Let Me Work for You: The Five Insights on the Perfect Job Listing

My recent posts on applying for a job were pretty popular. Apparently, there are a lot of applicants out there wondering just how this whole job search thing works, and I’m not surprised. I’ve applied for jobs for which I was, if I do say so, a perfect fit and heard nothing back. Nothing. Not so much as a “Are you serious?”

So, let’s look at it from the other side. Here are the five most incredible job listing insights for hiring managers ever recorded in a post on LinkedIn. You won’t believe what happens next.

Insight #1: Know what you need. Write it down.

You’re hiring, I would assume, to address some need in your company and not just to add headcount. Let’s say that you’ve recently lost your best Ruby on Rails developer, and that’s exactly what your team needs to get your product out on time.

You’ve got a need. You want the best candidate you can find to fill that specific role. Figure out what they have to be able to do: test-driven development, metaprogramming, API design, whatever. If they can’t do these things, they simply cannot do the job. Period.

Now, maybe you want this person to be someone who takes over supervisory duties, can act as a scrum master, or set up a web server. That’s fine. When I started my first business, I built the machines, installed the phone system, went on sales calls, and designed the logo. Just be clear that you need this person to be able to do these things and write them down.

Insight #2: Know what you want. Write it down.

You’ve figured out what you must have from this person. Ideally, it’s just a few things. The more you add to that list, the more you limit the pool of prospective candidates who might be absolutely awesome at the core skills you need, but you also want to limit applications from those will just muddy up your decision making process.

Still, there are probably some things that you’d like to see but don’t need. Maybe it would help everyone if this person had DevOps skills to back up your solo DevOps gal. It might be nice if they could speak Spanish to talk to a particular overseas partner’s team. OK, fair enough, write those down on list #2.

Just be sure that you have a genuine use case. Don’t say “oh, we’d like to get into mobile someday, I’ll stick iOS in there, too”. That’s a slippery slope to a deep well of sticky wickets. You’ll come up with ten things you can’t actually use right now but will make you second-guess eliminating someone who doesn’t meet your needs. Don’t over-engineer your list. These are optional, but immediately applicable, skills.

Insight #3: You don’t have to write the other stuff down.

There’s something about writing a job description that causes people to want to add certain things because… well, they’re just always in job descriptions.

“Creative problem solver.”
“Good communicator.”
“Willing to roll up sleeves and do what needs to be done.”

Are you really expecting someone to read a job description and think, “Oh! A self-starter… no… I’m pretty lazy.” or “Good communicator! How fortuitous! I believe my skills are impeccably matched to this opportunity!”

That makes about as much sense to me as saying “must be able to show up for work and not bite others.”

Insight #4: Step back and think about what it’s REALLY like to work here.

At Zappos Labs, you work in a small team, have the opportunity to travel to Las Vegas several times a year, and the office is located just blocks from the Ferry Building. You get Mac-based equipment and a healthy discount on your purchases. There’s a genuine focus on work-life balance (as opposed to somewhere like Uber). You work in scrums for development, and projects vary widely from mobile apps to Pinterest integrations. The office is focused on exploring the future of retail and, so, spends a lot of time brainstorming.

I believe all of that information is interesting to a candidate. Sometimes, it’s hard for the hiring manager to see outside of their own environment. They may think “free beer and a ping-pong table” covers it, but a job is not a job is not a job.

What is it like to work at your company. Summer hours? Noisy? Pair programming? Remote work possible? Weekly all-company standups? Travel? Will I be working on a production system with millions of users or designing prototypes of crazy ideas? Are we heads-down focused on execution for a greater goal or independently trying new things in search of the next big idea?

Craft yourself a paragraph or two describing some of the unique, descriptive aspects of working in this particular job at this particular company. And don’t lie. That’s no way to start out a long-term relationship. A bad reputation is a hard thing to correct, and the world is getting smaller and smaller in that regard.

Insight #4: Put it all together. Clearly.

You’ve got a list of wants and needs (and you’ve thrown out your list of “must breathe oxygen” requirements). You’ve got a good description written of the office and what the candidate could expect if they came to work there. Now put them together in a way that makes both the job and the requirements for the applicant as clear as possible.

I’d start out by describing the job that you’re trying to fill. Give it a reasonably descriptive title and summary. “Devlpmt Eng IV: Class C” is not very descriptive. I think something like “Senior Ruby Developer for Search” is better. List what the job basically entails on a day-to-day basis. Don’t go into painful detail, just give a decent overview.

You’ll currently be leading two other junior developers in creating and refactoring Ruby code used to integrate Elasticsearch indexing with our catalog systems…

Sure, the job might change over time. OK, put in a “Your responsibilities will grow and change as our technical architecture does.” disclaimer. But don’t be afraid to say what the person is expected to do. It’s likely that that’s what they’ll be doing for some time.

Now, list the requirements from your first needs list. Make it clear that these are “must-haves”. Be very careful that you commit to only those things you think this person cannot do the job without. Every additional thing you list should narrow the field appropriately.

Next comes the list of wants. Be very clear here, too, that these are things that are not required but that you’d be happy to see in an applicant. This is dicey. If you haven’t been selective about what you list here, you stand to eliminate less-confident-but-still-awesome people. “Here are a few things that are definitely not required but would make us take extra notice if you meet the above requirements…”

You’re trying to avoid “unicorn syndrome”. The more stuff you list, the less any one of them means. They have a subtractive effect on good people and an additive effect on bad ones. There are people who know exactly what they’re great at, and they won’t apply if they see stuff, even optional stuff, that they don’t know anything about. Likewise, there are those who aren’t terribly good at anything, and they’ll apply if they see anything they recognize.

A unicorn listing buys you a bunch of wasted time and noise. And time is…

Bonus Insight: Your time is valuable. So is theirs.

Make it clear what to do next and what to expect. Try not to ask people to give you their LinkedIn profile, upload their resume, and then fill out a four-page form with all the same information. Give them an idea how long it might take to hear back, or let them know that they might not hear back– though, I’m not keen on that. Try to get back to them quickly.

There are two ways to look at this one. First, if you’ve lucked out and some awesome candidate has applied, or been recruited, to talk to you you’ve been given an opportunity that others will recognize and seize if you don’t. Don’t blow it. Call the person. See what they’d like to know, what they’d like to do, and how you can expedite the process of evaluating if they’re as awesome as they look on paper.

Second, anyone who applies to your job deserves some kind of response. You don’t have to craft a personal letter to everyone, but let them know what’s up as soon as you can. A simple “thank you for applying, but we don’t feel there’s an appropriate fit for this position right now” should suffice. You never know when that person might be perfect and remember that you treated them decently.

Ideally, if you’re getting so many applicants that you can’t personally respond, you’ve got an applicant tracking system or human assistant who can help. Yes, it takes time, but it’s the decent thing to do.

There you go… did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.



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