For CXOs For CEOs

Creating an Executive Job Description

Executive and senior level job descriptions can be difficult to write, and that can make attracting the right candidates for your role a challenging task.

Some people still think of the job description as the primary artifact for the agreement between the employee and the company, and so they try to cover every possibility of what the role could entail over time. Instead, we recommend you think of the job description as the starting point for the relationship, which can and will change over time as the company and the person hired grow.

It can be hard to narrow down what skills are most important for your open role, while also balancing potential future growth and ensuring you don’t discourage historically underrepresented candidates from applying. Here are some practical tips for solving both these challenges—starting with the latter.

Avoid bias in job descriptions

There are a few simple things you can do to ensure you are reaching the broadest possible, qualified, candidate pool. Start by using an online tool to review the language in your job description. Some words sound more masuline and may turn women off from applying for the role (see this Forbes article or the Gender Decoder tool below for examples). I’ve used a free version of Textio previously, which looks like it’s no longer available, but Gender Decoder seems like a reasonable alternative.

Note that you want the role description to accurately reflect your culture. If you find too many instances of biased language in your description, it may demonstrate an opportunity to take a deeper look at the underlying culture of your company. Reflect on whether it’s an inclusive environment in practice, not just on paper.

Reduce the number of requirements for the role. Research shows (see HBR article here) that men apply for jobs where they meet 60% of the “required” qualifications, while women only apply to those roles where they meet 100% of the “required” qualifications. My experience indicates that this trend is true for all traditionally underrepresented executives, not just women.

Think carefully about each requirement and make sure it’s truly vital for success in the role. Is a specific level of education required, or would you consider someone with deep industry experience even if they didn’t have a degree from a preferred university? Does the role really require a set number of years of experience? If you really need to show years of experience, make it a range. We all have biases about the “right” career path someone should follow to get the experience we want, but in reality, there are many different paths that can lead someone to be a great candidate for a role.

Avoiding bias in your job description will encourage interest from individuals with non-traditional careers or who are part of historically underrepresented groups. Their perspectives are important for the success and culture of your team, so this should be a priority.

Really think about the role and what skills and experience could lead someone to be a great candidate. Your job description requirements should include only the elements you truly need (and then only consider candidates who have those qualifications!).

Understanding the purpose of the job description

Think of the job description as a way to attract the right candidates and set the stage to align on expectations of the role.

It’s highly unlikely that the job description encompasses the full extent of the role in the short or long term. As your business grows and changes, so will the role and so will the person you hire. You don’t need to cover every possibility in the job description. Instead, paint a picture of how this role will contribute to the company’s needs. View this as an opportunity to ensure your successful candidate has a growth mindset and is willing to grow with the role. Textio’s research shows that the best job descriptions are between 300-660 words.

Writing the job description

First, craft your pitch paragraph. Use the data and conversations from the conversations you had when you decided to create this position to articulate why you’re hiring for the role. Think of this as your “pitch” to the candidate. Start brainstorming by writing down all the reasons the role is critical for the success of the organization, then narrow this down to one paragraph summarizing the overall impact of the successful candidate.

Next, add some context about the company and executive team, such as your current priorities, your longer-term strategy, the current leadership team, and how you work together. Include your expectations about in-person versus remote work, the current size of the functional team, and how you expect that to grow over time.

The next section is often a laundry list of tasks that the role will be responsible for. Most executives know the full scope of their functional role, so limit the bullets to a few key priorities for the role in the next 6-12 months. As part of writing StartupCXO, we created a skills inventory that includes expectations for each functional role at different stages of a company’s growth. Our clients have access to this information when they search for candidates within Bolster, and it will also soon be accessible when creating a job description on our platform.

Finally, add some requirements for the job. Be clear about which are required and which are desired. Do you need someone with industry experience, or is experience in a similar industry good enough? Would it be helpful for them to have led a cross-functional team in the past, or can this be their first time leading the full scope of their functional area?

There are a ton of resources available for writing job descriptions; my best advice is to get something on paper, and then fit your thoughts into the format above. Working through the job description can be a really helpful way of aligning all key stakeholders on the priorities of the role, which can in turn create a great candidate experience.

Job descriptions are a key element in ensuring you appeal to the right candidates, so it’s important to write them effectively.

For Bolster clients, our Talent Consultants are always happy to review job descriptions with you and help you leverage our skills inventory. If you’re interested in connecting with us, please reach out to TalentConsultants@Bolster.com.

Related:

How Busting Your Bias on Resumes Can Maximize Diversity

-Cathy Hawley, October 20, 2022