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How to nail your job requirements to attract top talent

July 15, 2019

How to nail your job requirements to attract top talent

When writing a recruitment ad, one of the first sections that recruiters will often focus on is job requirements. It makes sense. Clearly defining what you’re looking for in a candidate is the best way to ensure that your applicants have the skills you’re looking for. 

But, a poor presentation of your job requirements (or one that is too specific and rigid) can also have the opposite effect. Instead of encouraging great applicants to apply, these job requirements may actually deter good candidates from taking the jump. 

To ensure that your job requirements are doing their job properly, it’s important to take a step back and understand the purpose that they serve in your job ads. 

This article will take a look at what job requirements are, why they’re important, and how you can plan and write them to encourage the right talent to apply. 

What are “job requirements”? 

Job requirements are the most important skills and qualities that a candidate must or should have to perform the duties of the job they’re applying to. They differ slightly from job qualification lists, which typically expand further into specific skills or attributes that a candidate may have, but don’t necessarily need.  

For example, job requirements might include specific experience, education, accreditations, personality traits, and so on that are critical to success. Job requirements lists are often broken into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves,” which helps to further clarify what is required and desired by the recruiting company.  

Usually included in written, list form as part of a posting, job requirements are a crucial part of the recruitment and screening process. This is where you define what your ideal candidate will need to have to make it past the application phase. To that end, the main goal of a job requirements list is to let candidates know what is required of them before they apply. This helps job seekers make a decision on whether or not they want to apply in the first place. 

The job requirements definition is pretty self explanatory on the surface. But, it becomes a bit more complicated when it comes to actually shortlisting and writing effective job requirements for your ads. We’ll dive into how your can write effective job requirements a little bit later in the article. 

First, let’s talk about why job requirements are so important. 

Why are job requirements important?

As mentioned in the previous section, job requirements are the main way that recruiters tell candidates what they need to be a successful applicant. Because of this dynamic, job requirements are equally useful for employers and job seekers. 

Importance of job requirements for employers

Job requirements are one of the first and most powerful ways for pre-selecting and pre-screening potential candidates. Think about it. If a job ad did not explicitly list what was required to be successful, then any job seeker could reasonably apply. As such, job requirements act as a first line of pre-screening by immediately weeding out applicants who clearly don’t make the cut, and attracting only the right type of candidates to apply. 

Employers can also use job requirements to communicate the expectations that the company will have from any applicants. This helps with priming any applicants for what is to come during the screening phase and beyond, thereby providing a better and clearer candidate experience

As a result of these two benefits, the total number of applicants for a given job ad is reduced, saving the recruiting company time and money that would have been spent on screening unqualified candidates. In the end, clear job requirements help to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of the entire recruitment process

It should be noted, however, that being too ambitious, specific, or even vague, with your job requirements can have the opposite effect. In these cases, qualified job seekers may be dissuaded or reluctant to apply if the requirements are unclear, or they feel that they may be lacking some of the “must-haves”. It’s important, therefore, to strike a balance when writing your job requirements so that you are not scaring away qualified candidates. 

Importance of job requirements for candidates 

The flip side of this, of course, is that candidates can use the presented job requirements to determine if they want to apply for a specific position. They help the candidate understand what an employer is looking for, giving them a clear picture as to whether or not they are suitable for the role. 

Candidates may also use job requirements to highlight and tweak specific elements on their resume to showcase how well they would perform in the role, and fit in with the company. 

To maximize the effectiveness of your job requirements, it’s important to take the time to understand the position you’re hiring for. This includes getting an overview of the daily tasks and responsibilities, what a candidate will need to perform those duties, and which attributes are absolutely critical to success. 

Planning your job requirements list 

When creating a job requirements list, it’s not enough to just take the job title and assume what the requirements are based on your own knowledge or other job ads. This can lead to unclear expectations and bad applicant results from your job ads. 

Instead, it’s important to work with the hiring manager and team to determine the absolutely essential qualities a candidate will need to perform well on the job. This should be done at the very start of the recruitment process, before any job descriptions or ads are written. Clearly identifying a shortlist of job requirements is the first step in planning the rest of your candidate communications. 

One technique that companies can use to provide clarity around job requirements is to perform a job analysis. 

What is a job analysis? 

A job analysis is an in-depth, collaborative process used to determine what tasks and duties are required for a specific job. This is then taken a step further to determine what skills, experience, education, and personal traits an employee will need to perform those tasks well. 

A job analysis is a process built specifically to help with creating a job requirements list that will then be used in ads and job descriptions. An added benefit of job analysis is that the information you collect can also be used to help determine salary ranges and must-ask interview questions when screening candidates. 

At a high level, a job analysis involves breaking a specific role into individual tasks and activities that the employee will perform. This includes everything from obvious, day-to-day tasks to more obscure jobs that may arise throughout the course of employment. From there, the recruiter can leverage a range of different information sources to create a list of core competencies, behaviors, and attributes that will be necessary to complete those tasks. 

While not written in stone, the general steps to a job analysis might look something like this:

  1. List all the factors that must be addressed when gathering information. This may include duties and responsibilities, skills, required knowledge, attitude and behaviors, context of the job, and responsibility level.
  2. Identify the sources of information. Leverage people or databases that may provide useful information about the job requirements. For example, the immediate supervisor or hiring manager, former employees who held that job, the team, previous job postings for the position, and so on. 
  3. Collect the information. Use a variety of information gathering techniques to guide your understanding of the role. These could be on-site observations with the team, interviews, panel discussion, questionnaires, or existing records related to the job. 
  4. Write job descriptions. From there, you can take a crack at writing a full job description for the role. Consult with the key stakeholders to edit and refine until everyone is happy with the wording. 
  5. Identify the core job requirements. By now, you’ll have a pretty good understanding of what the most important attributes are. Identify and shortlist the most important must-haves and nice-to-haves. 
  6. Write the job requirements list. 

