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April 19, 2024

The Case for Well-Defined Job Requirements

a man chiseling a briefcase out of stone

Have you heard the old joke? A manager decides they want to open a new position. They write up a job description, then pass it around to everyone in the department to add their ideas for the required skills the new hire should possess.

After collecting the feedback and calling a meeting, silence washes over the team. One team member leans forward and whispers: “Boss, I don't think any of us qualify for this job.”

It’s a tale as old as HR time. From cringey language (like “rockstar” and “ninja” 🙄) to spelling errors (hey there, "pubic” relations specialist 👋🏻) — employers continue to jam-pack their job descriptions full of confusing information, leading to discouraged candidates and a longer time to fill.

For better hires in less time, it’s time to drop the jargon and get serious about your must-have job requirements.

Why do job descriptions get so bloated?

No two ways about it: candidates need to know exactly what will be expected of them on the job. But that doesn't mean you have to cram 2,000 words into each and every job posting. 

To avoid scaring off candidates with an overly long list of requirements, it helps to know why job descriptions get so wordy in the first place.

There are a few common reasons this occurs:

  • Trying to justify the creation of the job. By packing on the responsibilities, hiring managers are hoping the higher-ups will see how necessary the role is, and give them the go-ahead to open the position.
  • Overcompensating to fill gaps left by the last hire. If the last person in the role wasn’t particularly fit, the job might now require things that other, more qualified candidates would simply see as table stakes. For example, if the previous hire was always late, the job ad might highlight attendance instead of keeping the focus on performance.
  • The bar for entry-level work has gotten higher. Back in 2009, the financial crisis forced experienced workers to apply for entry-level jobs. Fast forward more than a decade, and many employers still expect the same level of (over)experience from college grads – even though the job market has stabilized.

Last but not least, sometimes job descriptions get bloated out of sheer laziness. Hiring managers copy and paste them from Google, or re-post poorly written positions handed down from an ancient predecessor.

And we’ll be honest, even with a solid job description template, it can be hard to get it right. But according to data, it’s still worth the effort.

73% of employers say clear requirements and job descriptions are their two most effective recruitment tools. And with competition for talent only going up, you can’t afford not to use them.

The case for clearer job requirements

Before we dive in further, let’s get one thing out of the way: There is no such thing as a unicorn candidate who ticks every box on your list. 

While it’s great to think big, the best place to start is with a clear list of nice-to-have vs. must-have requirements. From there, you’ll be better able to compare an applicant’s skills with your team’s needs and can weigh these factors based on each unique candidate you meet.

Let’s take a closer look at how a clear list of job requirements could be the simplest, most effective way to win better candidates faster.

1. Employers can't afford to nitpick

A laundry list of qualifications puts the onus on the candidate. But if recent shifts in the talent market have taught us anything, it's that employers need to step up and show candidates what's in it for them.

According to data from Korn Ferry, the world will face a talent shortage of 85 million people by 2030. To stay competitive in a market where there simply isn’t enough talent to go around, employers need to think harder about which requirements really matter.

“Most ‘requirements’ are actually just an overly optimistic suite of ‘wishlist’ items,” writes Melanie Naranjo for Fast Company. “No candidate has everything you’re looking for. And if they do, any recruiter worth their salt will tell you they’re overqualified for the role and will outpace what the company can offer in terms of career development.”

Her pro tip? “Instead of using headers like ‘requirements,’ opt for ones like ‘what makes a great candidate’ and ‘what you’ll do’ to make sure you’re not inadvertently scaring off perfectly qualified candidates.”

Here are some additional action steps to help you nail it.

Action steps:

  • Note any certifications or qualifications that are negotiable – especially degree requirements.
  • Remove or note any requirements that are preferred but not mandatory.
  • Communicate a clear employer value proposition that highlights both your culture and compensation

2. Entry-level roles don't need five years’ experience and a degree

As big-name employers like Walmart and Bank of America begin to relax their degree requirements, other companies are taking note. Because let’s be honest – entry-level positions shouldn’t require half a decade’s experience and a diploma.

One of the best things about early talent is that these workers are often eager to learn. More than any other cohort of employees, you have a unique opportunity to train new hires in both the hard and soft skills you’re looking for.

So why are so many companies turning their nose up at early-stage talent with a list of requirements no new grad could possess?

