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July 1, 2022

How to Write an Engaging Job Description

a person at a computer with a dog and cat looking over their shoulder

I’m begging you: if you want to write an ah-mazing job description, stay far, far away from the Google search bar. I love Google and all, but I’m pretty sure the last thing a candidate-driven market needs is more job descriptions that “include an objective statement” and “include a list of duties and tasks”.

You can do better, and if you’re looking for great applicants, you need to do better. Instead of starting with the template you’ve been rocking since ’08 , try starting with our old buddy Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.

maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

For the uninitiated, Abraham Maslow was a 1940s psychologist who spent the majority of his life trying to explain why people do what they do. He concluded that humans are motivated by a hierarchy of needs, as outlined by his fairly-famous pyramid. Maslow’s theory states that we humans’ motivations move up the pyramid as each level of our needs are met.

Got the warmth and rest covered? Now you’ll want safety. Got safety? Now you’ll want friends…and so on. I wouldn’t suggest attempting to trigger the most basic needs in your job descriptions (“Ready for a job that will provide your food and water? We’ve got the perfect role!”), but leveling up provides us an opportunity to leverage some pretty sophisticated emotional triggers.

Below are 3 emotional triggers inspired by Maslow’s Pyramid, and some actionable ways to put them to work in your job descriptions.

Job Description Emotional trigger 1: The need to belong

Think about the last time you pumped some effort into a social post. Maybe it was a photo of the cake you made for your son’s birthday, or the electric-blue car you decided to buy after months of debate. Maybe it was snaps from a concert that you knew everyone would drool over. You remember how gratified you felt when the likes came rolling in?

That’s the need to belong at work. It’s the primary logic behind social media (yes, there is some logic behind social media).

How to use the need to belong in your job descriptions

  • Your candidates will be joining a team, right? Then let’s talk about the team! This is why group photos, talking about group outings, or pointing out your company’s internal kudos system can be so effective in job descriptions (not just on a career page).
  • Go over your language for inclusiveness. Sentences like “You’ll be joining us to plant trees on Earth Day!” push a candidate’s emotional buttons, while the bullet point “Annual tree planting day” pushes them toward the back button.
Job Description #ProTip: Leverage some proof candidates can succeed with your company by noting specific successes or promotions of others who’ve held the job.
  • Leverage some social proof in your description. This can come from something like an Instagram feed that a candidate can browse (holiday party!), or — better yet — in the form of ‘proof’ they can succeed with your company, like noting the last person in the role was promoted.

Job Description Emotional trigger 2: The desire for esteem

Let’s go back to the social media example. While you were raking in the likes and hearts and smileys on your post, was there one person whose reaction you were waiting to see? Maybe an ex-boss, or ex-significant other whose singular “Wow” would have made your entire week.

That’s the power of esteem giving the added emotional boost to the power of belonging. When you’re trying to motivate candidates in your job description, consider how you can not only make them feel welcome and part of the team, but also how you can make them fell respected, liked, and — yes — needed by your company.

How to use the desire for esteem in your job descriptions

  • If the position reports to the C-Suite, expound on why. Here’s a pretty typical example, with an emotionally kicky redo: “As the Sales Manager, you’ll report earnings to the CMO” versus “Sales is an integral part of X Company Int’l, and as the leader for an exceptional team of sales professionals, your direct communication to the Chief Marketing Officer will be essential to business decisions.” Can you feel the difference?
  • Instead of beginning your job description with “Responsibilities” try “YOUR IMPACT.” Outline just how critical the candidate’s success will be to your organization.
Job Description #ProTip: Outline how critical the candidate’s success will be to your organization by beginning the description with “Your Impact,” instead of the banal “Your Responsibilities.”
  • Think about what a candidate could do to stand out to you for the open role. Now relay it to them, framing a job application as their opportunity to be seen as one in a million. Phrasing might look like this: “Show us that you’re the Growth Partner we need by defining a prioritization framework for us, or by including an example case from a previous position in your application. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!”

Emotional trigger 3: the desire to grow as a person

Raise your hand if you remember the movie As Good As It Gets (okay, I’ll settle for a slight head nod). At one point, over a cozy dinner, a romantically inclined yet ornery Jack Nicholson tells the hesitant Helen Hunt “You make me want to be a better man.” Ms. Hunt, overwhelmed, sighs “That’s maybe the best compliment of my entire life.”

Everyone wants to be a better person. They want to be inspired, they want to grow, they want to be inspired to grow. Every applicant wants to be reassured that they’re not a faceless cog in a giant machine. The need is right there at the very top of Maslow’s pyramid — it’s the pinnacle of self-actualization. When you meet this need for job candidates, everyone wins.

How to use the desire to grow as a person in your job descriptions

  • Include the candidates’ opportunities for on-the-job learning at your company in the description, not just as part of a career page. Tailor it to their position, so that the new HR Manager knows he could be attending HR Tech next fall, or leading the team’s implementation of a new applicant tracking system.
  • Tell the candidate what they can expect to accomplish in their first six months, and after their first year. Will they be in a position to hit unprecedented goals, to join a hiring team for another role, to onboard others? What tangible achievements will they be able to look forward to as a successful employee?
Job description #ProTip: Tell candidates what tangible achievements they’ll they be able to look forward to as a successful employee.
  • Ask for candidates who want to grow! This can come off cheesy, (“Do you want to work and learn at the same time?”) but it gets easier to nail if you include a kind of “About You” section in the description. “About You: A curious sort, you relish the opportunity to learn by doing in a fast-paced and demanding environment.”

Bottom line: Sprinkling emotional triggers into your job descriptions can give today’s picky candidates the extra motivation they need to hit apply. And when your company makes good on its emotional triggers over time? You’ll have yourselves a dedicated, motivated employee for life.

So go on — get trigger happy! This is the one time it’s completely appropriate.

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