I wouldn’t apply, and here’s why…

Earlier this week, I wrote about beta testing your job descriptions -essentially asking representative folks, “Would you apply to this job?”

I suspect many people read that and shook their head, saying something like “We’re in such a hurry to hire, we can’t afford to waste time on extras like this. It’s not like we’re not getting applicants…”

So here are some of the feedback bits I’ve gotten over the past few years when I did this exercise:

We’d deliberately left out a “X years’ experience” bullet point because I firmly believe that some people in some environments learn more in one year than others do in five. “I wouldn’t apply because I don’t see anything about how much experience, so it’s probably a very junior role.”

How’d we fix it? We went wordy to specify experience but also give a clue about how we think about it: Have designed multiple products that lots of people use and love (depending on the size and type of companies you’ve worked at in the past, that could translate to anywhere from 2-5+ years’ experience)

A bullet point emphasizing our focus on rapid iteration. “I wouldn’t apply because whenever I see ‘fast’, I think ‘sweatshop’.”

How’d we fix it? We put some context around the ‘fast’ — And the way Yammer works—fast, data-informed, centered around customer needs… and also added a final sentence — We believe in sane work hours, using our vacation time…

We honestly don’t care what titles people prefer, so we had an introductory sentence that said we were looking for ‘product designer, interaction designer, visual designer’. It was meant to convey that we aren’t bound by strict job roles. “I wouldn’t apply because it sounds like this company might not know the difference between these disciplines. Which probably means they’d try to hire one overworked person to do everything.”

How’d we fix it? We tried to clarify that we were interested in talking with all kinds of designers, not that we wanted all the skills in one unicorn package:  Visual designers, interaction designers, and product designers. If you are any or all of those things, we’d love to hear from you. 

A bullet point listing the tools we use (i.e. Photoshop, InDesign, OmniGraffle). It was meant to convey that we don’t care what tool you use as long as you get the job done. “I wouldn’t apply because I don’t know all these design tools.”

How’d we fix it? We took it out. Instead of specifying our tool-agnostic stance, we opted to use that room on more general philosophy: At Yammer, we do that by hiring a diversity of smart people and trusting them…

A bullet point about questioning / dissenting (because we value people who are willing to share their perspectives). “I wouldn’t apply because this sounds really aggressive and I don’t want to work somewhere really aggressive.”

How’d we fix it? We realized that we were inadvertently signaling for the wrong traits. We didn’t need loud people, we needed people who were curious and who communicated well.  So we made two separate bullet points: Love to ask “Why?” and enjoy the problem-solving aspects of design and Can explain the reasons and thought process behind their design decisions

Seemingly small changes like these make a huge difference in the caliber –and diversity– of applicants who show up.  It’s worth the time!

(Obligatory pitch: we are hiring designers in San Francisco and Redmond!)

Would you apply to this job?

If you were selling a product and wanted customers to buy it, wouldn’t you invest some serious effort in marketing it?  You’d want to clearly describe the value it provided, why it was better than competitive products, suggest who might benefit most from buying it.

Then why don’t we invest the same effort in writing job descriptions?

Most job descriptions are terrible.

I mean, really really terrible.  Braggy claims that this company is the BEST company who only hires the BEST people, where you’ll work with the BEST people. Paragraphs of generic text which could apply to any of hundreds of companies.

This, because I’m pretty sure most hiring managers say, “Hmm, I need to hire a designer.  I don’t know how to write a job description. I’m going to go look on this jobs site for whatever other companies put in their designer job req.” Unfortunately those other companies don’t know how to write a good job req, either.

You might think your job description is pretty okay.  Here’s how to quickly validate that:

  1. Pick a couple of people on your current team and ask them, “Who is the best designer/engineer/product manager/etc. that you know personally, that doesn’t already work here?”
  2. Have them send a note to that friend saying “I’m not trying to recruit you*, I promise. Can I get your quick feedback?  IF you were looking for a new opportunity and you saw THIS job description, would you consider applying? What bits of it would sound appealing / are there any bullet points that would make you hesitate?”
  3. Read their feedback and iterate accordingly.

* It’s always best to start with “I’m not trying to recruit you” because talented people are generally inundated with clumsy recruiter tactics.

Though, as a manager, it’s worth asking separately, “would you try to convince that person to come here?”  If the person says ‘no’ or looks uncomfortable, you need to suck up that sinking feeling you just got and figure out why. Maybe it’s because their friend would never consider relocating, or because they’re a cofounder – or maybe it’s because the work environment isn’t something that employee can freely endorse. In which case, you have a bigger challenge ahead of you.