With job descriptions, you get what you describe, don’t you? And most job descriptions are quite unclear. People often set out wanting to hire a “rock star” conversation designer to build a chat or voice assistant that deflects a huge chunk of inbound service issues. But the job description doesn’t quite read that way.
Rather, it starts out with a thick wall of text about the nature of the company’s business, full of trademarks and proprietary phrases. Then it stumbles into a generic list of requirements that could have been copy-pasted from any other role. (And perhaps was.) Then it gatekeeps by requiring a linguistics degree.
In the end, that company gets a mediocre blah-bot. Because, unfortunately, that’s who they hired, because that’s what they described.
After working hands-on with many of the world's best conversation designers and teams, here's how I recommend writing your job description if you want to attract the right people. At the end, I provide a template.
Like any good assistant, please don't just copy the template—tailor it and add context
Before we get to the template, some general advice, because the template’s not going to work for everyone. You will have to customize it, so here are some of the thoughts that went into building it.
First, tailor it to the jobs that need doing. Perhaps you don’t need a visionary chat evangelist—you actually need a lead conversation designer with project management skills. Maybe you need them to work with very specific technology. Say that! Be very explicit. (If you can. Some big companies must conceal their tech vendors.) And be sure the entire job description adheres to that point. The clearer you are, the more you help applicants read the tea leaves on what “proven experience developing winning solutions” actually means. Because, come again?
If you are clear, you’ll get fewer false-positive applications, and save time in review. (Everyone’s busy and being upfront with your needs is a gift to all.)
Beyond that, here are more ideas for tailoring your job description:
Begin with your project or team-level mission
Begin your post by explaining the mission you and your team are on. What kind of assistant are you building, and what impact will it have? What piece of the roadmap can you share to build excitement? How will they feel when you all succeed together?
Skilled individuals want to know what their work is building toward, and a long treatise on the company’s overall business will probably make their eyes glaze over. They want to know the task, what they’ll achieve, and what it means. (This is especially important as today, meaning may matter more than money for the most skilled cohort.)
Drop the “-al”—it’s just “conversation designer”
I’m willfully ignoring the proper keyword in this article, which Google insists is “conversational designer.” Shout out to Cathy Pearl who called me out on this back in 2020, and helped me realize that “conversational” connotes the wrong thing. The “-al” implies the conversational thing is actually the designer, not the software. “Conversation designer” is more accurate. These people design conversations.
Also, for the sake of helping candidates and employers find one another, we really should all agree on one term. Today, there’s no standard job title, description, or even skill set. The lack of standards in tooling (we're working on this at Voiceflow) and terminology is part of what makes finding a job so difficult.
Here are just a few of the titles often associated with “conversation designer”:
- Conversational Designer (remember, this is just a chatty designer!)
- VUI Designer
- Conversational AI Designer
- UX Designer
- UX Writer
- Content Writer
- Dialogue Writer
- Chatbot Designer
Why are you asking for four years of experience working with natural language usage (NLU) systems? For each requirement, as much as possible, explain why it’s necessary. This serves two purposes. One, applicants will get to make a more informed decision. And two, it’s a gut check for yourself. If you have trouble explaining why it’s a requirement, it’s worth asking, does it need to be?
Try writing things like this: “You’ll need four or more years of experience because you’ll be interfacing with executive stakeholders who expect you to know and defend your process.”
Keep it brief
Resist the organizational urge to add everything under the sun that could be a requirement as if it is a requirement. Applicants tend to read these as reasons not to apply. Don't lose the perfect candidate over the team’s desire to make the description appear fully filled out.
The rule of thumb: If you can take it out, and the job description still makes sense, leave it out.
Resist the organizational urge to add everything under the sun that could be a requirement as if it is a requirement.
Be very clear about the problem they’ll help solve
Explain the problem they’ll need to solve in great detail. Legal and HR may balk, but I find you can do this in a way where you don’t reveal internal secrets. It’s the only way you’ll convince someone who has previously solved this exact problem that they’re the right fit, and those who haven’t yet that they aren’t.
If you don’t do this, you and the team will have to figure this out on the first call, and that’s an expensive use of your time.
Don’t require a degree, especially in linguistics
I’m going to come out and say it: Degrees are not a useful indicator of anything. I’ve seen conversation designers with a degree who floundered and without a degree who excelled. Companies’ reliance on this as a proxy for a candidate’s aptitude is just lazy.
