The ruse is up: Why it’s time for transparent job descriptions

Today’s workers see through job posting jargon. Here’s how transparent job descriptions can help improve retention and engagement.

The ruse is up: Why it’s time for transparent job descriptions

6 min read

Do your job postings use the same tired phrases as everyone else’s? Your applicants notice.

A fundamental shift to remote and contingent work means that workers read more job postings than ever — and they do so whether or not they are already employed. A recent PwC US Pulse Survey discovered that 65 percent of employees are looking for a new job.

The purpose of the Great Resignation, for most workers, is to find new work. Applicants seek work that provides the challenge and sense of purpose they want and leaves behind the toxic workplace elements they don’t. Using old words and phrases communicates that the old toxic elements still exist, too.

To reach workers, companies will need to set aside old standbys like “attention to detail” in favor of clear, transparent descriptions of the work itself.

“Fast-paced environment” and other lies

Some job posting buzzwords are so worn out they’re transparent — and not in the way job-seekers want communication transparency. Experience seeking the right fit in job after job may lead job-seekers to interpret some of the most overused phrases in uncharitable ways:

  • “Fast-paced environment” — We’re understaffed.
  • “A dynamic self-starter” — Our onboarding process is nonexistent.
  • “Competitive compensation” — In the race to the bottom, we’re in the lead.
  • “Roll up your sleeves”/”wear many hats” — We haven’t really defined this job, so be prepared to do anything we ask, whether or not it’s actually in your skill set.
  • “Committed to diversity” — We love the idea, but we haven’t actually changed our behavior.

Whether these interpretations are accurate for any given company, they have become standard interpretations among job-seekers. Candidates are collectively exhausted by the avalanche of identical job postings making identical promises — spurring identical pessimism.

Silence speaks as well. Job-seekers interpret what job postings say, and they also interpret what the job posting does not say. For example:

  • Vague descriptions of responsibilities or missing responsibilities communicate that the job is not defined and that it probably won’t help the applicant build their skills or advance their career.
  • Cute or catchy job titles. An “SEO marketing unicorn” might do everything — or nothing. Fun-sounding titles hide their own lack of substance and may also hide exploitative work conditions, says Rootstrap’s Patrick Ward.
  • Lack of salary or benefits information. If the job posting omits any discussion of compensation, job-seekers assume the company has something to hide, like an unacceptably low salary or lack of benefits.

Why do these writing patterns in job postings persist? Often, it’s because the HR team members tasked with creating a job description or posting lack the skills and information they need to do the job well, writes Katrina Kibben, founder of Three Ears Media.

For example, the person tasked with creating a job posting may not know:

  • What the day-to-day demands of the role really are.
  • How to describe company culture effectively.
  • Whether to risk breaking out of the traditional mold of job postings — which includes buzzwords.

Staff members may also assume that job-seekers know what they mean when they write “seeking a rockstar” or “detail-oriented.” The problem is that job-seekers also assume they know what these terms mean, writes digital marketing director Shannon Grounds, but the intended and received meanings may be worlds apart.

Coin-operated binoculars looking out over the Blue Ridge Mountains; transparent job descriptions concept

Rising demands for transparency

When job-seekers read job postings, they’re not looking for just any role. They’re looking for work that advances their skills and provides career support in an environment that enhances their approach to work.

“Let’s set it straight: job listings or job ads are in fact job advertisements,” writes columnist Kelly Main at Inc. Magazine. Employers are selling job-seekers on the opportunities for skill growth the role offers. And job-seekers are savvy shoppers: They aren’t interested in yet another ad that offers only empty promises.

A 2017 LinkedIn study of candidates’ expectations during the job search reveals that candidates are looking for a core set of facts:

  • 70 percent want to hear about role responsibilities no later than the interview stage.
  • 42 percent want to understand how they will fit with the rest of the team.
  • 39 percent want a clear understanding of the salary and benefits attached to the role.
  • 31 percent want to know more about paths to advancement.

Yet job postings continually fail to deliver, with compensation regularly left off the list. Although more than one-third of candidates want to know about pay, only about 12 percent of online job postings in the U.S. currently list salary ranges, says Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

Transparency offers benefits for employers, too. For instance, listing salary instead of saying it is “competitive” builds trust with candidates, who don’t have to guess what “competitive” means. Applicants who don’t want to take the role for the pay offered will also remove themselves from consideration early, rather than making it to the offer stage before saying no.

Many companies see increases in applications from qualified job-seekers when they include pay in their job postings. Within nine months of adding pay scales to its job postings, Vancouver software company Bench saw “a huge uptick in the number of candidates that have applied,” reports Spencer Miller, Bench’s head of people analytics.

In short, companies save themselves time and effort in the hiring process by being transparent about pay, duties, and working conditions in the job posting — and they attract more applicants.

space and stars with silhouette of telescope; transparent job descriptions concept

To tell the truth, know the truth

“When people are looking at job descriptions, they are looking for the details that drive their motivations when changing jobs,” says Monica Lewis, head of product for LinkedIn Jobs. To communicate these details effectively, employers need first to know what those details are.

Salary offers an instructive example. At first glance, salary information seems simple: The company knows what it can afford to pay a worker to fill a particular role. Yet how does that salary compare to what similar organizations are offering — or what workers expect?

Using the word “competitive” to describe compensation can feel like an easy way around questions about compensation’s actual competitiveness. Yet the buzzword drives away candidates, too.

The answer lies in better data and better data analysis.

Organizations that have access to deeper data pools and the AI-enabled tools to analyze this data can glean better insights into their own roles, tasks, skill demands, and compensation structures. Deeper analysis can be used to create job postings that address a number of candidate concerns in a candid way. For example:

  • Analyzing compensation trends can help companies be clear about what they offer and why — in the job posting itself.
  • Understanding workers’ skill sets and paths within the company can help companies pinpoint the skills required for the role and find candidates with those skills.
  • Examining how past employees have advanced within the organization can help companies sell a path to advancement within the job description.

In a world of intense job mobility, hiring for the current open role is only the first step for HR teams. Solving the immediate hiring problem must be kept in context with the worker’s entire skill set and long-term career options. When hiring, says Susan Arthur, CEO at CareerBuilder,

“I now have to think about what I can do that is uniquely special to help this person grow.”

Data analysis, including predictive analytics, provides the information human resources teams need to help each new hire grow. It also provides the information HR teams need to reach candidates with the right skill sets — by making it possible to write the clear, transparent job applications these candidates seek.

Images by: gajus/©, melpomen/©, forplayday/©

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