True story: I asked an exceptionally capable candidate what jobs she applies for based on the job descriptions she sees on career sites, including company career sites. Answer: any that are remotely close to the job skills our exceptionally good candidate has.
You might think that's a terrible thing to do, but when you ask the exceptional candidate why, you get this: "Companies put out the worst job descriptions. The work you end up doing doesn't even match the job description. So you apply and see if they are interested, qualified or not."
And it's true. You get the cookie-cutter job description created from standards that attempt to match the marketplace and then wonder why you get cookie-cutter resumes in return. You list 100 job skills needed to do one job and wonder why no one has 100 matching job skills when your current employees don't have the 100 job skills either. You want people to know standard office software and then wonder why they can't create a spreadsheet that has formulas referenced to a worksheet three levels over.
We get thousands of resumes for our cookie-cutter job description instead of fabulous candidates. To get fabulous candidates, what we need are four job description ingredients that candidates -- and hiring managers -- would love.
1. The job description specifies the goals the candidate will work on
What's going to happen once an employee is hired? The manager is going to sit down with our new hire and give them goals to achieve. Goals that are part of the new hire's performance review.
So why not put the goals to achieve right in the job description? You can mask the proprietary information, of course, but what's wrong with saying a goal in a job description is to reduce the budget by 5%? Or increase sales by 3%? Or create a dynamic territorial sales force that will increase market share 1%?
Goals are what fire people up about their work. They see the goal and can specifically address how their job skills have done the work in the past and share their ideas about how to reach the goal.
2. The job description describes critical skills needed -- and how they are used on the job
It's one thing to say you need to know WordPress (the software on this site) in a job description. It's completely different to say you need to administer WordPress so as to do upgrades to the software, manage plugins, update plugins, work with themes to best present information, and know how to use the administration panel.
Electrons are cheap. There is no reason to not tie the critical skill to how the skill will be used on the job.
3. The job description describes the "typical" day for the candidate
You might think there isn't a "typical" day, but, if that's the case, you really haven't defined the job very well. There should be a core level of work output done during the day or a day during the week so that the candidate can determine the fit to the work.
When you describe the typical day, you not only get the job skills in play, but also the social aspects of a job that are critical to knowing how a candidate will fit in with the team and the manager's style.
This needs to be specific -- not "work in a challenging environment that requires attention to detail." Bleh.
How about "the candidate will compile four daily operational reports that are produced for the department. The operational reports drive how the department is managed so they need to be produced despite setbacks in getting data from systems that sometimes have technical difficulties." Now that's something you can talk about in a cover letter or an interview.
4. The job description describes the culture of the team
This is not "working in a fast-paced environment." Seriously, what environment isn't fast-paced?
Instead, you want candidates that will compliment your team to make it better. You want candidates that will understand and thrive within the style of management the department uses. You want a person that "works well on their own accomplishing their goals without significant collaboration with the team."
Or, you want a person that "works well in an environment where 50% of the time is spent in meetings making decisions that will then get carried out by the team members. Collaborative confrontation is needed to clarify the work duties and tasks to get done."
You can have excellent cover letters and interviews about fitting in with the team if this was in the job description.
There are only 3 answers to interview questions - use the job description to find them
I've often noted that there are only three questions asked in an interview. The first question is "can the person do the work?" If the job description really described the goals the candidate will need to achieve and the critical job skills with how they are used on the job, you'd get better descriptions from candidates answering how they can do the work.
The second question "is the person motivated to do the work?" If the job description described the "typical" day for the job and the circumstances that impact the typical day, you'd get better answers on the motivation for doing the job.
The third question is "will this person fit into the team, including the management style?" If the job description described the culture of the team and the manager's style, you'd get better answers.
If companies are serious about getting the best people for the job, we could start with job descriptions that are significantly different than the standardized, cookie-cutter, "work in a fast-paced environment" we have right now.
What else would you as a candidate love to see in a job description?