The Difference Between a Job Description and a Job Posting

A job description isn't a job ad. Job description language is for internal use, but job posting language is for external use. And job posting language has an outsized impact on the efficiency, inclusivity, and efficacy of your hiring process.

Job description language and job posting language are the same, right? Not necessarily. Depending on where you live and work, people may use the terms ‘job description’ and ‘job posting’ interchangeably. For example, hiring teams in the United States do, teams in the United Kingdom don’t. 

But while the terms can sub in for each other, the documents behind them can’t – because they have different purposes. Referring to a ‘job posting’ or ‘job ad’ as a ‘job description’ isn’t a big deal, but using a job description as a job ad is. 

A job description isn’t the right tool

Job posts are technical documents, which means the devil is in the details. They’re also invitations, so they need to be inclusive. And they’re windows into your organization, so they have to be clear. An internal job description is none of those things, and copying and pasting one isn’t a good idea.

Your job posting language may be the only company messaging a candidate sees, so it has to achieve a number of goals. It has to show up in job board searches (not a given), describe the job clearly and succinctly, and introduce the company, to name a few. It also has to welcome applicants of all stripes with inclusive language and represent the company with branded language. 

Whiff on those goals and your entire recruiting effort can suffer. Use an internal job description, which won’t achieve those goals, and you may reduce the size, quality, and diversity of your applicant pool. To put it plainly, you have to job posts well to do inbound recruiting well. 

And that matters because while hiring teams use both outbound and inbound recruiting, most applicants come from inbound. In fact, Datapeople’s R&D team recently analyzed job listing data from over 10,000 U.S.-based employers. We found that 80% of applicants to tech jobs come from inbound sources like company career pages, LinkedIn, and online job boards.

What’s a job description and what’s a job posting?

Technically speaking, a job description is an internal document used by human resources teams, hiring managers, and employees as an overview of a role. A job posting or job ad is, technically speaking, an external document used by hiring teams in recruiting efforts.

It’s not terribly important whether you use ‘job description’ or ‘job posting.’ What is important, however, is that you have two separate documents, one for internal use and one for external use. Here are some important distinctions between a job description and a job posting.

A job description for internal use

How do you know what everyone is doing and how it relates to what everyone else is doing? Or who’s in charge? Or how much to pay everyone? And whether you’re complying with company guidelines and employment law?

Many companies use a job description as an internal reference and compliance document. It’s a complete description of a position, including its roles and responsibilities, its place on the organizational chart, and potential skills required for the position. 

A job description can clarify expectations for both the organization and the person in the position. It helps in setting salaries, conducting performance reviews, defining advancement possibilities, complying with internal and external rules, and much more. 

Organizations typically keep files of their complete job descriptions, but only for internal use. And that’s key, because job descriptions are internal documents. In fact, one of their many uses is helping hiring teams write job posts ─ external documents for advertising an open role. 

A job posting for external use

How do you tell the outside world about an open job and your organization? How do you describe the role without copying and pasting the internal job description, creating information overload?

A job posting or job ad introduces your organization and describes an open role. It just does it in a shorter, more digestible form that’s better at selling the role to potential candidates than the full-length version. 

A job posting is a technical document

Job seekers search online job boards using job titles as search terms. They enter a title, and the search engine matches it with job postings in the database. Common, industry-standard titles are naturally more likely to show up in search results because that’s what job seekers use.

The title you put on your job posting can impact which job seekers see your job and also who applies. Use an obscure title to sound edgy (e.g., anything with ‘Ninja’), and job seekers may never see your job. Slap ‘Senior’ onto a job with mid-level requirements and responsibilities, and you may confuse job seekers. Either way, you miss out on qualified candidates, making your hiring process less efficient. 

In a recent study of financial analyst titles, the Datapeople R&D team found that job titles including the word ‘Senior’ attracted fewer applicants on average. They attracted 29% fewer applicants overall, 39% fewer qualified applicants, and 27% fewer female applicants. 

Meanwhile, job boards also use a location field to determine search results, so you have to include a location as well. Always include city, state, and ‘or Remote’ for remote jobs. And skip vague places like ‘Headquarters’ or ‘Warehouse.’

