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Hiring DevOps engineers? Write job descriptions that get results

Erik Sherman Journalist, Independent
If you get the job description wrong, you could receive hundreds of resumes from the wrong candidates.

When it's time to hire a DevOps engineer, you'll need to write a great job description. You want to attract the right candidates, and applicants want to clearly understand the opportunity. If you get the job description wrong, you could receive hundreds of resumes from the wrong candidates.

Most job descriptions are weak and leave out critical information. Too often, job descriptions are long lists of buzzwords that leave readers without the information they need. You miss the good candidates, and everyone wastes time.

Here are some tips for writing useful, powerful, and compelling job descriptions that will help bring you and the right DevOps engineer candidates together. Do it right and you'll save time in the process.

Remember your purpose

Before you begin writing your job description, ask yourself the following three questions every writer asks themselves before beginning a writing project:


You're looking for a DevOps engineer with specific qualities, job experiences, and technical qualifications. You can't convey all this information with only a list of keywords. "Most job descriptions are a list of buzzwords, keywords, and acronyms," says Don Brown, CEO of Indianapolis-based software company Interactive Intelligence. A list of buzzwords isn't what you want to communicate, and they probably won't get you what you really need. You're looking for other things as well, such as cultural fit and character. If you need to include specific hot-topic terms, be sure to put them in a helpful context. That means including the term DevOps in your description, because it refers to an integrated and iterative approach to development that many software engineers haven't experienced. If you omit the reference to DevOps, you could get many responses from software engineers who would rather work in a traditional waterfall shop.


Brown says he wants candidates with "appropriate aptitude and underlying intellect," because these qualities are tied to long-term success. "Unless you're thinking of something that has to be done within the next year, you're far better off hiring for aptitude than particular [technology expertise]." The "why" at the time heavily influences how Interactive Intelligence phrases a job description, leading the company to emphasize either a specific technology set or more general indications of intelligence. Your needs will differ and need to be communicated. For DevOps, you want to find an engineer with an affinity for the iterative and more collaborative approach the methodology requires. Someone who wants to just do their job and go home might not be appropriate.


Remembering the audience means acknowledging the needs and interests of the people you're trying to reach. Looking at an engineer job description is "very similar to reading a menu at a restaurant that you haven't been to before," says Jeffrey Palermo, CEO of Austin-based IT services firm Clear Measure. The potential candidate doesn't know what they're going to get.

A good job description must offer more than a list of benefits and job perks. "These guys could go anyplace and get paid very well," Brown says. "We have to indicate in some non-cheesy way that they can do this to make a difference in the world. People want to feel like they're not just earning a paycheck, but that what they are doing has some enduring value."

Nicolas Chabanoles, R&D stream manager at software developer BonitaSoft, in Grenoble, France, says that software engineers also want to know more about the company's mission. "Understanding why this company is different from other companies. If I have the feeling that by taking this opportunity I have the chance to be part of something greater, this is what I'm looking for." He says engineers also want to know whether they'll move into a static environment or one where there's opportunity to change and improve things.

Explaining the DevOps approach that your team has adopted or is in the process of creating will be critical to finding candidates who will be a good fit. A candidate experienced in DevOps will quickly be able to identify whether the potential employer is a compatible environment for them or not. Plus, by giving your candidates a deep dive on your view of DevOps and the practices you're working with, they'll be able to learn which specific skills will be applicable to the position.

Set up the right process

A good description doesn't start by tacking together some notes and sending them to HR. "Those hand-offs are difficult," Brown says. At Interactive Intelligence, whenever possible, a development manager writes the first draft of a job description. Even when that isn't possible, "we have the development managers look at [the descriptions] as if they were the recruit on the other end," because people in human resources, no matter how diligent, won't know how a developer or engineer will react.

The process doesn't stop there. The company uses a process of writing, testing, checking results, and modifying the description, similar to what direct marketers do. "If we were hoping to get fairly senior, advanced candidates but [instead] get a bunch of HTML web developers, we look at the job description and ask why," Brown says. The company modifies the initial description about one in every three times. "It's a very competitive market out there, so you need to be attuned to the sort of response you're getting, as well as the places you're looking at for the response and fine tune it based on the results."

Given that you have a DevOps opening, it might make sense to expand the writing or review process. If the engineer has to work with QA, a network group, and IT operations, invite them to get involved with the writing of the description so it will contain the entire range of pertinent information. The hiring manager will have the final say over the final version of the job description when editing decisions for length and clarity have to be made.

There are some rules of thumb for the format of the description. "We're in the Facebook era," says Mike Sikalo, application services director at consultancy Infopulse, headquartered in Ukraine. "People are used to reading short messages rather than exhaustive descriptions." Sikalo tries to keep descriptions to a single screen so it can be read without scrolling. He also advocates making the material readable by using bullets to structure the text when possible.

Try something different

Try experimenting to see if there are more effective ways to make the description work for both you and your candidates. Clear Measure takes the unusual step of listing the name of the manager, which lets potential candidates do more research to better consider the position, including looking into blog posts, technical papers, LinkedIn, and other sources. This step might sound like an invitation for a barrage of phone calls and messages, but that isn't Palermo's experience. "On our job descriptions, I am named [when it is relevant], and now and again I've had somebody who intentionally went to my blog and left a comment at the same time they applied for a position or did something else to send me a message," he says. For a DevOps position, you might consider listing all the relevant managers, so a candidate can get a better sense of the extended team.

After job duties, qualifications, and relevant company information are listed, Clear Measure adds a section at the end that it calls "buzzword bingo." This section includes "all of the keywords people might search for, just because we know people will use computers to search and we want all the keywords that are relevant," Palermo says. The next step for the company will be to create video ads for positions to create a more visceral sense of the company.

DevOps engineers represent a unique combination of designer and raw material source to create, test, and deploy the software you need. By making the job description a strategic objective and not an afterthought, you can improve the quality of candidates, find better matches for your company and culture, and ultimately reduce the time it takes to hire.

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