of your target audience where they are - outside of your company – knowing what they know. There is a difference between what people get excited about before they join your company (without a full understanding of what it’s going to be like working there) and what they enjoy once they work there.

So try to put yourself in their shoes. Remember what it was like to be a candidate and what you learned about the company and job that sparked an interest for you. If it was a long time ago, talk to someone else in the role. Some questions to ask are:

  • when you were looking for a new position, what were the key factors you were considering in a potential employer?

  • why do you do this kind of work? How did you choose this career path?

  • what did you learn about the company and role during the hiring process that stuck out to you as compelling?

  • why do you stay?

With these things in mind, you can craft a job description that represents a potential candidate’s true interest, not the attitude you want them to have (that passion thing). Because, remember, you are marketing to them.

Reason five: go for “yes”, not “no” and prove to the candidate that you get them

As a potential candidate reads your job description, you want them to be saying yes as they scroll down the page. I think back to when I was recruiting. It wasn’t a career I planned, I just kind of fell into it like many people in the industry. But I was good at it. If I had to narrow down why I stayed to one super-motivating reason, it was because I got to help people make a major life decision that they were excited about. Yeah, I was good at the mechanics of the job, the finding part. I liked to dig into my clients’ business to learn something new and build trust with them. But if you asked me for one singular reason, it was about the candidates.

If you read job descriptions for recruiters, it’s not likely you will see them asking if the job-seeker is passionate about candidates. I mean, the company is paying the recruiter to represent them and not candidates. But that doesn’t mean it’s the part that interests recruiters most; that keeps them motivated.

I just did a quick search on Indeed for recruiter job postings that contain the phrase “are you passionate” to see if any of them reflected my interest in a recruiting role back when that was my day gig. Some of the things these postings wanted folks to be passionate about:

“delivering goals to your client that go above and beyond their expectations”

“contributing to the growth of a high-performing, STEM-focused school network”

“recruiting or sales”

“furthering your career into the recruiting world”

“guiding our applicants through the hiring process”

“the Talent Acquisition Profession and the impact you can make on the organizations you support”

“making a difference for your clients”

“creating experiences that people love and being a pioneer for change”

Seriously, meh, meh, meh. None of those inspire any excitement for me. Reading this, I would be asking myself “hey self, am I passionate about this thing?”, knowing that that company expects you to act passionate about that thing. Could I muster it? Maybe in an interview, but not every day.

And some of those things are so vague, I really don’t know what to think. Am I passionate about creating experiences people love? Uh, I guess but I’m not sure what that means in the context of this job. About sales? Nope. Guiding applicants through the hiring process? What does that mean? Are you saying you don’t have recruiting coordinators? Good god.

I guess my point is, don’t give job prospects something to say no to (which sounds pretty obvious) and don’t give them questions that only appeal to a subset of your audience when the rest of your targets will respond with “I guess?” or “do I have to be?”

Don’t condescend with this “are you passionate” language. Give them a real understanding of what your organization does, why the work is important and what it’s like working there and let them decide what motives them to do the job.

PSSST! If you are interested in training recruiters or hiring managers to improve their JD writing skills, creating resources for them or developing core employer branding messaging, I’d be happy to talk to you about how I can help.