The One Detail You Must Include in a Job Description

Merely laying out responsibilities and qualifications won’t attract the best candidates

Written by Mark Rouse

I read hundreds of job descriptions every week. Some are great, but most are at best functional. A poor job description can cost you the interest of a great candidate. Great job descriptions always answer one specific question: Why?

Think about all the job descriptions you have read or written. What you will probably remember is a list of the tasks and responsibilities that the role entails, and then another of the qualifications and experience required to be considered for it. But what made the person applying to the role want the job? A better salary or more attractive benefits are satisfying, but only temporarily. Having a sense of purpose in the work you do, by contrast, survives the test of time. A great job description provides this sense of purpose. It answers the crucial question, “Why do I want this job?”

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Think about writing a job description like the process of starting a dating relationship. Would you approach a potential date by outlining a list of activities that they will be expected to engage in, and a second list of the accomplishments you expect them to have? Very few people would leap eagerly into a relationship based on that kind of overture. While establishing common interests is important, you would likely focus most of your effort on making yourself appealing and demonstrating the benefits you offer to a potential date—in other words, explaining why someone would want to date you.

Hiring operates on the same principles. You need to sell a potential recruit on your company, not simply make them jump through your hoops. Every role has something additional to offer, beyond just compensation. If your company delivers lifelong learning, talk about it. If the role has a clear path to advancement, describe it. If your company is growing and the candidate will have the opportunity to build and lead a team, highlight it. Figure out what makes your company different and then make it clear to potential employees. The specific “why” you choose to include when you write a job description should be timeless, true today and tomorrow.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink identifies three universal human motivators: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. These motivators offer a great place to start thinking about your specific why. (These motivators are as true to millennials—a group that many employers struggle to motivate—as everyone else). My own favourite is Purpose. When you’re hiring, Purpose can be made immediately relevant to a specific role. Take this example that recently crossed my desk: “The VP Digital will be an advocate and evangelist across all company divisions. You will ensure [company] continues to innovate and remains a leader in our industry; you will position us for the future by helping to create it.”  That’s a purpose that would excite me each and every day if I were in the role.

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Purpose can also be much greater than a single role, and be connected to a company’s core values and mission statement. WestJet is a sought-after employer, a company that people want to work for. The company’s mission statement is, “To enrich the lives of everyone in WestJet’s world by providing safe, friendly and affordable air travel.” It’s a declaration that encapsulates how WestJet treats its employees as well as its customers. Enriching lives is a positive social purpose that exists beyond specific jobs and even business objectives. It’s a Purpose that people can believe in over the long term. What a terrific inclusion this statement would make to a job description.

A job description is a marketing document and sales tool with a singular objective: to attract and secure the best possible candidate for the job. But great candidates have options, and yours is likely not the only role they are considering. So don’t just tell candidates what you want and what you expect—craft your job description to appeal to their sense of purpose. Make them understand that your company is a great place to work. Tell them why.

Mark Rouse is a Partner at IQ PARTNERS Inc., and leads a large recruitment team focused on marketing and communications. After two decades working in some of Toronto’s top communications agencies, he has spent the last nine years working as a trusted advisor helping clients to hire better.


Do you agree? Is purpose the most important detail to include in a job description? Let us know using the comments section below.

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