· Workforce

Why Many Job Postings Miss The Mark - And How To Improve Them

American employers just can’t find enough workers, it seems: in March they advertised 6.3 million jobs, a record high. Why the apparent talent shortage? Is it the strong economy? Are wages too low? Is it the “skills gap”?

Maybe there’s another factor that’s not being explored: Employers are failing to move the right people into the right jobs. The sorting mechanism is broken—and one big symptom is junky job postings.

Confronted with thousands of job ads, today’s jobseeker may feel the same way as the singleton confronted with thousands of personal profiles.

There are plenty of options, but the requirements are so broad (“must love candlelit dinners”), so narrow (“must love Gollum,”) or so unrealistic (“must earn seven figures”) that they’re hard to take seriously.

The consequences of all this poor signaling are essentially the same in the job market as in the online dating market: wasted effort, wasted money, and heartache. “The process of acquiring talent is timely and costly, so having a well-written job description is crucial to reducing the time you spend vetting candidates,” says Joe DeSilva Jr., Senior Vice President of Small Business Services at ADP.

Postings that are too broad will attract legions of applicants who don’t fit the position. Beyond drawing out the recruiting process, this error increases the risk that high-quality candidates will be put through several interviews only to be told they don’t fit the role. “That’s a crummy experience, and that person may no longer want to work for your company as a result,” DeSilva says.

(Do Not) Make a Wish

On the other end of the spectrum are “wish list” postings that ask for the moon but don’t offer the salary to match, says Peter Cappelli, the director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Wish-list postings tend to arise when the team that generates the job description can’t agree on what are the most essential qualifications for the job, Cappelli says.

If the company can’t find someone who fulfills all the qualifications to take the job at that salary, that’s not evidence of a “skills gap,” Cappelli notes. “It just means there wasn’t anybody available at the price they were willing to pay.”

How do you know you’re asking for too much? When the posting asks for qualifications that current employees don’t have. Educational requirements (like a college degree) and bountiful experience commonly turn up on the wish list, Cappelli says.

Learn more | forbes.com