Article: 3 steps to writing a compelling job description

Talent Acquisition

3 steps to writing a compelling job description

You would have spent countless hours thinking about the perfect job description for attracting the right talent. Here are 3 steps to do the same.
3 steps to writing a compelling job description

In the Year 1900 – more than a century ago – Sir Ernest Shackleton, a famous Polar Explorer who led three successful expeditions to the Antarctic, gave the following advertisement in London newspapers – 

Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. 
Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, 
constant danger, safe return doubtful. 
Honor and recognition in case of success.

The advertisement did not leave any ambiguity as to what the job involved, and successfully targeted people for whom honor and recognition were the key motivators.

(Claudio Araoz, in his book, Great People Decisions)

How can you write a job description like above? 

That attracts the right people and dissuades the wrong people from applying.

The experts advise the following 3 steps: 

(Towards the end, I also share a sample job description, of a Bank Manager.)

1. Clarify what you ‘want’, instead of what the candidate ‘should have’

Job description should describe the performance objectives – what the hired person needs to achieve, and NOT the skills and traits to achieve that objective. 

For example:  

Instead of saying, “Should have 5 years of accounting experience and a CPA”, the job description should say, “Should complete the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oaxley reporting requirements in 6 months.”  

(Lou Adler in his book, Hire with your Head)

2. ‘SMART’ objectives

Job description should be redrafted as SMART objectives: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Results-specific, and Time-bound

(Lou Adler in his book, Hire with your Head)

An example

This is from an advertisement I saw on a job portal (for a Bank Manager post).

A. Responsible for meeting the branch Sales targets 
B. Ensure that Customer gets world-class services 

The above is bland, indistinguishable from any other. There is no energy in it. 

The same can be redrafted into SMART Objectives by simply affixing the words “as measured by”, and laying the parameters thereon. 

Revised example

A. Responsible for meeting the branch Sales targets, as measured by: 

  • Increase the acquisition of Current & Savings Accounts by 25%.

  • Increase the Deposit base by 25%, and Loan disbursed by 20%.

B. Ensure that Customer gets world-class services, as measured by: 

  • Take branch to top 5, in Mystery-Customer Survey (from the current 25th). 

  • Reduce customer complaints by 40% in the first year.

As can be seen, even a non-sales objective – Customer Service above – can be converted into SMART Objectives with a little thought.

As an aside, this redrafted JD will pique the interest of many, especially achievers.  Less-capable candidates will give this job a pass.

As Geoff Smart and Randy Street in their book Who, say, 

“People don’t want to fail, and they don’t want to go through the dislocation of moving to another company, if they know their chances of success are minimal.”

3. Competencies (or Talent or Attitude or Drive)

In First, Break All the Rules, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, make some important points:

  • Words like Competencies, Attitude, or Drive are a result of careless thinking. Ultimately what we are looking for is the (natural) Talent of the person, and whether that talent fits the job on hand.

  • No ‘Talent’ by itself is bad. For example: A cynical and non-trusting attitude too is good, and possibly an advantage if one is applying for a Police or a Lawyer job. 

  • Some examples of Talent: Results-focussed, Fosters teamwork, etc. 

So how to know which Competencies to look for? 

(I am using the word competency here instead of talent, as that now seems to be the default term.) 

One way to do that is to correlate; pick 1 competency for each objective. 

For example, consider the first objective above, “Responsible for meeting the branch Sales targets.”  This can be met with the competency: Results-focussed. Likewise, for each objective, pick one competency. 

These competencies then need to be checked in the interview with appropriate questions. 

For example, the competency 'Results-focussed' can be checked with the following question:  

'Describe a situation where you had to work hard to achieve an objective set by your superior?  What challenges did you face? How did you overcome it?  How was the end-result vis-a-vis your initial estimate?'


A sample job description

About the Company (Bank)

We are one of the leading Private-Sector Banks in India, consistently ranked in the top 5 by leading Industry Associations. 

Our business philosophy is based on four core values - Customer Focus, Product Leadership, Operational Excellence and People. 

We believe that the ultimate identity and success of our bank will reside in the exceptional quality of our people and their extraordinary efforts. For this reason, we are committed to hiring, developing, motivating and retaining the best people in the industry.


Branch Manager  

Location – Mumbai 

Mission statement/position summary

The Branch Manager role is challenging and multi-faceted. 

As branch manager, you are responsible for growing Sales, Service to customers, overseeing Operations, and complying with Regulatory and internal guidelines. 

You will be managing a 30-member team, with 8 direct reports, and will report to the Cluster Manager overseeing 20 branches.

Performance objectives (9 Months – 1 Year)

A. Responsible for meeting the branch Sales target, as measured by: 

  • Increase the acquisition of Current & Savings Accounts by 25%.

  • Increase the Deposit base by 25%, and the Loan disbursed by 20%.

  • Increase Fee Income by 30% (Mutual Fund & Insurance products.)

B. Ensure that Customer gets world-class services, as measured by: 

  • Take branch to top 5 in region, in Mystery-Customer Survey (from the current 25th) 

  • Reduce customer complaints by 30% in the first year

C. Ensure all guidelines and regulatory requirements are followed, as measured by:

  • ‘Satisfactory’ or better rating in Internal and RBI Audit 

  • Reduce Internal Error rates by 25%

D. Responsible for managing, training and motivating of all branch staff, as measured by:

  • Achieve 80% or more in ‘Employee Survey’ on 5 key parameters for your team.

  • Reduce staff attrition in Branch by 25%.

Competencies essential to the Job

Results focussed: You won’t let your love of people get in the way of achieving targets.

Service oriented: You will quickly and effectively solve Customer problems.

Meticulous and thorough: You will review and set-up processes to ensure compliance with guidelines.

Foster teamwork: You will build bonds with and between your teams, nurturing relationships, and arbitrating when necessary. 

Able to delegate: To maximize your team’s efficiency, you will encourage every individual to stretch and grow.

Desired candidate profile

  • Someone who has worked in a Bank branch for 3 years and above.

  • Handled a medium-sized multi-disciplinary team (10+)

  • Has achieved objectives on the lines of those defined above.


Will be sought at the right time.

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Topics: Talent Acquisition

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