The Difference Between Good And Bad Job Requirements

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After working as a freelance web designer for some years, Jim is now working on web development at The Brighthouse in Amsterdam. This means a lot of front-end … More about Jim ↬

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By looking at some good and some bad lists of Web design job requirements, Jim Bosveld explores some of their strengths and weaknesses and try to pinpoint what makes the best lists inviting and honest introductions.

In Web design, as one of the seemingly few markets that is actually growing, job opening postings are common. They’re not all equally convincing, though. In fact, most of them are unpleasant, uninviting and sometimes bordering on hostile. Some, however, are great, and give you an honest and pleasant sense of what it’s like to work at the studio in question, and, in the best cases, what makes a good designer.

By looking at some good and some bad lists of job requirements, I’ll explore some of their strengths and weaknesses and try to pinpoint what makes the best lists inviting and honest introductions.

Before looking at some lesser examples of requirements lists, let’s start of with the list that made me think of exploring this subject. It’s from San Francisco-based design studio Mule. They’re looking for a Web designer and created a job posting that featured the following requirements list.

The Web Designer we’re looking for has
  • 3+ years experience designing web sites and web applications in a client-services environment
  • an overwhelming desire to create the best web sites on the Internet
  • a burning need to push design into its next evolutionary stage
  • no fear of clients, or of telling clients things they might need to know but are afraid to hear
  • the ability to work collaboratively across disciplines (IA, strategy, interaction design, code) and ideas about how to grow the intersections between them
  • the verbal skills to help clients understand what we’re building for them
  • a powerful intellectual curiosity
  • a strong sense of craftsmanship
  • a year or three working a crap job in the restaurant industry”

This is a great list. It’s clear, challenging, funny and devoid of dozens of acronyms that add nothing to the job opening ad (we all understand that basic HTML and CSS are necessary skills for a Web designer). It gives you an unambiguous understanding of the kind of studio you’ll be working for. Mule senses that this list is the place to show you their identity, and not to tell you things you already know. Before further exploring the qualities of a good requirements list, however, let’s look at some bad ones.

Some Bad Lists

This next list forgets all that hoo-hah about being a good designer, and might as well add “must be able to turn on computer” to it (the employer in question shall remain nameless, because I’m not trying to make them look bad, but to make a point).

What you need for this position
  • CSS/CSS3
  • Javascript and JQuery
  • Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash
  • PHP and AJAX is a plus
  • Ability to work in a fast paced environment, move between short and long term projects and remain focused on the user experience”

Every item on this list is more or less redundant. It gives you no impression of the kind of work or projects you’ll be doing. It’s also very, very boring, and to be boring is bad. To be actively unpleasant, however, like this next one, is worse.

Required Skills:
  • Proficient in Mac-based Photoshop, ImageReady/Fireworks, Illustrator and Dreamweaver.
  • Thorough understanding of the elements of good design, HTML production and web process.
  • Will be held accountable for the technical accuracy of their own work.
  • Able to complete tasks independently and as part of a team.
  • Possess effective communication of ideas/development of presentation skills.
  • Ability to manage deadlines and production scheduling on numerous, concurrent projects.
  • Perform effectively in a demanding work environment and show resiliency to stress.”

Would you like to work here? This list is almost threatening in its rhetoric. “You will be held accountable for the technical accuracy of your work.” Well, yeah. Of course you will. Are you trying to prepare me for the constant breathing down my neck I will be experiencing on your team?

Tell me more
Image by opensourceway.

I’m also not looking forward to the “demanding work environment” and having to “show resiliency to stress.” I’m all for honesty, but this is just silly.

Mule’s “An overwhelming desire to create the best websites on the Internet” covers all that without terrifying you. It says “you will have to work hard here, but it’s for a great cause,” as opposed to “you will have to work hard here, and we *still *won’t thank you.”

Required Experience:
  • BFA in Digital/Graphic Design or equivalent experience
  • 5+ years work experience in digital/Web
  • Requires knowledge of commercial internet/web tools and protocols, particularly Adobe Creative Suite.
  • Knowledge of Content Management Systems, Email Marketing, Search Marketing and Mobile/Social is a huge plus.
  • Proven ability to manage relationships
  • Self-motivated and team oriented
  • Must be able to troubleshoot and be solution oriented
  • Must be able to thrive in a fast-paced, high volume environment
  • Solid portfolio of great design work
  • Strong copywriting / editing skills
  • Solid knowledge of such user experience practices as user flows, site mapping, interaction design, etc.
  • Solid understanding of design needs that support SEM and SEO
  • Ability to write HTML/CSS
  • Agency background (media and/or SEM agency) very strongly desired
  • Technical skills required: Adobe Creative Suite with Advanced Photoshop, Advanced InDesign, Advanced Illustrator”

This is less unpleasant and less a summation of acronyms (although “ability to write HTML/CSS” adds nothing to this list), but it still lacks any enthusiasm, and does nothing to challenge your view of your career. Can you imagine really, really wanting to work here? Is that not what these lists should do, kind of? As they are, they give me the feeling I should be thankful for them even considering hiring someone like me, if, and only if, I am able to “manage relationships” or am “self-motivated.”

