Boring Position Descriptions Are Dramatically Decreasing Your Application Rates, Part 2

Action Steps That You Can Take To Develop a "Position Marketing Template"


In order to make your descriptions compelling, you need to develop a template that can easily guide position description writers to produce great sales descriptions every time.

Here are the steps in that process:

  • Find the current position description for the job you are currently in and see if it would entice you to pursue your own job based solely on the wording in it. Is it even remotely accurate? Next, grab some of the descriptions that you currently use for positions that you're not getting the volume of quality candidates needed, and see if they suffer from the same characteristics you noted regarding your own job.
  • Take a current dull position description and within five minutes, change it minimally by only substituting current buzzwords, mentioning some exciting tools, equipment, or best practices, and reorder it so that the more exciting items appear first. Then, show it and the current one to the head of recruiting to see if he or she can't see the side-by-side superiority of the sales approach. Convince recruiting leaders to let you try a split sample in which only a few of the position descriptions are rewritten (while others remain unchanged) in order to see if they impact application rates.
  • Walk over to marketing, sales, branding, or PR and ask for their help in developing a template that can be used on a routine basis to make every position description more exciting and compelling. If necessary, hire a marketing or sales intern, or even an outside marketing firm (not recruitment advertising), as Cisco did in the late 1990s.
  • If you're really serious about this process, hold a focus group to identify what top applicants want to know about and what excites them about a job in your company. An easier alternative is to interview a few of your current top performers in targeted positions and directly ask them, "If you were forced to find your own job again, what specific criteria would you use and what words, tools, or other job aspects would be the best indication that this new job would be highly desirable?" A third alternative is to ask several candidates, "What are your job switching criteria?" You can even ask new hires after they start, "What factors, words, and elements of the position description were the most/least compelling?" Finally, if you don't have time, I recommend you look at Gallup's Q12 (there's a link at the end of this article) because they accurately reflect the criteria that most individuals use for selecting their next jobs.
  • From the information gathered from the previous steps, develop a sales-oriented position marketing template for use in rewriting current and future position descriptions.

The 11 key elements in this template or guide should include:

  1. Include the key "job-switch" factors that cause potential applicants to become excited about your job(s). Begin the position description with information that directly addresses the top five job-switch criteria for top performers. Be careful here, because the criteria differ significantly between top performers and Homer Simpson types. Typical decision criteria include:
    • Opportunities and challenges they are likely to encounter.
    • Learning and growth opportunities.
    • Having ideas and concerns listened to.
    • Best practices and innovations they will be exposed to.
    • Some degree of flexibility in choosing the work they do and the time they work.
  2. Include exciting projects and problems that the newly hired individual will likely be involved with. Meet with the manager and several incumbents in the target position and ask them to identify the types of potential projects that the new hire will be involved in. Be sure to focus on the types of projects that are likely to excite top performers.
  3. Include who they will interact with. Identify if the new hire will have the opportunity to work closely with and interact with executives, high-profile individuals, or other key departments and teams. Show that the individual will get to frequently interact with exciting and influential team members.
  4. Highlight key team members in general terms. Obviously, you can't always include specific names but you can highlight, for example, the fact that there are a large percentage of advanced degree holders on the team, and there are award winners or individuals with unique or advanced skills and experience. The key here is to show them they will be working alongside interesting people in the winners.
  5. Include "wow" factors about the firm and its culture. In addition to an exciting job, the company image as an exciting place to work must also be reinforced. Start by surveying top-performing employees and new hires to find out what makes your firm/culture unique and interesting. Describe it in terms that are appealing, including elements in examples of high integrity, honest two-way communications, risk-taking, frequent innovation, and the existence of an empowered management style, etc. When possible, try to differentiate your firm from the "blah blah" platitudes that most companies include (i.e., great people, strong values, teamwork, and a family atmosphere).
  6. Mention great pay, stability, or compelling benefits, but be careful not to make it appear that these are the primary reasons why an individual should join the firm. Top performers rank these factors well below where the average worker ranks them. In addition, if it's true, mention that your bonuses are closely tied to performance and that any corporate job stability is a result of constant growth, innovation, and coworkers and processes that make meeting business goals relatively easy.
  7. Consciously omit turnoffs to ensure that the excitement in one part of the description is not immediately countered with mixed messages in another part. In particular, try to omit or at least put at the end of the description mundane things like routine tasks that are obvious, reporting relationships that are not exciting, legal jargon that can turn off candidates, as well as any excessive mention of administration or paperwork. In addition, almost any phrase that emanates from Compensation needs to be downplayed or rewritten, to avoid having the reader go catatonic.
  8. Prioritize the factors for inclusion in the position description based on what applicants and new hires tell you were the most critical factors in influencing their decision to apply for the job. Obviously, put the most critical items first.
  9. Pre-test a sample "sales" position description with recent hires, managers, and team members to judge its effectiveness and to refine its excitement capability. Make sure that the incumbents in the position agree that it accurately reflects the best part of the job in the firm but that it doesn't exaggerate (which will result in high a acceptance rates and later, immediate turnover after they realize it's not true).
  10. Compare your descriptions to your competitors' descriptions. It's also critical that you periodically compare your own position descriptions with those of your competitors (in the same job family) to ensure that yours are continuously superior in excitement (remember, they might have read this article too!).
  11. Gradually evolve and improve the template as you learn from successes and failures. Over a period of time, provide Compensation, recruiters and hiring managers with direct feedback on what factors excite, so that these individuals can eventually assume ownership for writing exciting sales position descriptions.


There is nothing more frustrating than having a great company image and exciting website that generates traffic but doesn't covert visitors into applicants. Unlike most approaches that can be used to convince potential candidates to apply, rewriting position descriptions so that they sell is a quick, cheap, and easy approach. Anyone with a strong marketing or sales background can rewrite a position description in little more than a few minutes.

The differences in the descriptions will be striking and clear to everyone, and the revised descriptions will produce a dramatic increase in the number and quality of currently employed top performers who take the time to apply for your jobs. So, what are you waiting for? Get up and run over to the marketing department and ask for their help right now!


The Gallup Q12 (for use in estimating what excites candidates to apply for a job) are online, and include such questions as, "At work, do your opinions seem to count?" and "At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?"

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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