Why Companies Write Terrible Job Posts

Are you ready to “demonstrate an understanding of the interplay between physics-based signal and image analysis and text summarization and interpretation analysis”? I know I am!

The goal of a job posting is to solicit applications from qualified candidates. In that light, compare the following two job postings.

The classic:


The modern:


Are you psyched to work in a group where, “Technical disciplines required include machine-assisted information fusion methods based upon physical, statistical and graphical models, as well as the software engineering skills to deploy them in open, distributed and service-oriented, cloud-based systems”? I worked in that group, and it was a great experience, but you’d never know it from the job post. A place where, “They banter about Bandits, know their way down a Gradient, and aren’t too Naïve to kick back in our Bay(es) Area offices,” sounds quite a bit more fun.

The author of the classic job posting above never stopped to consider the objective: getting qualified candidates to apply. They got the qualified part — the job posting does specify what qualifications are required (cropped out above). What they forgot about is the get candidates to apply part. A job posting is not just a description of requirements — it’s an advertisement. The young tech companies seem to have figured that out, but this bit of wisdom hasn’t permeated parts of the established corporate world. A few minutes of browsing revealed the following gems:

“You will perform professional software development tasks associated with the developing, designing and debugging of software applications or operating systems.” — Software Developer 5 at Oracle

“The main responsibilities of the developer include quickly diagnosing and resolving defects associated with moderately complex to complex intranet applications.” — Web Developer 5 at Wells Fargo

How do such awful job postings come to be? Here are some thoughts:

  • Internal vs. external: A company needs to have a concept of why it’s hiring and what the specific requirements for the role are. What we’re seeing here is just an internal spec sheet that hasn’t been translated into a sales pitch. At Oracle, job postings actually double as internal promotion/transfer opportunities.
  • Image: A Silicon Valley tech company like Yelp (modern job posting) isn’t expected to sound professional, but a government laboratory in Massachusetts (classic job posting) is. The same way a candidate can’t show up to a consulting interview in jeans, a “serious” organization will not create a punnish job ad.
  • Generic requirements: It’s hard to write a good job posting when the requirements are too general. In the case of the classic job posting above, the group is essentially looking for smart technical people, and does not want to discourage a broad set of potential applicants. At large companies like Oracle, while the job requirements might be specific, much of the text for a job posting is standard and was not written with a particular role in mind. The unfortunate consequence is that the job ads suffer from at least one of two flaws:
    • Phrases that are so general that they are meaningless, e.g., “professional software development tasks associated with the developing… of software applications.”
    • Long, convoluted lists of possibilities, e.g., “Projects involve feature extraction from multi-source data; pattern recognition and behavior analysis; information-theoretic analysis of machine-aided decision effectiveness; semi-automated sensor cueing and resource optimization; modeling and simulation of surveillance and reconnaissance networks; design, implementation and analysis of laboratory and field experiments.”
  • Lack of perspective: Having stewed in company-internal lingo for a while, it’s hard to step back and remember just how obtuse it sounds to an outsider.

Have you come across job postings that are about as dynamic as a software license agreement? Please comment!


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