Some Good Lists

Mule is not the only studio capable of writing up a nice and inviting requirements list. Some forego the list entirely, like Mobify, in their search for a mobile designer. Like most job opening ads, there is an introduction and a description of the studio itself. What differs from most other job ads, though, is that the requirements list is no more than two lines at the end.

“Mobify is looking for a talented Mobile Designer to join our Launch Team. As Mobile Designer, you’ll be responsible for the creative execution of mobile and tablet sites for our incredible clients. You’ll have the opportunity to work with some of the biggest brands in the world all in the fun and relaxed environment of Mobify’s beautiful Gastown, Vancouver headquarters.

From prototyping to launch, you’ll have ownership over each step in the creative process. You’ll create the experience and then work with our engineering team for the execution.

The ideal candidate for this role must have an excellent online portfolio (with URLs of course) and good experience with HTML and CSS.”

Very simple, just like this next one, from Houzz.

Desired Skills & Experience:
  • Impeccable modern visual design aesthetic
  • Strong web/visual design portfolio
  • Understanding of digital media and its technical aspects.”

No pointless acronyms and no threats. It’s not exciting or funny, but it’s honest and well-written. Wouldn’t you rather read “You must have a strong portfolio” than “At least 5 years of experience”? What if you have four years of experience but are convinced you are the perfect candidate? A good list of requirements solves that problem by communicating in clear language. Sure, you could ask “But what is a ‘strong’ portfolio? Who decides?” but this kind of phrasing asks for a designer who believes in his or her own qualities, rather than leaning on a certain number of years of being able to hold down a job.

Hudl is looking for a UI designer, and their requirements list is the best one I found (next to Mule’s).

  • Love seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and building an interface that fits their mental model of the world.
  • Are anxious to work on a variety of platforms and products (iPad, iPhone, Android, web app, thick-client desktop, etc.)
  • Can tell the story of a product or service with sharp copy and crisp imagery.
  • Sketch out your ideas on paper before you dive into your prototyping tool of choice (Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML & CSS)
  • Know which details matter and how to push back and say “no.”
  • Communicate your designs with developers and managers using the appropriate media and fidelity.
  • Think that copywriting is crucial to building a great UI.
  • Can’t wait to see real people use your designs in usability studies — even if it makes you grit your teeth.”

What they do is so much more than just telling you what you should have already done by now. They’re telling you what you could become working for them. I especially like the fifth point, “[You] know which details matter and how to push back and say ’no.’” It tells you not to be submissive, in a career of following orders and meeting deadlines, but to be independent and to create independent and healthy relationships with clients. It’s similar to Mule’s “No fear of clients, or of telling clients things they might need to know but are afraid to hear.” I think this requirement says so much about the studio in question. It tells you that you will not have to give up any independence, or any other part of your personality, in working there.

How To Be Nice While Remaining Effective

The first thing the good lists have in common is a sense of good, human communication. They’re not afraid to delve into your personality more than just “must be easy going and fun.” The designer they’re looking for is an actual human being, and not just an “asset” with good Photoshop skills.

The second thing they have in common, and this is something inherently connected with the *kind *of studio, and therefore not something easily imitated by a company that doesn’t actually *feel *this way, is that they have an idea of how your relationship with the client should work. The fear of deadlines and tremendous workloads the other lists try to instill in you is connected to the way they view the client — as king. But the client is, of course, not king at all. The client is someone you have to build a relationship with, not as two companies, but as two people. And that implies equal footing. You must be able to deny the client things that are unreasonable or unwise. And where to tell that to aspiring employees better that on the requirements list?


A requirements list should be ambitious, inspiring and funny. Just like the studio you’ll be working for should be. It also has to be honest, but not threatening. What most of these companies forget is that it’s no use trying to prepare designers for the worst. We all understand it’ll be hard work and that we’re supposed to be good at it. So try not to tell us what your ideal employee is. Try to tell us what a great designer we could become should we want to join your team.

Of course designers will respond to all these lists. A job is a job. And good for them, they all might be delightful places to work. But if you could choose? Compare the list from Mule or Hudl with some of the other ones (and most of them out there), and try to image the studios they represent. If I’m ever in the position to hire someone, I’ll do it like Mule does it. Without any threats, and without giving them a sneak peak into a bleak future filled with people yelling about accountability, deadlines and my “resiliency to stress.”

You know, the nice way.

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (cp, ea, mrn)