Well-written job description goes a long way toward positioning your organization as a great place to work and toward drawing in high caliber applicants.
Many customer service leaders don’t enjoy writing job descriptions. And who can blame them? Creating job descriptions can be time-consuming, and oftentimes the end result doesn’t feel like something to be proud of.
You’ve seen the kinds of job descriptions I’m referring to: full of corporate jargon, unreasonable qualifications and expectations, and totally uninspired. As a culture, we’ve somehow created a system where many job descriptions – which are meant to give candidates an overview of the company and the role – end up with candidates feeling confused, bleary-eyed and wrestling with imposter syndrome.
All in all, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.
Consider this alternative: What if your job descriptions – instead of putting people to sleep or making good candidates bail – were inspiring? What if – instead of a list of bullets of standardized responsibilities – they could actually function as windows into your organization, giving candidates a peek into what you’re all about?
In short, what would it be like if your job descriptions got candidates genuinely excited to learn more about your role, your organization and your mission?
Ready to move toward that reality? In this article, we’ll show you how to do just that. We’ll do a brief survey of the common elements making up a standard job description, and then we’ll paint a picture of how you can do each part better. As we go, we’ll also provide lots of examples that you can copy and use as you create your own job descriptions in the future.
The purpose of a job description
In the broadest sense, a job description exists to help you find the best possible candidate for the job. In that sense, it’s a tool that is meant to help you solve a problem (an open role). The job description does two things to accomplish this:
- It communicates something about your organization and the role of potential candidates.
- It filters out candidates who would be a flat-out bad fit, saving them and your time and energy.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Form follows function.” While there’s some debate about whether that’s true in our digital world, I believe it applies to the topic of job descriptions.
Put another way, “form follows function” means that the shape of something – a building, a product, or a job description – should be dictated by its purpose.
This fact brings us to the major question: Is there a better “form” for a customer service job description?
The “normal” job description
A quick survey of any online job board shows that most job postings follow a fairly standard format with four main components. Let’s take a quick look at these elements as seen in a typical customer service job listing.
The overview is generally the first paragraph or two in the job description. It’s used to paint a high-level overview of the company and the specific role being hired. It will often include a bit about the company history or culture, and a quick summary of the role’s focus.
This is where the bullet points typically begin. Bullet by bullet, this section contains a list of the normal things the role is responsible for, such as:
- Respond to inbound customer inquiries via telephone, chat and email
- Achieve individual and team service level goals
- Identify and escalate customer inquiries and issues to Tier 2 Support or other teams as needed
More bullets. As you’d guess, this section lays out the skills (technical or otherwise) that the role requires:
- Excellent time-management skills
- Strong work ethic and team player
- Expert at both verbal and written communication
Similar to the above, this section lays out the experience needed. Common examples include:
- 1-2 years of experience supporting customers
- College degree preferred
- Experience using Salesforce, G-Suite and Zendesk
To be fair, job descriptions like the example above actually do contain valuable information for potential candidates. They need to know something about your company and culture and whether their skills and experiences make them a good fit for the role.
But is this format the best imaginable tool to help you find the ideal candidate for the job?
I’d argue that it’s not. A better way is out there.
What is that better way? Remember, you’re trying to find the best possible candidate by communicating to them about your company and the role and by filtering out people that would be bad fits. With that clear, let’s reimagine the four components of the standard job description described above.
A better overview section for your job description
The overview section is your first opportunity to make an impression on possible future hires. Ask yourself this: “If the perfect candidate was reading this job description alongside a dozen other job descriptions, what would I want them to know? How could I show them that our company is the one they should choose?”
When candidates are being encouraged to apply to ten to fifteen jobs per week, your first impression really matters. While it’s possible candidates may have clicked around your website before finding your job posting, you shouldn’t bet on it. In some sense, the overview section functions as a sales pitch, and that means you need to find a compelling hook to keep the candidate reading.
To build a better overview section, paint a compelling high-level picture of what your organization and the role is like. To that end, consider the following questions:
- What makes your organization and/or this role special?
- Why would someone want this job?
- What info might a potential candidate find compelling?
- How can you inject your unique company culture into this section to give it some personality and make it more interesting?
- Are there any important negotiables that a candidate should know up front before proceeding (e.g. Does the role have to be based in a specific location?)?
Questions like these should help you determine how to position your organization and this role in an attractive (and honest) manner. You can use a standard text-based overview, but you can also consider using another format – like video – to paint a more compelling picture for potential hires.
A better way to describe job responsibilities in your job description
Every job candidate knows that a job will entail certain responsibilities. Helping them understand what the role’s day-to-do responsibilities are – in a way that attracts and inspires – should be your priority with this section.
There are a couple ways you can do this better:
Show what “A Day/Week in the Life” looks like
Instead of a list of bullet points with individual responsibilities broken out, try painting a picture that shows what a routine day or week for the role looks like. Here are a few examples:
Tier 1 Support Daily Routine
- We support our customers through email and chat. On a typical day, you’ll spend about two hours providing chat support and several hours in the email inbox. You’ll also have time dedicated to following up on aging cases, team meetings and training opportunities.
