Recruiting & Hiring Blog for HR Professionals

How to Write a Job Description with Tips From Literary Legends


We’ve all been there before—staring blankly at a computer screen as we try to craft the most compelling job description. Rest assured, you’re not the only one who’s suffered from writer’s block. Even the world’s greatest writers needed a jolt of inspiration from time to time, and the same can be said for writing a great job posting.

Here are nine of our favorite job description writing tips from the literary legends themselves.

1. Joseph Pulitzer – Journalist

"Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light."

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Pulitzer. To keep job seekers engaged in your position, make the job posting worth their while. That means making it easy and interesting to read without cluttering it up with unnecessary details. Think again about every bullet point or sentence before you post it and ask yourself, “Is this something job seekers absolutely need to know to apply?”

2. William Allen White – Editor, Politician and Author

“Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Be straight with your description and avoid extraneous words. “Very” and “really” are two of the guiltiest culprits when it comes to overly fluffy language. Does anyone really know the difference between a candidate who is “very experienced” versus one that is just “experienced?”

3. Mark Twain – Author and Humorist

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

If you’re struggling to draft your job posting, stop searching for the “right” words and just write. Get all of your thoughts, qualifications and requirements for your ideal candidates down on paper. While the end result may be longer than you intended, you now have a robust list of ideas to start with. The next step is to pare it down to only the most important information for the job seeker.

4. C.S. Lewis – Novelist, Poet and Academic

"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very.' Otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."

You may be tempted to get a little creative with the language in your writing. And by all means, go for it! But whatever you do, skip the fluffy words and business jargon. This includes phrases such as “core competency,” “heavy lifting” and “team player.” Instead, tell the applicant exactly what you’re looking for in clear, natural language.

5. Benjamin Franklin – Author, Politician and Scientist

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

Every job in every industry has a purpose. Even if it’s not the most exciting position in the world, your company should strive to find the best candidate for the job and one who is passionate about the work and your company. Your job posting is your first opportunity to attract these candidates, so create one that will entice them with personality in your writing, an engaging overview of the company or responsibilities the candidate would be thrilled to have.

6. W. Somerset Maugham – Playwright and Novelist

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

There are no rules here—just recommendations based on experience writing hundreds of job descriptions. While using a specific job-posting format may have worked in the past, don’t be afraid to try something new. You mind find a few techniques for creating descriptions that could generate better applicants than ever before. For example, consider including testimonials or quotes from the CEO or existing employees to “put a face” to the company or position.

7. Stephen King – Author

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time, or the tools, to write. Simple as that.”

If you can’t find the time or inspiration to write, look for ideas elsewhere. Identify a few companies you admire or those seeking similar candidates and check out those companies’ careers pages. What do you like about their job postings? How would you make yours better? Get inspired by what you find and use those ideas to jump-start your next posting.

8. Elmore Leonard – Novelist and Screenwriter

“If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”

One of the most engaging job postings we’ve come across is one that doesn’t look like a job description at all. Instead, Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, wrote a short blog post in which he describes the role, the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations for the ideal candidate in his own words. Not only is it interesting to read a description written in the executive’s voice, but it also humanizes the role and the company.

9. Kurt Vonnegut – Writer

“I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.”

Similar to how Fried humanized the position using his own voice, the role and company you describe should be those the applicant can relate to. No one enjoys reading a job posting that reads like it’s been written by a robot. Inject some personality, a bit of honesty and tone that leaves applicants excited and thinking about themselves in the position.

Looking for more job posting tips? Download our eBook “11 Steps to Attract More Applicants.”



Topics: Attract More Applicants, Attracting Right Applicants, Job Description Writing Tips

This is disclaimer text. We’ve shared these tips to help educate you on social media employment screenings and considerations for your business — this information should not be construed as legal advice. But if your company chooses to screen applicants on social media or want to explore the topic even further, consult with an attorney for advice related to this screening tactic.

Photo credit: photographer via website

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