Writing a job requirements list does not mean simply listing your must-haves and nice-to-haves in plain language. It involves a little bit of creativity, and an understanding of your company’s employer brand and messaging. 

How to write a job requirements list

One part of the job requirement process that we haven’t mentioned yet is the candidate persona. This can be created during the job analysis phase, and in coordination with the hiring manager. A persona is essentially an imaginary profile of an ideal candidate, heavily based on the requirements outlined in the job analysis. 

When writing your job requirements lists, you should look to combine the content of the job description with the tone most appealing to your persona (while sticking to your employer brand). Essentially, you identify the most important requirements and write them in a way that speaks to your target candidate. 

The four main considerations you should keep in mind when writing your job requirements list are:

  1. The content;
  2. The format;
  3. The length; and
  4. “Must have” vs “Nice to have.”

Let’s dive briefly into each. 

The content

You should strive to keep your job requirements list as short and concise as possible. Identify no more than eight essential requirements, and be as specific as you can when describing them. You should avoid vague or overly complicated language while staying in-line with your company culture and employer brand. 

Examples of job requirement categories that you could include here are: 

  • Work experience
  • Hard / soft skills
  • Specific knowledge areas 
  • Education
  • Licenses, certifications, and accreditations
  • Languages
  • Physical abilities
  • Availability 

Be sure you are only choosing the most important requirements to write about. If it’s not a “must-have” or an important “nice-to-have,” then it doesn’t go in the job requirements section. 

The format 

At all times, avoid long and overly complicated sentences or blocks of text. This type of writing can cause the job seeker to either skip over this section, or, worse, scare them away from applying entirely. 

You should format your job requirements as a short, bullet-point list with clear and concise sentences. 

The length

There is no specific word count that you should adhere to for job requirements lists, but the general rule of thumb is to keep them as short as possible. Refrain from adding your entire wishlist of skills and attributes, and focus only on what is most important. 

As mentioned, the best practice is to include no more than eight bullets. If you need more than eight, however, you can break them into different sections to keep the formatting easy-to-read and accessible. 

“Must-haves” vs “Nice-to-haves”

You should be very explicit about which of your job requirements are mandatory, and which have some leeway to them. 

To do this, simply read through your lists of job requirements, and sort them internally into each bucket. Then, when you go to write your job ad, include sub-headers with phrases like “You must have” or “Essential qualities” for your must-haves, and “It would be awesome if you had” or “desirable qualities” for your nice-to-haves.

Tips for writing job requirements lists 

Here are some general tips to keep in mind when writing your job requirements lists:

  • Focus on what the candidates wants and speak directly to that. For example, if your job has a high potential for career progression with the company, you can write something like: “You’re someone who wants to come along for the ride, and grow with the company.” 
  • Be personable and friendly. State your values and what makes you tick wherever possible. This might be something like: “You’re somebody who wants to make a difference in the world by helping to drive growth in the green energy industry.” 
  • Use conversational language. Talk directly to the candidate, and relate to them on a personal level. A good way to do this is to write your job requirements in their basic form first and then rewrite them with a personal touch. 
  • Be realistic. Don’t try to cram too many “must-haves” into your list, or make them too specific and lofty. This serves to automatically disqualify candidates who don’t meet these ambitious expectations. It’s better to set realistic expectations so that the right candidates aren’t scared away. 
  • Be clear. Use very specific language, and make a clear distinction between mandatory requirements, and “nice-to-haves”. 

Job requirements list example

To help get you started, here’s a sample job requirements list for the role of “Recruiter”. First, I’ll show you a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves in their raw form, and then I’ll show how you can write than with a more personal tone. 

Here’s a list of raw job requirements: 

Must-haves

  • Strong communication
  • Networking abilities 
  • Adept at social media 
  • 1-3 years of HR experience 
  • Bachelor’s degree in HR or a related field 

Nice-to-haves

  • Marketing and sales experience
  • Data-driven mentality 
  • Big picture thinking 

These can be turned into something like this:

Essential qualities for this role: 

  • You’re a strong communicator who thrives at meeting new people and making strong connections. 
  • You’re a natural-born networker who loves a good trade show or LinkedIn conversation. 
  • Your friends find it easier to connect with you on social media than in real life. You’re a little bit too good at finding new people and groups to connect with online. 
  • You’ve worked in recruitment or human resources for a few years now, and are looking to take the next step.
  • You have a university degree in human resources or something similar. 

It would be awesome if you:

  • Have some experience in marketing or sales, or are willing to dive head first into those worlds to help make our recruitment even better.
  • Dream about data and numbers, and how it can improve recruitment. Your decisions are well-calculated and you’re a stickler for measuring results. 
  • Love to make a difference at your place of work, and want to help move the company toward our goals. 

The examples above go quite heavy on the “personal” side of things, which may not necessarily be suitable for your company. The important thing is to always take the time to understand exactly what your requirements are, and write them in a way that speaks to your target candidates.

Brendan is an experienced writer and content marketing professional with experience working for various HR tech and SaaS companies in Canada. He has an extensive background in web content marketing and journalism.