This Job Description Heatmap Shows You What Candidates Really Care About (and What They Ignore)

June 19, 2018

You’ve spent forever crafting that job description—and you’d like to think candidates are poring over every single word of your masterpiece.

But, they’re not. There are whole sections of your job description that candidates pretty much ignore, and other parts where they’re hungry for more details.

That's according to LinkedIn's latest study, where we showed 450 members1 an example of a job description and asked them to highlight parts they found helpful, appealing, or would make them more likely to apply. The result is this helpful heatmap:

The red areas were the sections highlighted most often, meaning those were the lines that mattered most to candidates.

The results surprised us—in fact, some were the exact opposite of what we expected. Read on for the rest of our results and four tactical takeaways that can help you write better job descriptions by understanding what candidates really care about.

1. Focus on the day-to-day details of the job, along with compensation and qualifications

When reading a job description, candidates really want to know what’s in it for them: what work they’ll do, how much they’ll make, and whether they can realistically get the job or not.

The salary range and benefits were far and away the most highlighted portions of the job description—see the red areas below.

Specific details on the role itself (tasks, location, direct reports, etc.) were also particularly helpful for candidates.

The results were the same when we flat-out asked the participants which parts of the job description mattered most:

At this stage, candidates may only spend a few seconds on your job description, as they could be sifting through dozens of others. Put simply: they need to know if it’s worth investing more of their time. Once they clear that hurdle, they’ll have room to care about other priorities like culture, purpose, and engagement.

Speaking of which…

2. Don’t spend too much time on your company, culture, or mission

There seems to be an unwritten rule that every job description must begin with at least one long paragraph about the company, what it does, and how it’s changing the world.

It turns out candidates just aren’t that interested in reading about that—at least, not in your job post. They tend to skim right past it. Instead of dedicating too much real estate to background on your company, point them to your website or LinkedIn Company Page where they can learn more after they’ve read the job post.

Company info was by far the coldest part of our heatmap.

When asked what parts were most important, candidates rated information about the company last—with mission and culture close behind.

It’s not that candidates don’t care about your company, culture, or mission—it’s just that they can get that info elsewhere after they learn about the role.

This message that came through loud and clear in the open-ended answers participants provided. “I don't want to waste time reading about a company and their vision/mission if I don't fit the role,” said one study participant. “A job description isn't where I go to find out about a company,” said another. Many mentioned that they learn more about the company through its website, LinkedIn Company Page, and interviews—so you can save your company culture messaging for those places and simply point candidates to them in your post.

There are many places to learn more about the company, but there’s only one place where they can find the nitty-gritty details about this particular role: your job post.  

3. Set clear, specific performance goals defining what success looks like

Give explicit, measurable goals that the new hire will be expected to achieve. It gives readers more accurate insight into the role and shows you’re a serious employer.

Here we took a page from recruiting thought-leader Lou Adler, who has long advocated performance-based job descriptions over skill-based job descriptions. The idea, in short, is to spell out the results you want from the new hire, instead of emphasizing skills, education, or experience. (After all, you ultimately care about results, not credentials and focusing too much on the latter can hurt diversity.)

So for this study, we wrote a job description that included the exact metrics that the new hire should hit at the end of one year.

These performance goals were heavily highlighted and highly appreciated by candidates.

At the same time, very few employers currently include these goals in job posts. One participant mentioned that they’d never seen that kind of “success criteria” before:

“Well, the fact that the posting showed success criteria for the first year was impressive. I don't often see either of those elements, certainly not the latter, which I can't recall ever seeing.

That information is super helpful to me as a potential candidate so I can know what my targets are, but it also shows a level of seriousness that the company has defined that up front.”

Companies very rarely provide these details. That means there’s a huge opportunity for employers to significantly improve their job descriptions. Lou Adler has been championing this tactic for years—and the data proves him right.

4. Use a tone that reflects your culture, but know that getting too casual can be polarizing

Even if you don’t have a big paragraph on your culture, candidates can get a sense of it from the tone of your job description. That’s why we tested three versions of the same job description with different tones of voice. It turns out tone can make a big difference.

If you have a particularly casual company culture, be mindful about injecting too much of that personality into the tone of your job post: it can be super polarizing.

We created three mock job descriptions for the same fictitious job:

  • A generic job description that’s straightforward and plain (shown above)
  • A formal job description filled with business jargon and buzzwords
  • A casual job description with conversational language and a few jokes

The formal version said things like: “The successful candidate will run the Midtown Manhattan office with maximum operational efficiency, ensuring all employees reach their KPIs.”

While the casual version said: “As our newest Business Manager in our Manhattan office, you’ll set the tone for 15 awesome employees who’ll look to you for guidance, motivation, and some real-talk mentorship.”

The casual one also included terms like “kickass corporate manager” and threw in some corny hashtags (“#spreadsheets4life”) for good measure.

Surprisingly, the casual version was significantly worse at attracting the most people.

More people disliked that version than liked it—and that distaste for the casual tone also carried over into what they thought of the company and whether they’d apply. Readers of the casual post were 4x more likely to view the employer negatively and 2-4x less likely to apply.

One participant said they appreciated the human tone, but that it went too far:

“I like the human tone, but I don’t like it getting too unprofessional. It makes it feel juvenile. I like to know that I am working with people but I also want to know that they are capable professionals.”

Attracting fewer people isn’t necessarily a bad thing: if a casual tone authentically reflects your company culture, you may only lose applicants who wouldn’t have meshed with your team. At the same time, looking for a “culture fit” can discourage diversity—so be careful that you’re not shutting out potential “culture adds” as well.

What these results mean for recruiters and hiring managers writing job descriptions

The results of this study go against many common practices—and that means you’ve probably got plenty of room to improve your job descriptions. With that in mind, here’s what recruiters and hiring managers may want to do differently with their job descriptions:

  • Focus on the role, not the company: letting candidates know what’s in it for them helps them decide if it’s worth their time to apply.
  • Give explicit performance goals: spelling out specific results expected of the role gives candidates clarity and inspires trust.
  • Use a conversational tone carefully: it may turn off candidates who don’t like the casual company culture it conveys, while attracting those that do.

With these insights in hand, you can write more effective job descriptions by giving candidates the info they care about most.

Stay tuned for an upcoming LinkedIn ebook that’ll share even more results from this study, including full-size heat maps for all three versions and behavioral insights from job posts on LinkedIn.

1. Members from LinkedIn Market Research community (in partnership with Vision Critical) comprised of LinkedIn members across industries, job functions, and career stage.

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