• Estimated read time: 7 mins
  • Date posted:23/09/2019
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The life sciences market is candidate-driven.

In many ways, this is a cause for celebration. Candidates have the confidence to leave their current position, rather than feeling chained to a job they find unfulfilling. They’re also more likely to turn down job offers, safe in the knowledge that they’re under no pressure to seize the first opportunity that comes along.

Of course, it’s not such good news for hiring managers. Competition for top talent has never been fiercer. Candidates understand their value in the current market and they have no reason to settle for less.

To hire the best candidates, it is no longer enough to advertise a vacancy and wait for the CVs to come flooding in. You need to sell the role, not just to those individuals who are actively seeking a new position, but to passive candidates employed by a competitor.

Job descriptions and job adverts – two key touchpoints in the candidate journey – have a big part to play in positioning the role, and the employer, to prospective talent. But failing to differentiate between them, or using them ineffectively, is a common failing among senior-level recruitment strategies in the life sciences and related industries.

With that in mind, here’s our guide to the key differences between job descriptions and job adverts – and why understanding those differences will help you attract top talent.

The key traits of a job description

“A broad, general, and written statement of a specific job, based on the findings of a job analysis. It generally includes duties, purpose, responsibilities, scope, and working conditions of a job along with the job’s title, and the name or designation of the person to whom the employee reports.”Business Dictionary

Essentially, job descriptions define the results and impact of a given role, as well as detailing:

  • What the job entails
  • What success looks like
  • Fit within the wider organisation

Typically, the responsibility for creating job descriptions falls on the hiring manager, in conjunction with the HR team. However, for greater accuracy, they should also be written in association with the new hire’s future coworkers, including their line manager, if different to the hiring manager.

Before working on a new job description, it’s important to understand why you’re doing it. To that end, job descriptions serve three core purposes:

  • To attract more, and better-qualified, applicants
  • To be the starting point for any new hiring decision
  • To ensure the employer complies with employment law

As well as concisely explaining the purpose of the role, a well-honed job description should:

  • Allow candidates to assess their suitability for the position in question
  • Showcase the unique selling points of the job
  • Satisfy the compliance requirements of the company

While that might seem like a lot to include, the best job descriptions are able to convey all of this in a concise, straightforward manner.

Unfortunately, many organisations are guilty of writing rambling, unstructured job descriptions that go into far too much depth. Hold off providing intimate detail about internal processes until the interview stage. You won’t win over top talent by boring them to death; speak to them as if they’re your customers.

Likewise, you are unlikely to succeed if the job description is outdated. While crafting a new description takes time, never fall into the trap of simply reposting an old one – inaccurate job descriptions just do not sell. Always make the effort to review and update a job description and get internal signoff.

While we’re discussing their role within the recruitment process, it is also worth noting that job descriptions should be created for every role within your organisation. Once written, they should be signed off by key stakeholders, regularly updated by HR, and reinforced with an organisational structure.

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When should I use it?

Crafting an accurate job description should be the starting point for any new hire, building on the candidate persona, acting as a key touchpoint in the candidate journey and leading to the creation of a job advert.

Simply put, no vacancy should ever be advertised without a job description. If you haven’t taken the time to spell out exactly what the role entails, the impact it will have – in other words, goals and objectives – and how it fits into the wider organisation, you can’t:

  • Truly understand the calibre of individual you’re seeking
  • Rely on your description to entice top talent with content that resonates
  • Adopt a ‘gold standard’ from which to screen and qualify applicants
  • Expect recruitment and executive search partners to upsell the role to candidates
  • Understand what success looks like

The job description should form the basis of all performance management efforts going forward.

The key traits of a job advert

“An announcement in a newspaper, on the internet, etc. about a job that people can apply for”Cambridge English Dictionary

While the dictionary definition is pretty simple, on a basic level it is correct. But it falls short in one area – by failing to emphasise the importance of the word “advert”.

When you write a job advert, you’re not just telling people that an opening is available; you’re actively selling the role to prospective talent.

In terms of content, the job advert is a streamlined version of the job description. It should:

Showcase the unique selling points of the role (and the company)
Be tailored to the target market (candidate persona)
Give a top-level overview, omitting granular detail that might deter applicants

But it’s not just about what you say; it’s about how you say it too. Specifically, you should be framing your job advert in a way that places the candidate front and centre, rather than just giving a list of demands.

