Tips for Writing Effective Job Descriptions
The right words and formatting can help you attract the right candidates.
Assembling a stellar team for your law firm is crucial to your success. With the right partners and support staff, you can ensure that operations will run smoothly and your clients will be satisfied with your service.
But finding the best team members starts with writing effective job descriptions. If you can articulate your firms’ needs and you know exactly what you want in a candidate, you will be able to keep your firm moving forward.
“A well-written job description is an important part of the hiring process,” says Charles Volkert, Senior District President at Robert Half Legal, a legal staffing agency. “It outlines the criteria to evaluate potential hires, which can help determine what skills and experience candidates should possess. A job description can be used to form the basis for online job postings and as a guide for consistent candidate assessment when the time comes to review resumes.”
When searching for new employees to welcome into your law firm, you need to follow a few guidelines for writing excellent job descriptions. Here’s where to start.
Volkert says to begin with the basic requirements. These include the job title, an overview of the position, clear expectations for the job and detailed descriptions of duties. Also, list the most important functions, job qualifications and specifications, locations, and other relevant details like workplace culture and reporting relationships.
“Be as precise as possible in describing what you’re looking for, without excluding the possibility of enticing unique candidates whose experience adds up to more than the sum of the parts.”
Delia Swan, Founder of Swan Legal Search, specializes in placing partners and associates at firms. She says that if you’re looking for lawyers, you should list Juris Doctor (JD), academic and bar requirements, and specific practice areas you’re seeking out.
In your job descriptions, you need to, “Be as precise as possible in describing what you’re looking for, without excluding the possibility of enticing unique candidates whose experience adds up to more than the sum of the parts,” says Swan. “For example, while you might want candidates with particular JD years, similar length of experience in the specialty might open you up to more seasoned attorneys who shifted gears during their careers.”
To appeal to attractive candidates — whether they are support staff, partners or associates — you should highlight exclusive perks of the position and interesting benefits that come with working for your firm.
“Include sizzle points about your company or firm [and] think about what makes the position or company/firm unique,” says Amanda Ellis, Senior Vice President at Special Counsel, which provides legal staffing and recruiting services. “The sizzle could include unique benefits or perks, such as on-site massage therapy or pet insurance. Or, [the] sizzle could be a detail about the position, such [as the] opportunity to support the managing partner or [the] opportunity to support the practice group leader.”
The particulars about company culture may seem small, but in the grand scheme of things, they’ll help you recruit only the most appealing prospects. “We find that candidates are attracted to firm culture as much as prestige,” says Swan. “Today’s best candidates are often looking for a life experience that brings more breath to their resumes. You benefit, then, from attracting more thoughtful and mature lawyers.”
After you’ve determined the content of your job descriptions, you have to then follow the best practices for all the technical details.
The particulars about company culture may seem small, but in the grand scheme of things, they’ll help you recruit only the most appealing prospects.
Volkert says you need to use a conversational tone as well as action words to describe the position, the skills and capabilities required, and the key responsibilities. “Employers should use concise language, but provide specific and detailed information. Use search-friendly keywords that will maximize viewing by increasing numbers of online job seekers and applicants.”
According to Ellis, shorter is better, and the descriptions should be 150 to 500 words. That’s because many candidates will be reading the descriptions on their mobile devices while on the go. She also suggests avoiding long paragraphs, and to use an opening paragraph followed by one to three sections with headings and bullet points. Another best practice is to write in second person using “you” and “your” to personalize the posting.
At all costs, you need to avoid using technical jargon, acronyms, buzzwords and abbreviations, says Volkert. It’s also crucial to go over the job description and make sure that there isn’t any language that could be considered discriminatory. When you’re formatting the description, keep it simple, and don’t feel the need to include large images that will take a long time for mobile users to download, he notes.
Aside from incorporating those search engine optimization-friendly keywords, you can make your job listing stand out by writing an article on LinkedIn about it, says Ellis.
Shorter is better, and the descriptions should be 150 to 500 words. That’s because many candidates will be reading the descriptions on their mobile devices while on the go.
In her own LinkedIn article, where she aimed to hire attorney recruiters, she started off the piece with conversational questions like, “Are you an attorney who is ready to leave the practice of law?” and “Do you enjoy attending networking events?” She then included some basics about the job and pictures of employees enjoying each other’s company. It served as a way to highlight the work culture, too.
SAMPLES TO GET YOU STARTED
After you figure out all the technical and structural details of your job descriptions, you can look to other firms and legal staffing agencies to see what they included in their own descriptions. Then, you can use what you learned in your own listings.
For example, in a job description on the Robert Half website for an administrator/office manager, the recruiter started with the responsibilities of the job, the required experience, and whom the candidate would report to in a short paragraph. Then, in bulleted form, the recruiter listed some of the typical duties that would be required of the candidate.
Robert Half also provides firms with a list of the U.S. glossary of legal job descriptions that they can use in their own efforts. The guide includes everything from job descriptions for law firm attorneys, litigation support staff, legal specialists and general administrative employees.
Effective job descriptions can transform your firm by attracting only the top candidates.
On Swan Legal, a job description for a bankruptcy associate is comprised of a summary of the job in a small paragraph up top, bullet points including the typical responsibilities, and additional bullet points for the on-paper qualifications like having a JD, being a member of the bar in California, and practicing bankruptcy law for at least four years at a private firm. There are also personality qualifications, such as possessing the ability to multitask as well as being able to work on a team.
MAKE YOUR WORDS COUNT
Effective job descriptions can transform your firm by attracting only the top candidates. Volkert says they have many uses beyond their initial purpose when it comes to hiring procedures.
“Written effectively, job descriptions serve as a valuable resource for many audiences and across a variety of functions,” he says. “To name a few functions, job descriptions can be a comprehensive resource to advise job candidates about details and requirements of a position or serve as an objective guide to assist hiring managers during the recruitment and interview process.”
About the Author
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She covers legal issues, blogs about content marketing, and reports on Jewish topics. She’s been published in Tablet Magazine, NewsCred, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and CMO.com.