This is especially true when someone has a degree in something that sounds like it should be used in conversation design, like linguistics. It can provide a strong foundation for conversation design, but it’s not used all that often in daily practice, and isn’t worth losing an applicant over.
(The most-used principles from linguistics lie within sociolinguistics, such as Grice's Maxims. Grammar and syntax are enormously helpful to know in certain situations, but play a much larger role in NLU design. Unless you come from a linguistics background yourself and feel it's a necessity for your team's workflow, I would argue against making it a requirement. List it as “nice to have.”)
I’m going to come out and say it: Degrees are not a useful indicator of anything. Companies’ reliance on this as a proxy for a candidate’s aptitude is just lazy.
Instead, much better to focus on selecting for a strong sense of user empathy, the ability to work with data, and copywriting chops.
(If you want to go deeper, filtering people based on terms like “linguistics” is actually a famous cognitive bias called “the conjunction fallacy,” wherein tantalizing but irrelevant data leads us to make irrational, biased decisions.)
Get meta and design-think your own application process
Ever think about the fact that application processes for all roles are virtually identical? That seems weird to me. What if you could take a design-thinking approach to your own process, and alter it so the actual process helped you select the right candidates?
- Need a hyper-detail-oriented person? Hide a requirement at the bottom that says, “We’ll only respond to applications that begin with a robot emoji.” Only reply to those.
- Need someone who’s incredibly concise? Severely limit the length of the text responses.
And so on.
The conversation designer job description template
Okay, now we’ve gotten to the good stuff. Here’s my idea of an ideal description which you can download here. Enjoy! And good luck. If you have thoughts, comments, improvements, or success stories, I would love to hear them. (Reach me on LinkedIn.)
We're building the [company] assistant and helping millions of customers every day to [benefit]. Crafting a custom assistant that's able to have natural, contextual conversation over hundreds of topics, in several languages, and several modalities isn't easy—and that's why we're hiring a conversation designer.
Our conversation AI team is looking to empower someone like yourself to solve that challenge and design the next generation of digital assistant. If we're successful, you'll be able to proudly see your work in the wild impacting millions of people every day. (You never forget the first time you hear a live prompt you wrote on a major assistant platform, and this’ll be that all over again!) You’ll own every stage of the conversation design process, from research and design to conversation scripting and testing with customers, and all the accolades that come with it.
Who you’ll be working with
You’ll report to the indomitable [manager], and be the fourth conversation designer on the team. We have fun and get things done.
The problem you’ll be solving
Build a new chat system that deflects a huge chunk of inbound issues.
Foundational skills (aka things you’ll need to come with)
- Copywriting chops
- Limitless curiosity
- Frightening attention to detail
- Empathy for the user
- Understanding of NLU system terminology like intents, entities, etc.
- Four years of experience working with chat or voice assistants because you’ll be presenting your ideas to executives and will need to explain and defend your process
- Have designed or built at least one conversational assistant (using any tool set)
- Experience crafting chat and voice assistant demos
- Experience with natural language understanding (NLU) systems a huge plus
- Has worked on the business side and understands the value CAI projects bring
Areas of expertise
- Communicating technical requirements
- Developing interaction models
- Interfacing with product owners
- User experience and user research
- Opinionated but flexible around their process
- Conversation design tools
- Nice to have: experience with NLU systems
- Nice to have: Experience with conversation design software like Voiceflow
Beyond the specific project you’ll be hired for, you’ll be responsible for the following:
- Designing flows for specific intents, designing Intents by gathering requirements, detailing user stories, and building repair flows
- Maintaining clean, modular, readable conversation design documentation for our assistant that’s able to scale across multiple domains, channels, and languages in a conversation design tool
- Writing dialog that fits our brand guidelines, but also creatively stretches them where it makes sense.
- Conducting moderated and unmoderated usability tests and incorporating feedback.
- Being an advocate for accessibility and inclusivity in the workplace and in your systems.
- Developing and documenting a clear and repeatable process, and teaching the team.
- Staying current on innovations in conversation design.
- Staying curious about how to help businesses assess their content governance, workflows, and organizational structure.
- Evangelizing the importance of conversation design within the organization.
Equal opportunity employer
- We are an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, protected veteran status, disability, age, or any other legally protected status. If you would like to request an accommodation, please ask your recruiter.
You can connect with Braden on LinkedIn here.
Download the conversation designer job description template here