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red flags in job descriptions

Attracting quality candidates all starts with a job description. And your job description has the power to attract or repel the right people based on the language that you’re using. Today, I’m talking about 4 common red flags I see in job descriptions that are probably keeping you from finding really amazing team members who want to grow with your business. 

Ready? Let’s get started.

In this episode:

  • The seemingly innocuous phrases in your job description that are scaring away qualified candidates
  • Replacement wording that will convey your message and attract quality candidates you are excited to interview
  • Why you should spend as much time crafting your message to your potential candidate market as you do for your potential client market


Listen to the podcast here:

4 Red Flags In Your Job Description

Hello, hello. Job descriptions. I actually love to write job descriptions but I seem to be the odd person out on this one. Because most of my friends, and pretty much all of my clients, hate writing job descriptions.

Maybe I love it because I’ve boiled it down into an easy-to-replicate template that allows me to change up a handful of things whenever I need to hire and it’s ready for posting. And while that is one of the best parts, I think it’s mostly that my job descriptions get results.

And I get results because, at this stage in my business, I know what to say and what not to say.

Just like with pretty much any area of life, there is good language and problematic language and I think that a lot of business owners use problematic language in their job descriptions without realizing it. 

And what you’re doing when you do that is turning off quality candidates so that they run for the hills without applying at all and potentially attracting candidates without enough experience or who don’t have the work ethic or style that you’re looking for. 

Trust me when I say that whenever I audit a job description that isn’t getting any results—and by results I mean quality candidates you’re excited to interview—they almost always contain one or more of the following phrases.

And I know what you’re thinking…I don’t mean to be problematic when I say that. People should know to read between the lines! Except they don’t and really you shouldn’t expect them to. Just because you are using that phrase without some hidden double meaning doesn’t mean it’s true for other people. And, 90% of the time, these phrases ARE red flags indicating that the person using them is a nightmare to work with. Even if you don’t mean them to be.

And listen, I know that we include things in our job descriptions because we’ve been burned before and we want to try to avoid that in the future. I do that too. Every hire, good or bad, teaches me something about what works for me and what doesn’t and that informs what I’m likely going to use in my job descriptions the next time.

The 4 things I’m sharing with you today are directly from my own experience and corroborated by other service pros who all identify these as serious red flags in a job description. And don’t worry, I’m going to give you some suggestions on what else to say instead. I’ve got you.

1. Asking for a resume

First red flag on deck: asking for a resume.

Can we all just agree at this point in the internet that business owners contracting with other business owners for services should stop asking for a resume? 

If you aren’t asking your plumber, your mechanic, your lawyer, or your business coach for a resume before you work with them, then stop asking service pros for resumes. 

One, they probably don’t have one and if they do, they either threw something together just to apply for your job post or they’re fresh out of corporate. Two, there are a ton of reasons why they may not want to or be able to make one, including but not limited to, client confidentiality. 

And three, a well-written job description that asks them for the RIGHT information doesn’t need a resume. 

Instead, think about everything that’s normally included on a resume about work history and skills and if you really positively have to know every bit of that information, how can you ask it as part of the application process without straight-up asking for a resume that makes you look like you don’t know the difference between working with another business owner and hiring an employee?

You can ask how long they’ve been in business or if they have any certifications (service pros pay good money for these and they’re proud to mention them). And if you want references, find some testimonials on their website or social media. 

And before you tell me that their testimonials are skewed positively…ask yourself how many times you’ve put someone on your resume who wouldn’t give you a glowing recommendation? 

Bear in mind that a resume is not a portfolio and vice versa. If you are hiring someone for website design, graphics creation, copywriting, etc. you can and should ask for a portfolio to make sure that your style lines up. But resumes are a no-go. Stop asking for these.

2. Setting unrealistic expectations

The second red flag I commonly see is unrealistic expectations. And I know that’s broad so let me give you some examples.

If you expect your VA to be available Monday through Friday from 9am to 6pm that is an unrealistic expectation.

If you expect a 2-hour turnaround on all tasks, that is an unrealistic expectation.

If you expect them to be experts in every single system in your business, that is an unrealistic expectation. (More on this one later)

If you expect to dictate exactly how much and when you will pay them as a contractor, that is an unrealistic expectation. 