Tier 2 Support Weekly Routine
- Monday – Mondays are our busiest days. You’ll spend most of your morning helping catch up on the email. After lunch, you might spend a couple hours doing chat support, then some time following up on aging cases and outstanding issues.
- Tuesday – Team meeting day! From 9-10AM you’ll connect with your team on issues, challenges, and opportunities. After that is your weekly meeting with Product to discuss feature requests. You’ll likely have a few hours in the afternoon to work on our knowledge base.
- Wednesday – We’re big believers in mentoring, so you’ll spend a few hours working side-by-side with a Tier 1 Agent. After that, you’ll troubleshoot technical issues and follow up on any outstanding bugs.
- Thursday – Quick standup with Product on prioritizing fixes, then more knowledge base time. Later in the day you’ll have your weekly 1:1 with your manager.
- Friday – Time to get things in shape for the weekend. Fridays are about following up on open cases and trying to clear the queue as much as possible. You’ll assist Tier 1 if it’s busy, and you might spend time digging through some code to understand what’s at the root of that ongoing issue you’ve been hearing about.
Demonstrate the role’s impact and goals
In addition to describing specific tasks, you can also try focusing on the role’s potential. What could it develop into? How will the role help move the company forward? Consider this example:
Where you can make an impact
- Eliminate confusion by clearly communicating complicated topics to people of all ages, backgrounds, and situations, with empathy and understanding.
- Help users succeed by providing technical guidance and resources to members through a variety of channels, including email, social channels, and our community forum.
- Build relationships with our users by moderating user-generated content in our community spaces with a high degree of accuracy, friendliness, and speed.
These bullets don’t differ massively from the standard “Responsibilities” you find on most job descriptions.
However, because of their focus on the potential impact (building relationships, helping users succeed, providing guidance), they have a higher likelihood of making an emotional connection with job seekers. Avoiding jargon and corporate-speak – in other words, writing like an actual human – also helps paint a clearer picture of what the job is like.
Another approach is to focus on how the role could develop over time. If you’re a small startup, are you hiring your first customer service person? Could they eventually become the team manager or build out your entire customer service operation? If so, that’s far more compelling than simply listing out the current responsibilities of the job. Similarly, in an established organization, you could creatively list out common career tracks, like in this example:
Where you could end up:
We place a huge value on employee development here at Acme Industries. As a Support Agent, you’ll start out focused on serving our customers via email and chat. Once you’ve mastered that, we’ve seen team members develop into technical writers (through helping create customer help documents), product managers (because Support is a great place to learn our products and customers!) and into leaders of various teams throughout the company.
A better skills & experience section in your job description
You’ve given potential future hires a compelling picture of what your company is like. You’ve also helped them understand the responsibilities and opportunities of the role they’re considering. Your last major task is to help them determine if they’re a good fit, and you can do this through a reimagined Skills & Experience section in your job description.
If there’s one critical thing you need to understand before writing this section, it’s the difference between preferred and required skills and experiences. There are two risks if you can’t differentiate between what’s required and what’s preferred::
- If you lean towards making everything preferred, you may get overwhelmed with a flood of unqualified candidates.
- If you lean towards making everything required, you may scare off candidates who would actually be a great fit (remember, imposter syndrome is a real thing).
Here’s an analogy: Consider your skills and experiences section to be like a recipe. If you’re trying to bake a cake, there are certain things you absolutely need to have in the right amounts: flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and so on. Get those things wrong and your cake is ruined. Other ingredients – frosting, sprinkles, and so on – are optional and based upon your preference.
Those essential ingredients are like your job description’s required skills and experiences; without them, there’s a very low chance a candidate will be a good fit. The optional ingredients are your preferred skills and experiences; if a candidate doesn’t have them it might change your approach, but it’s not a deal breaker.
If you’re struggling to decide whether something should be required or preferred, ask this question: “How hard would it be to train someone this?” If the training process won’t be too complex or difficult, then it should probably be a preferred quality.
Here are a few examples from recent job postings:
Notice how nearly every skill or experience listed in NerdWallet’s Member Support Specialist job description is preferred. There’s enough here for you to get a clear sense of the type of person they’re looking for, but they aren’t overly-prescriptive or scaring candidates away with unnecessarily intimidating requirements.
Geckoboard takes a very approachable stance in its Customer Success Champion job listing. From the overall tone to the surprising last bullet point, they’re communicating in a way that won’t scare people off. Notice how they also focus each bullet on the candidate (“You are X, you love Y, you can do Z”).
And if you’re having trouble identifying the right skills to list, check out the ultimate list of customer service skills.
While writing job descriptions may never be the most fun part of your job, hopefully, you now have a clearer understanding of the power of a better job description. A thoughtful, well-written job description goes a long way toward positioning your organization as a great place to work and toward drawing in high caliber applicants.
Remember: spending the time to create a better customer service job description is an investment. Give it the time it deserves, and you’ll find yourself rewarded with a great pool of top talent to build and grow your customer service team.