Scott Dettman, CEO of career-matchmaking service Avenica, shared his thoughts in a recent article for the BBC:

“Employers are unhappy with the level of talent they’re getting in the entry-level space. So, instead of trying to take corrective action, they’ve increased experience requirements. In the last five years, we’ve seen a 20% increase in the number of skills required on job listings.”

This has also resulted in lower-paying internships taking the place of junior positions. And while it may seem like a good way to save money in the short term, in the long run it displaces the work of paid employees and exacerbates income inequality

Not exactly a great look for your employer brand.

“Not to sound arrogant, but why are employers turning down a Bachelor's degree holder for a job that pays $30,000 a year?” asked Reddit user Rapadapto, who holds dual degrees in economics and data analytics. “Am I really that underqualified in the job market right now? I desperately would like to avoid going back to fast food services, but that's looking like my only option currently.”

In a competitive market, it’s time for employers to do right by entry-level talent. Here are some action steps to consider.

Action steps:

  • Remove degree requirements wherever possible.
  • Offer paid internships and apprenticeships with a clear path for progression.
  • Strengthen your onboarding process to reduce ramp times and accelerate ROI on entry-level hires.

3. Candidates want fair and transparent compensation

When writing your job description, you can’t afford to keep candidates guessing – especially when it comes to compensation.

According to one study, almost half (44%) of candidates chose not to apply for a position due to a lack of salary information. In the age of sustained inflation and mass employee burnout, job seekers need to know they can pay their bills.

“Transparency is key to fair pay and eliminating inequities. I’ve personally had experiences with jobs in [Massachusetts] within the past five years where employers offered lowball salaries compared to the going area rate and did this disproportionately to women. Coworkers and I didn’t figure out the discrepancy until people started breaking the company rules about not discussing wages,” an anonymous reader told The Boston Globe.

To keep companies accountable and wages competitive, pay transparency is fast becoming the new law of the land. As states like California and New York pass salary information laws, forward-thinking employers are getting ahead of the curve and prioritizing salary transparency in their job descriptions.

Action steps:

  • Provide a clear salary or realistic salary range.
  • Highlight other perks, such as flexible work and health benefits.
  • Focus on performance instead of a long list of expectations.

4. Clearer job ads = wider talent pool

Companies with diverse workforces are 39% more likely to outperform peers with non-diverse teams. This is due to a variety of factors, such as access to different perspectives, increased capacity for innovation, higher retention rates, and more.

So why are so many employers still limiting their reach with unnecessary job requirements?

“As a Hispanic woman who grew up in a working-class town and was raised by an immigrant mother, I had no idea that employers would still consider me if I didn’t meet the minimum years of experience listed in the job description,” writes Melanie Naranjo, Head of People at Ethena. “These roadblocks are so ingrained in our understanding of job descriptions, that when I ask people why they chose to include a particular set of requirements in their job descriptions, I often get a variation of, ‘Oh, I just thought that’s how you write a job description.’”

But when a company’s job descriptions include every semi-applicable skill a hiring manager can think of, it can discourage candidates from historically underrepresented backgrounds from applying. 

Rather than rattling off every “nice to have” quality, aim for broad statements like, “willingness to use new software” or “excitement to learn on the job.”

Action steps:

5. You get what you ask for

If you're adding a million requirements because you're trying to filter out everything you don't want, you run the risk of attracting candidates who will expect you to spell out every. single. task. in detail moving forward.

And no one wants to be a helicopter boss.

“I have an employee who wants to be micromanaged,” one Inc. reader wrote in a workplace advice column. “She seems to be paralyzed unless I explicitly give direction to get something done. If I don't respond in what she deems a timely manner, she will text me while I'm in meetings or on phone calls, looking for direction…It's very inefficient and quite frankly, I have decision fatigue at the end of the day.”

Micromanagement may give bosses the illusion of control, but restrictive environments actually limit employee productivity and hurt morale. Instead of hiring an employee who needs you to dot every i before they can tackle a project, pare down your job description to just the essentials.

Action steps:

Revamp your requirements for high-precision hiring

Clear job requirements are a must in today's market. They alleviate confusion, align expectations and ultimately, enhance the performance of your team and business. 

By prioritizing clarity and precision over jargon and framed degrees, you can build an empowered workforce ready to take your business far into the future.

And with the right applicant tracking system, precision hiring is easier than ever. When you’re ready to attract a full pipeline of top-quality candidates, Breezy can help. Learn more with a free 14-day trial.