It will surprise exactly no one to learn that HR and Talent Acquisition budgets are tight.  After “death” and “taxes” comes, “the sky is blue,” “puppies are cute” and “talent acquisition budgets are limited.” Which drives you up the wall because you know there are a million different interesting, engaging and exciting channels you could be investing in to draw traffic to your career site in order to get qualified candidates to fall in love with you.

But, all those channels cost money.

What if I told you there’s a low-cost (or really, no-cost) way to increase the value of your website, your existing marketing channels and even your recruiters? Spending a little time and energy in this one spot could be the biggest bang for your talent acquisition buck. It would make people take more notice of your jobs, encourage the right people to apply and support your employer brand.

It’s your job description. Well, not ‘your’ job description, but the job descriptions written for your applicants. Take a look at the following list of responsibilities for a project manager at four very different companies:

Company 1:

  • Identify, evaluate, plan, coordinate and report on various projects, such as market expansion, new product introduction, vendor logistics and network commissioning.
  • Develop processes, procedures and documentation for efficient and scalable deployment of the network and products, liaising with other teams and the larger PM organization to harmonize efforts.
  • Coordinate team efforts through task, milestone and objective tracking along with metric reporting.
  • Manage coordination and reporting of financial data and commercial engagements with cross-functional groups, including procurement, logistics, vendor management and legal.

Company 2:

  • Manages and is responsible for the successful completion of all tasks in assigned program area including technical work and financial and business development activities.
  • Supervises assigned technical and administrative staff, including subordinate managers; and performs personnel actions including hiring and performance evaluation.
  • Directs program activities to meet client and organization work objectives and serves as a liaison with clients to coordinate activities, negotiate tasks and solve problems.
  • Assures quality of program products, services and deliverables, including participating in reviews, audits and site visits.

Company 3:

  • Plan, coordinate and track the project activities for initiatives of supported customer groups. Manage small, medium and large projects.
  • Assist in planning and organizing resources from across all Technology areas along with the Business to achieve project objectives.
  • Establish procedures and processes for project activities. Manage overall Mainframe capacity usage and implement procedures/processes and technology to maximize value.
  • Create, monitor and maintain projects in project management software including managing project plan tasking and assignments.
  • Work closely with Finance and the Program Management Office to maintain data accuracy in corporate financial software.

Company 4:

  • Define critical process/product  parameters and their targets.
  • Manage, plan, schedule, communicate, facilitate and report project related tasks.
  • Coordinate  the work of project team members to ensure that project goals are achieved.
  • Identify risks and formulate execution of  abatement plans.
  • Break work down into manageable tasks required to meet project objectives and assign and/or direct the work of others.
  • Lead cross-functional teams.

Based on these descriptions, which company would you want to apply to?  What if I told you one of these companies was Google? Could you pick one of the most innovative companies in the world out of a lineup? (The other companies are: a massive railroad company, a manufacturing company that traces its corporate lineage to the late 1800’s and a company known for making toilets.)

I didn’t have to strip out much company or product-specific details: these very, very different companies talk about similar jobs in very similar ways. Which is too bad, because a job description is the fundamental building block on which all of your talent acquisition tactics rest. What good is spending time and money on your talent site, your marketing and employer value proposition when your job description sounds like it was written by a computer programmed by a lawyer?

Remember, your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what your customers say it is. If you say your EVP and brand is based on ambition and drive and your job description says otherwise, what is your EVP really? Will driven and ambitious people apply for a job that doesn’t reflect your company’s desire for ambition?

We can quibble about exactly how rigid your job descriptions actually need to be, either for  legal or other reasons; but in the end, your job descriptions don’t have to be soul-less. You may be obligated to say certain things certain ways, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose the essence of an inviting job description.

You might think that HR is the only place where this kind of writing is the norm, but it’s not true. Aside from lawyers, who get paid making sure that you have to hire another lawyer just to read a legal contract, look at copywriters. Specifically, take a look at the copywriters over at Woot.

Woot was one of the first online pop-up stores. They sold a single item each day and when they sold out, they sold out. Every day at midnight, a new item went on sale. Sometimes, it was a laptop and sometimes it was a tool that beeped when it sensed too much water in your basement. A lot of times, it was a vacuum. One item, one day. These were boring items. How many different ways can you make a vacuum sound interesting, especially when it’s the third one this month?

But every day, the copy sang like a finalist on The Voice desperate not to be voted off. It was interesting, funny, weird, surprising, a touch irreverent, sometimes literary and always very, very engaging. It almost didn’t matter what it was selling (and occasionally, they would sell a mystery item: they literally wouldn’t tell you what they were selling and but it sold out). People came for the writing and would buy at a huge rate. The quality of writing and content built a brand with a huge following.

Which lead to Amazon buying them in 2010 for a rumored $110 million.

The power of a well-turned phrase or narrative content cannot be over-stated. Amazon built an empire on the back of books, the land of powerful narratives. You can, too. Thinking this way about your stretgic content (yes, your job descriptions are your most strategic content elements) lets you connect to far wider and broader audiences.

You don’t have to completely flip the apple cart, though. You can start small.

Think about the perfect candidate for a job. Think about what they want from the job. Think about your EVP. Think about what will make that perfect candidate think, “Yes, this company is driven and will appreciate and support my own ambition!” Then, write an opening paragraph.

That opening paragraph can sit above the rest of your standard job description, but it will frame the rest of your words, making them feel a little less like something you have to post. Think of this paragraph as the delicious herb butter sauce poured on top of a boring baked skinless chicken breast: it distracts from flaws, making a mediocre meal feel like something more interesting and special.

If you are looking to make a bigger change, take a look at job descriptions at Undercurrent or Jellyvision (full disclosure, we haven’t done business with either of them). These folks have embraced the idea that job descriptions can reflect the brand while still accurately descripting the job at hand.

The best part is —  the better your job descriptions get, the better your acquisition tactics get. Smart and engaging job descriptions get read, get shared and get applied for. This makes a better job description the best bang for your talent marketing buck and it’s something you can implement right now.