Writing any kind of job description can be tricky. It’s easy to get mired in jargon and it’s tempting to simply copy and paste details from other postings or your internal job description. But, writing job postings for software developers has some extra complexity.
First, if you don’t have a tech background, the job-specific lingo can be difficult to understand and use correctly. Second, software developers are in extremely high demand and can be choosy about which jobs to apply to. For that reason, it’s important to write a compelling job ad that grabs their attention and convinces them that your company can help them reach their career goals. Third, because you’re working with an already-narrow applicant pool, it’s important to use inclusive language so that your job posting appeals to as many qualified candidates as possible.
Simply stated, it’s important to craft your job posting in a way that calls attention to it – for the right reasons. Let’s take a look at how to do that.
Use Clean, Traditional Formatting
Using traditional formatting helps your job posting look professional and appealing, as well making it as easy to read. Breaking the ad into sections and using short paragraphs and bullet points to convey the most important information about the job helps to keep it structured and easily digestible. The most commonly used sections are:
- Job title;
- Job description;
- Duties and responsibilities;
- Qualifications; and
- Additional information that makes your job more compelling, such as the salary range, benefits, and perks.
Some sections may be better broken into two or more. For example, you may be able to briefly introduce your company and discuss the role’s objectives within the job description section. But, if you have room to delve a little more deeply into either of those topics, consider creating unique sections for each.
Use headings and subheadings to easily identify each section. Don’t be afraid to use bold judiciously to draw attention to the most important points. When using bullet points, list no more than five to ensure that candidates read the full list. And, of course, include relevant links where appropriate.
All that said, it’s important to keep the posting clear, simple, and brief. Many online guides suggest an optimum length of 300-700 words, explaining that with less than 300 words, you might not be able to include all relevant points, while more than 700 can be overwhelming. Keep in mind that this translates to roughly one to two single-spaced pages. While a two-page ad may be necessary for complex senior roles with diverse responsibilities, shorter is generally better.
Use Simple, Inclusive Language
In an effort to attract candidates and to portray their company culture as hip and fun, some companies moved towards language like “guru”, “ninja”, and “rockstar” in their job titles. It’s best, however, to stick to simple language and traditional job titles for a few reasons.
First, if someone is searching online for job openings, they’re more apt to search for keyword phrases like “computer programmer” rather than “programming wizard.” Search engines use algorithms to rank search results, putting the best matches at the top of the list. If your job title doesn’t include the keywords and keyword phrases that the applicant is searching for, your posting will be shown lower in the results, or possibly not at all. You can miss out on exceptional applicants when you don’t use critical keywords.
Second, superlatives tend to attract applicants who are overconfident in their abilities while discouraging those who, frankly, don’t feel like a rockstar. This is particularly true for female applicants. A oft-quoted study found that women only apply for a job if they have 100% of the qualifications listed. A job title that seems to be unattainable may prevent women from even skimming the job ad, believing that they won’t meet the qualifications.
Keep in mind, also, that many of these trendy phrases infer a preference for male applicants. While female ninjas did exist in historical times, for instance, they were technically known as kunoichis. Likewise, as far as rockstars go, only about 20% of popular music’s top hits are performed by female artists. In addition to avoiding these trendy phrases, using non-gender-specific pronouns such as “you” and “they,” rather than “he/she,” can help attract the largest pool of qualified applicants.
Getting Started: The Basics
As with any job posting, an ad targeted to software engineers should include basic information about the job. The job title, description, responsibilities, and qualifications are all critical components. Once you have those hammered down, you can finesse the ad to make it more compelling.
While it’s important to be concise in all aspects of a job description, don’t overdo brevity – especially in the job title.
The job title is the first thing an applicant will see when they’re searching for a job. Make yours stand out by including relevant and compelling information such as:
- The seniority level of the position;
- The type of software engineer (e.g., back-end or full stack);
- The sub-field the position will be working within, if applicable (e.g., mobile applications or security);
- Required languages; and
- Other relevant information that might compel people to click on your job ad, such as location and starting salary.
As an example, a terrific job title is: “Entry Level Full Stack Developer – Digital Development – Miami.”
Typically, the job description is a single, brief paragraph that includes an introduction to your company and a summary of the most important aspects of the role. This is also the perfect place to concisely explain why the job is a terrific opportunity and how the person in the role contributes to your company’s success.
In a comprehensive guide to creating job postings for software engineers, Christian Eilers offers this advice: “Think to yourself: how would a software engineer describe their job to someone they’re meeting for the first time at a tech conference?” If you’re not a software developer yourself, this is a terrific time to reach out to the developers on your team, to ask for their input.
While it’s important to keep the job description brief, use upbeat, descriptive language to catch and hold the applicant’s attention.
And finally, as discussed above, use the pronoun “they” as a way to appeal to the widest cross section of applicants and to help job seekers envision themselves in the role, which may encourage them to apply.
Typically written in bullet points, the section on job responsibilities sets out the day-to-day duties of the position. It’s been suggested that the optimal length for a job posting is only 300 to 700 words (roughly 1-2 single-spaced pages). For this reason, it’s best not to delve too deeply into the nitty-gritty details of the role’s responsibilities. Focus on the most important details. And, again, this is a terrific place to ask for input from software engineers on your team if you are unfamiliar with the fine details of the job or job-specific lingo.
Qualifications and Experience
In an attempt to filter the very best candidates, some companies go overboard with a wishlist of requirements. This often backfires as many candidates (especially women, as mentioned above) won’t apply to jobs that they feel unqualified for.
List only those requirements that are absolute must-haves. In an excellent blog piece, Anna Dziuba suggests including a maximum of four “must-have” and no more than three “nice-to-have” qualifications. That should cover the essential requirements of the position without overwhelming applicants.
Since many software engineers are self-taught, listing a degree or certain number of years of post-secondary education can filter out suitable candidates. If, however, you do require certain certifications (which is especially likely for cybersecurity roles), this is the section to list those in.
Like the section on job responsibilities, this section is best presented in bullet points.
Wrapping It Up: The Extras
While the listed duties and qualifications help candidates understand if they can manage the demands of the job, other information can help them decide if they would be a good fit for your company.
Whether you break the additional information into separate parts with different headers or present it all in one single section, consider letting candidates know things like:
- The physical location of your offices and whether remote work may be considered;
- The expected work hours, including the possibility of flextime;
- Salary range;
- Benefits and bonuses, including health care, paid time off, sick leave, parental leave, spending accounts, and retirement plans;
- Professional development opportunities;
- Exciting projects and/or clients; and
- Office perks like on-site gyms, staff lunches, and office social activities.
Remember that the optimal length for a job posting is 300-700 words, so you may not be able to list all the benefits and perks that your company offers. When choosing which ones to list, consider why a candidate would choose to apply for your job or what sets your company ahead of the pack.