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How To Write Effective Skills-Based Job Descriptions in 4 Easy Steps 

We’re currently in the thick of a candidate short market. With competition high and supply low, it’s forcing a much-needed shift from traditional hiring practices to one that favors skills-based hiring. 

And organizations all around the world are certainly catching on. In 2021, LinkedIn experienced a 21% increase in job postings that advertised skills and responsibilities rather than qualifications in the US, according to SHRM. 

What does this all mean? The shift towards skill based hiring is well and truly upon us. And it all starts at the top of the funnel, with a well-crafted job description. 

In this article, we’ll discuss how to add depth to your job descriptions to ensure a candidate’s first impression of your brand is positive. We’ll delve into what skills-based hiring is, how it differs from traditional forms, and four simple steps to write more effective skills-based job descriptions. 

What is skill-based hiring?

Skills-based hiring is a recruitment approach that employs candidates based on skill, capabilities, and performance — rather than their educational background, former experience, or the prestige of the college they attended. 

This new way of recruiting considers that not all skills are obtained through formal qualifications; they can also be learned on the job or self-taught — an important understanding in the aftermath of COVID-19, in particular. 

[Related article: Everything You Need to Know About Skills Testing]

What is a skills-based job description vs a traditional job description?

While many traditional job descriptions (i.e., degree-based) require experience and formal education, competency-based job descriptions focus primarily on the skills required to succeed in a role. The latter is based on job-specific competencies and performance rather than assuming a candidate’s ability to perform the job duties. 

Degree-based vs skills-based job descriptions
While degree-based job descriptions rely on credentials and qualifications, a skills-based approach reduces bias by looking at a candidate’s competencies and skills, according to Skillful

This means — unless it’s an essential requirement for a role ( i.e., a doctor requiring a medical degree or a lawyer obtaining a law degree) — a skills-based job description doesn’t include requirements about experience or education. 

It focuses on the skills that make up the day-to-day responsibilities of the job. 

It’s a win-win for employers and candidates, giving organizations access to a larger talent pool, and candidates — who’ve obtained skills through non-traditional methods — an opportunity to prove their capabilities. 

Here’s an example of how a skills-based job description and a degree-based job description may differ in a job post for a Digital Copywriter role:

An example of a degree-based and skills-based description for a digital copywriter role
The difference between a degree-based job description and a skills-based job description for a Digital Copywriter role

[Read More: Skills-based Job Description Templates]

4 steps to help you write more effective skills-based job descriptions

Your job post is often a candidate’s first encounter with your brand. This means it has the power to leave a positive impression, or a negative one, if not executed well.  

According to the Job Description Library, poorly written job descriptions are responsible for reducing application numbers by 52%. The same study also found that 43% of candidates feel that job descriptions do not contain enough relevant information about the role. 

Statistics that prove the importance of well written job descriptions
According to Job Description Library, if a job description isn’t written well, 52% of candidates won’t apply for the role

Here are four steps to help you write more effective skills-based job descriptions…

Step 1. Remove any unnecessary barriers from your hiring process

Why should you do it?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 65.1% of the American workforce don’t have college degrees. This means that almost two-thirds of the country is automatically eliminated from the recruitment process for jobs requiring formal qualifications. The result? A much smaller talent pool and the risk of missing potentially suitable candidates. 

A 2018 LinkedIn study — which analyzed a heatmap of 450 participants’ interactions with a job post — found that 49% of candidates perceived qualification requirements to be the second most important aspect of a job description, after compensation. This is a concerning finding given how many candidates are forced to self-eliminate at this stage of the process due to not having a college degree. Removing barriers may give your organization access to candidates who obtained the relevant skills through non-traditional methods. 

What should you do?

The first step to writing competency-based job descriptions is to remove, where applicable, requirements that may unnecessarily deter potential employees from applying. This includes removing factors such as qualifications, credentials, and experience.

How do you do it?

Comb through your existing job descriptions and consider only the factors that impact the role’s success. If it’s not vital, remove the requirement for degrees. In step two, we’ll show you how to identify what responsibilities and specific skills can replace such requirements. 

If you’re struggling to get skills-based hiring practices across the line in your organization, conduct an A/B test on a job post to evaluate its effectiveness. This includes creating two versions of the same job post — one with a degree-based description and a second version with a skill-based job description — to determine which option is more effective in improving time-to-hire and quality-of-hire. 

Qualifications are the second most important part of a job description, according to candidates.
According to LinkedIn, 49% of candidates believe qualification requirements are the second most important part of a job description, on par with job details

Step 2. Identify the hard skills and soft skills required to succeed in the job

Why should you do it?

According to LinkedIn insights, job descriptions that focus on responsibilities instead of requirements receive 14% more applicants per view. This alone highlights the importance of making room in your job descriptions to prioritize the job duties and the skills required. 