Research suggests this candidate-centric approach is highly effective. A University of Vermont study divided 56 job adverts into two groups – those focusing on what the employer wants, and those focusing on what the employer offers to candidates (things like advancement opportunities and autonomy). The second group were found to be three times more likely to attract higher-quality candidates.

However, be careful not to go too far in talking up the role. By over glamorising an opportunity, you risk mis-selling it to candidates, which is likely to drive up dissatisfaction and ultimately staff turnover.

When should I use it?

Job adverts are often a candidate’s initial point of contact with an organisation. Treat them as the first opportunity to highlight your employer brand, while ensuring they remain consistent with other touchpoints that candidates will encounter in the candidate journey.

But while they frequently appear at the very start of the candidate journey, they shouldn’t be the first thing you write. In fact, a job advert should only be crafted after the job description has been created. That way, you can pick out the key information and position the role in a way that appeals to top performers.

How understanding these differences will help you attract top talent

Having read the above, it should be clear that simply copying job descriptions doesn’t make for an effective job advert. It simply won’t show your organisation off in the best light. They might contain similar information, but they should be structured very differently.

With that in mind, here’s some guidance on how to craft and structure job descriptions and job adverts to help you attract the best senior-level candidates…

General guidance on job descriptions and job adverts

First off, here’s some advice that applies equally to job descriptions and job adverts: it’s vitally important that you write in a way that appeals to candidates. Hone your writing by:

  • Presenting the job in a personable manner, free from company or industry jargon.
  • Describing it as you would to an internal candidate using clear, simple language.
  • Focussing on the candidate’s capacity to “do” by writing in the second person. For example: “You will develop and execute the quality strategy for the EMEA region.”
  • Ensuring your message appeals to a broad and diverse audience, taking care to explain – or ideally avoid – industry jargon and words that repel candidates from minority backgrounds.

Additionally, as obvious as it might sound, it’s crucial that your descriptions and adverts comply with the relevant employment law. If you’re in doubt, seek legal advice.

Writing a performance job description

The process of creating a performance job description begins with understanding who you’re writing for. Consider what motivates the A-players you’re hoping to attract:

  • What challenges and benefits are they looking for?
  • What can your organisation offer them?
  • How can you sell them on the role and the company?

Having answered these questions, it’s time to define three key factors:

Mission: Clearly explaining the mission – in other words, the reason that the role exists in the first place – is key to ensuring that all parties (candidates, hiring teams and coworkers) understand the essence of the job and what it entails.
Goals: Every job description should include desired outcomes that are specific and measurable. Candidates need to understand how their performance will be assessed and what they need to do to succeed in the role.
Urgency: To prioritise a given role in your recruitment process, you first need to define its importance to achieving your overall business objectives.

Now, you can set about structuring the job description. Start off by selling the candidate on the company and the specific role before discussing your requirements – remember, this isn’t a list of demands, but an opportunity to convince high-calibre candidates that they’re desperate to join your organisation.

Avoid generic sentences and platitudes – they add nothing and will simply dilute your message. Instead, get specific. What expertise will the candidate need? What qualifications? And why should they choose you over a rival? If you need more guidance or a little inspiration, check out our article: Honing A Performance Job Description To Attract Top Life Science Talent.

Writing a job advert

When it comes to writing job adverts, consistency is key. By honing a basic format and sticking to it time after time, you ensure uniformity between job adverts and mitigate the risk of key information being missed.

At Fraser Dove International, we use a single format for all job adverts, based around the following principles:

Adopting performance job descriptions and job adverts can improve the quality of your talent pool. But it’s not a silver bullet to fix all your recruitment woes.

If you’re struggling to find high-calibre candidates for senior roles, Fraser Dove International are here to help. See for yourself how we partnered with a leading biopharmaceutical organisation to fill a key role that stood empty for six months.

While finding the best talent helps you and your organisation, the ultimate beneficiary is the patient. That’s why we care so deeply about recruiting for life science companies.

Want to find out more about our approach and what we can do for you? Call us on +44 (0)203 355 7050, email me at tdove@fraserdove.com, or get in touch via our contact form.