Title and location are two very important elements of a job posting – the title alone can make or break the hiring effort. But these are just two considerations among many. Every section of a job posting has technical elements like these. (This isn’t an easy thing to get right, but job description software with smart editing can help.)

Job posting language should be inclusive

This may seem like a no-brainer, but your job posting language has to be inclusive. Your messaging has to speak to everyone and not turn any qualified job seekers away.

Part of that is using job posting language that’s welcoming to job seekers of every race, background, gender identity, et cetera. By eliminating unconscious bias, you can avoid inadvertently deterring job seekers, especially from underrepresented groups.

The other part is using language that’s accessible and clear to everyone. Things that can confuse and deter qualified job seekers include wordiness, jargon, ‘10-dollar’ words, awkward phrasing, sales pitches, third-person addresses, and passive voice, to name a few.

Something else that can confuse job seekers is unclear requirements. These can include overinflated requirements, unreasonable groupings of requirements, experience ranges instead of minimums, or unnecessary degrees and professional certifications. 

They can also include soft skills. Vague requirements like work ethic and attention to detail are important in hiring, but they don’t really belong in job posting language. They can add unnecessary length, cause confusion, and even deter qualified job seekers. (They can actually discourage qualified job seekers while encouraging unqualified job seekers.)

Thankfully, Datapeople’s R&D team recently found that soft skills are diminishing. In 2019, about 25% of tech job postings included a high level of soft skills. In 2020 and 2021, it was only around 11%.

Job posting content should be inclusive too

It’s not just language that has to be inclusive – content does too. A job posting should paint a picture of what it’s like to work at your company so job seekers don’t have to assume anything. To do that, it has to include the details that job seekers are hoping to learn – in writing.

A job posting should include an overview of your compensation, benefits, and perks packages. While those may seem obvious or assumed, they’re not. It should also convey your approach to company culture, work-life balance, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 

Our R&D team studied the impact of DEI statements on job posts, using data we’ve collected from over 65 million job posts and 40,000 employers. We found that having a DEI statement directly impacts job seekers’ perceptions of your company’s inclusiveness. Simply put, a diversity statement significantly increases perceived inclusiveness.

And remember, a link to your careers page seems like a great idea, but there’s no guarantee job seekers will click the link.

It’s a window into your job and your company

A job posting is mostly an overview of your job, but it’s also an introduction to your company. And if you work for a startup or business-to-business company with limited brand recognition, it’s an important introduction to a job seeker who has never heard of you.

It may help to think of job posts as marketing documents. While job descriptions are comprehensive essays, job posts are elevator pitches – just the brush strokes. 

But those brush strokes have to create a clear picture of the job, your organization, and what it’s like to work for you. Clarity in a job posting puts you and job seekers on the same page from the get-go. Which is essential to attracting qualified candidates, preventing candidate ghosting and drop-off, and delivering a fair, efficient hiring process for both job seekers and internal stakeholders.   

However, because the content in a job description and a job posting is different, the writing process is different as well. Often, there are many writers involved in the workflow, even beyond the hiring team. Requirements and responsibilities, for example, may come from the hiring team, but company info may come from the marketing department. 

Which makes it even more important to scrutinize the final product. Multiple contributors can easily result in a job post that’s far too long or communicating an inconsistent employer brand.  

Job description versus job posting

A job description is the internal document you use to keep your house in order. A job posting is the external version of that document you use to recruit candidates. 

Whether or not you use the two terms interchangeably, it’s important to know the difference so you don’t use the two documents interchangeably. Because, in the end, a good job description (i.e., an exhaustive internal document) doesn’t make a good job post (i.e., a succinct marketing document).

And a bad job post – one that isn’t inclusive and technically sound – won’t attract a sizable, diverse pool of qualified candidates. Which means your entire hiring process will be much less efficient than it needs to be, and far less equitable than it should be.

Here at Datapeople, we’ve spent years researching what makes job posts work, and learned that the most effective ones are no accident. We’ve compiled a number of data-backed best practices into a free checklist that you can share with your recruiters and hiring managers. Download it now to systematically improve job ads (and hiring success) across your organization.

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