Co-op Best Practices > How to create a Win-Win-Win Job Description

How to create a Win-Win-Win Job Description

posted on March 21, 2007

Academic and humorist Leo Rosten once wrote, “First rate people hire first rate people, second rate people hire third rate people”, and since the job description is the first step of the formal hiring process it makes sense that first rate job descriptions will attract first rate candidates.

As co-operative education professionals we frequently work with job descriptions; reviewing for appropriateness to academic programs, editing to fit within our job posting pro forma, and sometimes even helping employers create them from scratch.

For employers to successfully attract and hire co-op students with the right skills and attitudes for the job, it is important that the candidates get as realistic sense of the requirements of the role and the corporate culture from a concise and clearly written job description. For students to get excited about a job opportunity the employer has to sell themselves and their opportunity, competing with other employers for the time it takes a student to put together an ‘A’ standard application.

Co-operative education professionals must work with employers to adapt corporate jargon into language that students with little or no experience will understand. Most students, especially those in search of their first work-term, will be dependant on transferable skills gained from classroom learning and other experiences to prove their suitability for a position, so it is important not to scare them away from a terminology filled job description that appears to be way over their head.

When developing a job description consider it in three bite-sized pieces: Tasks, Talents and Trimmings

TASKS (Duties & Responsibilities)

  • Ask what the person will actually do; indicate their responsibilities and tasks using specific language but avoid clutter and stick to the basics.
  • Beware of elaborating with processes and procedures that will make little sense to the uninitiated.
  • Prioritise the list so that the reader understands the key focus of the role.
  • Consider what needs to be done to complete the role successfully now rather than simply regurgitating what has been done before.

TALENTS (Attributes, Knowledge and Skills)

  • Indicate what program and/or major is required along with any specific course requirements.
  • Ask what attributes, knowledge and skills typically produce an excellent performance in this role.
  • It is important that Co-op students can quickly identify which of their transferable skills could be put to work in this position. (In some situations co-op students can be trained in certain skills while on-the-job, so consider the attributes of someone easily trainable).


Company description: Provide enough information to make the reader excited about working for the company but leave the door open for them to do their own research. Recruitment should be a two-way process and the employer should be trying as hard as the student to make a good first impression.

Salary range: We have to face facts; students are looking for competitive salaries to help alleviate their debt. Feed back from students tells us they assume that an un-stated salary indicates a low figure, whereas often it is high and the employer is trying to avoid applications driven on salary level alone. If an employer is uncomfortable advertising a salary, encourage them to provide a range so that the reader can have ‘ball-park’ idea.

How to apply and deadline for application: Make clear what documents are required in the application package and who to apply (via email, internet site or paper). Clearly state the deadline date and time (and time zone).

Provide a contact name: Co-op and career practitioners make great efforts to encourage students to personalize their cover letters. Make it easy for them by providing the name and title of the hiring manager to whom they should address their cover letter.

Residency requirements: Government positions place restrictions on hiring non-Canadians – ensure this is clearly articulated in order not to unduly frustrate international students who are ineligible.

Location of the position: (this needs to be made very clear in cases where applications are being address to a head-office and the job location is elsewhere)

Dates of employment: Is this a 4 month, 8 month or 12 month term?

Our role as partners in the co-operative education process provides us a great avenue to provide feedback to an employer on the suitability and appropriateness of their job description. When receiving feedback from students during the work site visit and at the end of the term we should ask “is the job what you were expecting it to be and did the job posting accurately describe your responsibilities and the skills required to achieve success in this role?” This information can then be feedback to the employer should there be any inconsistency between the expectation of the student at the beginning of the work term and the reality of the work required on the job.

In closing, (and for a little levity), beware that some people read-between-the-lines and re-interpret commonly found job description phrases. Consider these: - Join our fast-paced company = “We are in chaos and have no time to train you”. Problem solving skills required = “We operate with dysfunctional systems and troublesome people”, Duties will vary = “You will be expected to do absolutely anything anyone ask of you”. Create a win-win situation for employers and students by concentrating on an accurate and clear description so that everyone can gain from a perfect fit.

Article by: Anna Cranston, Director, Management Career Services, Dalhousie University