These can sound really innocuous on a job description too. But seasoned service pros (the service pros you probably want) can spot them from a mile away. They know what “available during working hours Monday to Friday” is code for. 

So instead of saying “available during working hours Monday to Friday” try instead “your day overlaps by 2-4 hours with 11am to 6pm ET” which is what many of my job descriptions say. 

Instead of saying “quick turnaround for all projects required” say “be able to clearly communicate and meet deadlines for projects and tasks”.

Instead of saying “must be proficient in…” and then listing every single system in your business, list only the ones that are integral to that role. If they aren’t gonna be using Airtable as a customer service rep, they don’t need to be proficient in that.

Your expectations should be clear, concise, and realistic. Otherwise, you’re going to attract candidates who aren’t a good fit, don’t have great boundaries, and are probably desperate for the work and the money. None of that is a good recipe for a great hire or working relationship. 

3. Using gimmicky words

The next red flag is using the word Unicorn. The only place I ever use the word unicorn is in my LLC name. When people use this phrase, they usually mean they are looking for someone who can do it all. And that’s not realistic. And since we just got done talking about unrealistic expectations, we know we don’t want those.

The key to long-lasting hiring in your business, to hiring team members who will be with your company for the long haul, is to put the right people into the right roles. Unicorns, if you can find one, burnout. Because it’s exhausting doing all the things. 

You’ll do much much better hiring for a role with a clearly defined scope. If you yourself are drowning in all the things, the idea of hiring a unicorn can be alluring. Someone who can come in and take everything off your plate that you hate doing in one fell swoop and boom…now your life is perfect. But it doesn’t really work that way. 

If you need to hire and you can only afford to hire one person, then sit down and look at everything that you’re currently doing in your business. Identify the MOST important tasks that need to come off your plate. The thing that either takes the most time or that you hate doing the most. And hire for that. 

That will immediately free up your time and your brainpower to make more money and hire the next person for the next set of tasks to come off your plate. No unicorn required. 

4. Using the word “micromanage” 

And my last and personal least favorite thing that I see on so.many.job.descriptions is “I don’t want someone I have to micromanage.”

Listen, I know why y’all are including that. Because unfortunately in the past, you have hired someone you did have to micromanage. No one enjoys hand-holding someone who’s supposed to be able to work independently and make your life easier. No one enjoys having to constantly answer questions because a team member can’t be bothered to google or do some digging on their own or just can’t seem to remember what you tell them from week to week. It’s annoying. We all hate it. We want to avoid it at all costs.

Here’s the problem with this phrase, though. No one who actually ends up needing to be micromanaged thinks of themselves as someone who needs to be micromanaged. I’ll just give you a second to let that sink in.

People who need hand-holding don’t think of themselves as needing hand-holding. There’s not a single person in the world who reads the phrase in a job description “If you need to be micromanaged, don’t apply” and thinks “well I do need to be micromanaged so I’m going to skip this one and wish them luck!”

But you know who is clicking away from your app like their laptop is on fire? Quality candidates. Because whether you mean it or not, this phrase is a dog whistle for uptight, controlling CEOs. I have personally been hired by and seen others hired by, people who use this phrasing and they are always the most controlling people I’ve ever worked with. 

I know you don’t mean it that way, at least I hope you don’t. If you do, we should talk because there are bigger problems at play here. But there are definitely better ways to say you’re looking for someone who you don’t have to micromanage. 

You can say you’re looking for a problem solver. Someone with strong google-fu muscles. Someone who can propose solutions.

All of those mean “please be an autonomous person who I don’t have to handhold”. And none of them use the gross “someone I don’t need to micromanage” phrase.

Quality candidates shy away from these phrases for a reason. And really it’s not that hard to switch out this language and be really intentional about what you say and how you say it. 

Using the right language is how you attract the right people. Your job description is the first line of defense you have to screen candidates before they apply. So it’s in your best interest to use language and phrases (or to stop using them) that attract quality candidates instead of repelling them. 

So if you’re consistently finding that you send out a job description and get little to no quality candidates, take a look and see if you’re including the same or similar things I’ve mentioned today and clean them up to say what you really mean in a way that speaks to your ideal team members. 

And if you don’t even have a job description, then head to my website and download my “How to write a kick-ass job description” freebie where I share my 8 part anatomy of a job description that will help you hire quality candidates every time. 

Alright, that’s it for me today. Bye, y’all.

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