What should you do?

Hiring based on competency will require you to look deeply into the skills that make up a role rather than leaning on the assumed skill set that may or may not come with formal education. This includes identifying:

  • Hard skills: trained or technical skills (i.e., writing, programming skills, etc.)
  • Soft skills: developed skills, usually based on personality (i.e., problem-solving skills, communication skills, etc.)
  • Day-to-day responsibilities 
  • Quantitative KPIs or actionable results 

How do you do it?

Deconstruct your existing job descriptions and work backward to break down each requirement to understand the skills involved. Secondly, analyze the purpose of the role to create measurable KPIs.   

For example, if you’ve previously required candidates to have a BA in graphic design and five years of agency experience, consider the unique hard and soft skills that can replace this language, such as:

  • Hard skills: A strong understanding of design principles, branding, typography, and ideation. Proficient in Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and Sketch.
  • Soft skills: Creative and strategic thinking, strong communication and problem-solving skills, and strong time management and attention to detail.
Hard skills vs soft skills
Hard skills refer to the knowledge and technical skills required to perform a role, and soft skills refer to personality traits and interpersonal skills, according to Valamis

Step 3. Keep it simple and concise 

Why should you do it?

According to LinkedIn, the average time spent reviewing a job post and determining whether or not a candidate will apply is, on average, 14 seconds. While almost double the average attention span, it doesn’t leave much room for creativity. The same study also found that over 50% of job views are from a mobile device, further cementing the need for straightforward content. 

What should you do?

The human attention span is drastically shrinking over time — currently, it sits at an average of just eight seconds. 

Keeping your skills-based job descriptions scannable and to the point is a sure-fire way to guarantee all prospective employees see the information that matters most. LinkedIn found that short job posts of no more than 300 words received 8.4% more than average applicants, and experienced a higher conversion rate than those with medium to long descriptions.

How should you do it?

Review your existing job descriptions and consider the following:

  • Does your existing content have a hierarchy?: Lead with the most compelling and important information to ensure candidates have read the key points, should they drop off at any point.
  • Is your content scannable?: Use bullet points to demonstrate the most crucial information (i.e., responsibilities, skills, compensation, etc.) and use short paragraphs for additional content. 
  • Keep an eye on your word count: Where possible, aim to keep your job descriptions under 300 words.
A linkedin study found that candidates are more likely to apply for job posts that contains short content, up to 300 words.
A LinkedIn study found that candidates are more likely to apply for job posts that contains short content, up to 300 words

Step 4. Don’t get creative with your job title

Why should you do it?

Appcast’s 2018 Recruitment Media Benchmark Report found:

  • Companies experienced a higher application rate for job titles that contained 1-3 words (7.6% apply rate). This number mostly declined as job titles got longer — 4-7 words (4.9%), 8-11 words (5%), 12-15 words (3.6%), and 16+ words (2.9%). 
  • Using more than two symbols — such as %, &, $, ! — in job titles reduced the application rate by 30%. 

What should you do?

 Whether a skills-based job description or a degree-based job description, there’s a lot to be said for simplicity when crafting a job title. Where possible, limit your job titles to no more than three words.

How should you do it?

Keep it simple. While you might feel that job titles, such as “Experienced Digital Marketing Ninja” or “All-round Accounts Superstar,” will grab candidates’ attention, research suggests otherwise. For best practice, keep your job title to essential words only. For example, “Digital Marketing Specialist” or “Payroll Team Leader”. 

This also includes minimizing the use of symbols in job titles. For example, avoid language such as “Payroll Team Leader @ Leading Accounting Firm – $120k+”. 

How job title length affects apply rates
Candidates are most likely to apply for job posts that contain job titles of 1-3 words (7.6% apply rate), according to Appcast

Final thoughts

Whether you’re struggling to find the right candidate for the job or aren’t even sure what the right person looks like beyond a list of unnecessary requirements, there are several reasons to start prioritizing skills-based job descriptions — including a wider talent pool, higher employee retention, reduced bias in the hiring process, and more. 

Transitioning from degree-based hiring to skills-based hiring requires an intentional and analytical approach — including analyzing your existing language, removing barriers, critically thinking about competencies and exactly what skills matter, and being mindful of word count and phrasing. 

A good skills-based job description is vital for attracting the right candidates. Not sure where to start? Check out Vervoe’s customizable job description templates, complete with skills, responsibilities, requirements, and benefits for a range of positions.

[Read more: Skills-based hiring statistics that show degrees are less important than ever

Bec Eaton

Bec Eaton

Bec Eaton is a Copywriter with over eight years of experience in writing compelling, brand-aligned, and solution-driven copy across a range of industries. Bec joined the Vervoe team in 2022, and currently works as their Content Marketing Specialist.

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