Higher ed’s competition for talent is larger and more diverse than ever before, increasingly including out-of-sector companies. As a result, institutions must do more than ever before to convince prospective applicants to choose higher ed jobs over those in other industries. Job descriptions are critical for doing so because they are one of the first ways candidates learn about prospective employers. But what makes for a compelling job description?
After auditing dozens of higher ed and out-of-sector job descriptions, we identified three main ways higher ed job descriptions fall short compared to out-of-sector competitors. Here’s what they are and how institutions can update their job descriptions to strengthen their applicant pools:
EAB analyzed 60 total job descriptions across three common job titles with transferable skillsets, including IT specialist, mental health counselor, and financial analyst. We compared 30 higher ed job descriptions to 30 equivalent positions in other industries, including health care and non-profit organizations.
Pitfall #1: Higher barriers to entry shrink applicant pools from the outset
Despite typically paying employees less than out-of-sector competitors, higher ed institutions tend to require that applicants have more experience, even for entry-level roles. Institutions often specify very narrow education and in-sector experience, such as requiring that an entry-level IT specialist has years of experience using higher ed software like Ellucian Banner.
Higher ed institutions also have more stringent educational requirements, even for nearly identical out-of-sector roles. For example, higher ed job descriptions for IT specialists are 150% more likely to require a master’s degree despite paying 30% less, on average, than out-of-sector employers. Consequently, institutions immediately reduce their potential pool of qualified candidates and deter many strong candidates from applying.
Higher ed pays IT specialists less, but requires more than out-of-sector competitors
In contrast, out-of-sector job descriptions often emphasize higher salaries and have fewer or lower minimum requirements. Instead, many corporate job descriptions highlight the skills needed for success, rather than specific education or experience qualifications. By screening candidates for core competencies, these organizations can recruit from a larger and more diverse candidate pool.
Pitfall #2: Higher ed job descriptions focus on the value to the student, not the employee
Most institutions’ job descriptions emphasize their value to the student with factors like rankings and educational experiences. These descriptions often miss the opportunity to tout factors employees care about, such as collaborative work environments, opportunities to advance, and access to high-quality benefits. In fact, only one third of the higher ed job descriptions we evaluated mentioned whether employees would receive basic benefits (e.g., health care, vacation days).
Out-of-sector organizations appeal to employee concerns
Source: Lightcast data
This is one of the biggest differences from out-of-sector employers, which don’t rely on the customer value proposition to attract talent. Instead, they dedicate most of their job descriptions to describing benefits that employees care about. For example, Capital One’s job descriptions emphasize how staff drive business success and help customers achieve financial independence, rather than using their customer value proposition of an easy and rewarding banking system.
- Rework job descriptions to balance what employees will be expected to give to the organization (e.g., responsibilities) and what they will get in return (e.g., experiences, connections).
- Highlight tangible benefits (e.g., health care, retirement), intangible perks (e.g., opportunity for creativity, autonomy), and work culture in job descriptions.
Pitfall #3: Higher ed's lengthy job descriptions can deter and confuse prospective applicants
Higher ed job descriptions are 125 words longer, on average, than out-of-sector competitors and include redundant and/or contradictory information and requirements (e.g., “entry-level expert”).
For example, university job descriptions for mental health counselors averaged 1,000 words, longer than this article and almost twice the length of out-of-sector descriptions for counselors. Yet, despite the high word count, higher ed job descriptions rarely outline why someone should work at the institution (see above).
Instead, these descriptions outline extensive responsibilities and include long sentences and paragraphs of text that make it difficult to skim. Out-of-sector organizations combine similar job duties and use bullets to make descriptions easier to digest.
Higher ed job descriptions for mental health counselors are longer and appeal to candidates less
Higher Ed Job Description Checklist
Use this checklist to assess your institution’s current job descriptions and identify opportunities to increase the number of qualified applicants.