Want to Improve Employer Brand? Fix Your Job Description.

March 29th, 2017

Jon-Mark Sabel



Building an employer brand is difficult. Shaping an organization’s reputation is a convoluted and complex process with hundreds of moving parts: which is why, in the attempt to attract top talent, organizations are pouring millions of dollars into its management. And in their well-intentioned fervor, most are ignoring the simplest solution: fixing the job description.

The Simplest Solution

If someone told you they could engage customers with a genuine interest in your brand while building your reputation among those that didn’t, all for free, you would be justified in dismissing them out of hand. Yet a well-purposed job description does exactly that. Job descriptions are some of the most front-facing content in your employer brand. Individuals with a genuine interest in your organization interact with them on a daily basis. As the first line of interaction with an organization’s brand, the potential for customer connection-building (and customer loss) is huge. Your job descriptions already exist, and with a few tweaks you can change them to improve your employer brand and attract more of the best candidates.

The Problem with Traditional Job Descriptions

Think about the last job description you saw or posted. Chances are it looked something like this:

<Job Name> <Brief Description of Duties>

  • Duty #1
  • Duty #2
  • Duty #3
  • etc.

<Brief Description of the “Ideal Candidate” - previous work, schooling, etc>

  • Preferred degree
  • Preferred employment
  • Preferred years of experience
  • etc.

<Link to Application>

  Psychologists refer to this as the “demands-abilities” (D-A) approach. Some organizations attempt to spruce these generic forms up, usually with an over-excited, informal tone:  

<SUPER Job Name> <Brief, Over-excited Description of Duties, ie: “We’re looking for a SUPER person to join our AWESOME team…”>

  • Duty #1
  • LUDICROUS Duty #2
  • Duty #3
  • etc.

<Brief Description of the “Ideal Candidate”, ie: “The best person for this role is a UNICORN, minus the horn!”>

  • Preferred degree
  • Preferred employment
  • Preferred years of experience
  • etc.

<Link to Application>

  Job descriptions that take this approach are rapidly increasing in number, ironically contradicting the “unique organization” vibe they’re trying to portray. The first organizations to debut these “fun” job descriptions succeeded because, at the time, they were fun and unique. Nowadays most job seekers see it as putting lipstick on a pig.

"Employer Brand" Misapplied

The over-excited, informal description above is an example of employer brand misapplied. Praise of the “classic” Silicon Valley workplace, characterized by onsite pool tables and catered lunch, is so pervasive that job posters have been led to think that job seekers want these three things:

  1. A “fun” workplace.
  2. An informal workplace.
  3. A unique and edgy company culture.

When in reality, top performers (and ever-elusive Millennials) want something entirely different:

  1. Professional development.
  2. Understanding where they fit in the big picture.
  3. A close bond with management, built on mentorship, not chastisement.

Clearly there's a disconnect.

Fixing the Job Description

Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends Report considers the job description so important it receives its own “New Rule of Talent Acquisition.” It reads as follows:

New Rule #4: "Job descriptions focus on the needs of the candidates - a tactic that yields three times as many highly rated applicants."

While this perspective on job descriptions could just as easily been grouped in this other “New Rule”...

New Rule #2: "Employment brand has a complete strategy, reaching into all possible candidate pools and channels."

…the minds at Deloitte consider the job description so paramount they gave it its own. Though Deloitte lists the candidate-focused job description as a “New Rule,” few employers have yet to implement it. In other words, those that focus on the candidate's needs gain a “first to market” advantage during what many consider to be a talent shortage. So how do we focus the job description on the needs of the candidates?

From “Demands-Abilities” to “Needs-Supplies”

Remember the three things top candidates actually want from their roles? You can see them reflected in the recommendations of this study from the Journal of Business and Psychology. According to the authors, job descriptions should focus on:

  1. Career advancement opportunities.
  2. Work autonomy.
  3. Professional development.

By taking the focus off the organization’s demands and placing it on how the organization can supply the candidate’s needs, you can increase the number of highly qualified applicants threefold. Of course, the job description should still lay out the basic expectations for the role. But letting candidates know your organization is invested in their personal development sends a powerful signal: that you are an employer worth working for. Let's look at how this job description might play out:

<Job Name> <Brief Description of Duties> <Description of Opportunities>

  • Examples of vertical and horizontal mobility
  • Examples of mentorship and other learning programs
  • Health, tuition coverage, and other perks
  • Examples of team-based projects and their results (showing what they can expect to be a part of)

<Brief Description of Expected Work Experience, etc> <Link to Application>

  Notice a difference?  

The New Rules of Talent Acquisition are here: how does your organization stack up?

Use our SlideShare synopsis to quickly evaluate your hiring process.