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The Candidate Experience – what is this job I’m applying for?

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A friend who has spent a lifetime in recruitment marketing told me that he frequently despaired when given a brief to design and write an advert. The problem was not that the client did not know what he/she wanted (although that wasn’t uncommon), but that the quality of job and person specifications were often dire. Although my friend’s agency (one of the biggest in the UK) was more than capable of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, that didn’t help the poor candidates who, in the fond hope that they were applying for a cracking job ended up getting a job/person spec that bore little resemblance to the role they thought they were applying for – resulting in wasted time all round.  

How your job description is laid out and the language used in it is a fundamental part of the candidate experience.  Many, if not most, job specs are written by line managers who while (hopefully!) experts in their own fields are not necessarily masters of the English language. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the key elements required for a good job-spec and the order in which they should appear.

Firstly, does the job-title actually reflect the work and will it be easily understood outside your own firm?  Some firms have completely different names for the same job.  While you may not wish to change the job title for internal documentation, it may make a lot more sense to advertise a job title that potential candidates will understand.  Also, be honest: if the job involves cleaning the drains, say so and don’t use euphemistic nonsense like “large-scale evacuation channel expert required.”

Secondly, does the job spec contain ALL the essentials – salary, location, reporting structure and contacts for further information (where relevant)?

Next, does it begin with a clear and concise summary of the job? Tell candidates what the job involves and what they are going to be doing.

Fourthly, lists are unavoidable in job specs, but does your list actually rank the things the person will be doing in order of importance?  Equally importantly, and this is something that is invariably omitted, does it assign an approximate amount of time to each of those activities?  It may well be that the single most important thing in the job only takes up 10% of the job-holder’s time and 75% of their time is actually spent on really boring stuff.  Give people a fair idea of what the job involves and you’ll be offering a better candidate experience with less timewasting all round.

When it comes to qualifications and experience, the same principles apply.  List the most important first and those that are preferable or advantageous last – and make it clear which are which. 

Finally, and this is something that many people forget, consider WHY someone might want to apply for your job.  Are there any unusual aspects, such as regular foreign travel, fringe benefits outside the norm (a final salary pension for example, rare though these are nowadays!)?  Tell candidates about them and include them in the advert, which should, naturally, follow the job spec, but make sure that it’s concise and accurate.  The modern tendency to use lists in ads often means (and this is something recruitment consultants are guilty of) that every last aspect of the job and the qualifications/experience are detailed, which in turn means candidates may be put off applying if they think the job is too complex and can’t see what is essential and what is preferable.  And finally, make sure that you advertise in the right place(s).  If the right candidates can’t see your advert then there will be no candidate experience for anyone!

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment


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