How to A/B test your job description and hack your way to hiring success

The last post on hiring for startups touched a nerve with many recruiters, many who emailed me on why I was negative about their profession. I did not intend to throw them under the bus, but the post came off reading that way. So, to my recruiter friends, apologies. I could have been more judicious with my choice of words. I assure you though that my words are not worth their weight in gold, so many startup entrepreneurs will still call you to help them with their recruiting. To those that claim spamming is helping, please stop.

Onward and upward.

This post is about hacking your job description. Or in the new age way of putting it – A/B testing it.

I had to hire 3 engineers for our new startup. The first step I took was to send an email to a few good fellow entrepreneurs and friends.

Version 1.0 < or bachelor #1>

I told them:

“Ideal candidate will have 3+ years experience in web or mobile technologies. Should be a hands on developer (PHP, Ruby, MySQL, Java or Python)”.

After 2 weeks and 30+ emails later I got 4 resumes from friends of friends. They were “technically sound” according to my network and within my budget but were mostly out-of-towners.

I phone screened two of them to find them fairly challenged in terms of their communication skills, and the remaining two wanted me to assure them a job before they made the trip to Bangalore (I was willing to pay for their trip, but not assure a job until I met them and interviewed them).

Version 2.0 <or bachelor #2>

I added “Good communication skills required. Position is in Bangalore.” And posted it on my twitter profile, LinkedIn and facebook account.

3 more resumes landed on my inbox, but none of them were even a close fit. One person said in their email, he was a test engineer and wanted to move into development and the second was a ASP/.NET developer who “could learn PHP quickly”, but had been in Windows development for the last 3 years. The third sent me an email, saying ” I am currently 25K salary, looking for 40% hike”, in his 3rd sentence, without any questions about either the job, the company or the technology.

Version 3.0 <or bachelor #3>

I decided the simple useless job description I wrote was just that – useless. I had forgotten the cardinal rule – Sell yourself, sell the job, sell your company.

So I did a ginormous makeover. I posted version 3 on hasgeek – I titled the role “developer in residence” not tech lead.

Worked like a charm. I got 4 very high quality candidates asking for what a “developer in residence” meant. Two were very qualified, professional and very good fit for the role.

I did not stop at version 3, but went to a refined “pitch the value, not the features” version.

Version 4.0 or <bachelor #4>

I added the following and posted version 4 on hasgeek.

“We have a complete 12 quarter hands-on program outline for you to feel ready to start your own company, which we will invest in to get you best prepared for entrepreneurship.

Job perks

  • Catered lunch every friday.
  • Ability to network and meet venture investors and angel investors in special invite-only events each month
  • A working 12-quarter program to give you all the experience necessary to be an entrepreneur”

Worked even better. The posting intrigued enough people to deliver even higher quality resumes. I thought I was overreaching because and got 2-3 over-qualified folks for a “lead developer position” re marketed as “developer in residence”.

What I learned:

1. The most important part of your job description is the Job Title. Its obvious, but I see far too many “PHP developer needed” or “Web hacker wanted” and “Javascript Ninja Hatori” titles, which gets you a certain type of person. Usually that person is not the first 25 developer hires in your company. Be creative, but dont overreach.

2. Your job description is the first impression for 90% of your potential candidates. The next impression is a Google search with your company’s name. You control the first a lot more than you control the next impression. Realize that people will read your job description and decided quickly if its worth Googling your company. What you say and how you word it says a lot about your culture. Does it have many typos? Are you using cliche’s like Ninja, hacker, Superman, etc. because you cant really describe the person with a simple engineer title, etc.

3. Dont say too much, because people dont read too much. Most job seekers I found, only read keywords like PHP and sent me their resume. They did not read anything else. I mentioned “should have worked in a product company (not services company)” before in a branch version of the JD, but I ended up getting many resumes from folks who worked only at services companies.

4. Each version of the JD attracts a different crowd from a different job board. If you are posting on hackerstreet, or hasgeek – think and focus on being a little more creative. If you are looking for technical marketers, is pretty good and for fresh grads, yourstory worked best for me.

5. Describe the perks of the job. If possible please make it human by adding a P.S. at the bottom. People read the P.S. More people read the P.S. than you think. Make the P.S. memorable, or make it sound like a prize given for the one that had the patience to read the entire posting which you spent hours writing (or a few minutes copying and pasting from some other JD).

Next post – how I phone screened and what worked, what did not.

P.S. I do read and reply to every email, and I do like getting email, but I always prefer comments on this blog.

5 thoughts on “How to A/B test your job description and hack your way to hiring success”

  1. Nice Post Mukund. I totally agree with the Job posts and your descriptions. It is service as a good advice since I am figuring out what I want to do next.

    Regarding your previous post about recruiters, I am seeing the same issue being on the other side of the fence. They try to sell you a job just because of some key words in your resume’ or the school you have been to.

    I loved your final job description and I totally agree that is the best way to actually attract the right kind of folks, who want to go to the next step.

  2. Hiring in tier II Indian cities is even more stressing,even the creatives of a description do not work,we have to look out for part timers/free lancers working offsite or recruit the best from local college(the best in local collges are ad par to an average industry professional).

  3. Nice post Mukund. I think what has worked here is the fact that you kept on improvising your JD. When I was hiring content writers for one of my websites, I learnt that you can never get your JD right in the first go. Just like any web app, you just have to keep optimizing it… And the best way to optimize it is to keep looking at the resumes you’re getting… They will give a right hint on how the JD is perceived, what needs to added, what needs to be changed…

    BTW, how long did this whole process take?

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