Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When Hiring, Job Descriptions Need To Be Replaced

When trying to fill a job, most hiring managers are asked to write a job description.  The description they create is generally counter-productive because it leads to only describing tasks rather than defining issues as well as tasks.  All too often, recruiters will find a candidate who perfectly matches the job description only to have him or her rejected for reasons that have not been articulated.

Traditional job descriptions need to be replaced.

The problem with the traditional job spec/description is that it does not go far enough.  When companies are hiring, they need to find people who can go beyond solely doing assigned tasks.  They need thinking and problem solving and they always needs specific personalities.

I would like to propose a completely different idea which is what I call a job audit.  Rather than creating a job description, hiring managers and their managers should create a job audit which would go way beyond the mere description.  The audit should define all aspects of the job.  It would include the function, duties, what the job is and is not, and what the new hire should accomplish as well as the personality traits of who would work best in the job. This will lead to better, more productive hires; it will provide better direction to HR for screening and will allow outside recruiters to be far more productive. 

While it requires much more work and thought to create, it will shorten the recruiting process by making it far more efficient.

A job audit should include the following elements:
-       Why the job is open (replacement, new position, etc.)
-       What the new hire should accomplish besides tasks
-       What can this person do better than the previous person who had the job
-       If a new position, how will this person be evaluated
-       What problems the new hire should solve
-       What skills the new hire must possess
-       What skills the new hire might possess
-       What experiences the potential hire might and should have (what problems have they solved, 
      what have they done)
-       What kind of personality will work best in this job
-       What are the up sides of this job (what is the likely career path, what makes the job good)
-       What are the down sides (difficult situations, personalities, excessive travel, long hours)

The key question managers should ask of themselves is, “On this next hire, what do I want him or her to accomplish?  What should he or she be able to do to maximize his or her effectiveness on the job?” In other words, who should this next hire be and what should they do, what problems should they solve?  A job audit will accomplish that.

The Job Audit must be actionable, it should include both tasks (the traditional job spec), but also include personality and expectations.  

All too often we see job descriptions which list qualifications; those qualifications may say things like, "excellent management skills".  What they fail to say is that they will be managing a group of six, one of whom is brilliant, well liked but needs to be carefully focused; the others are easily managed.  That kind of information should be included in a job audit; it will provide direction for HR and for outside recruiters in order to screen candidates effectively and efficiently.

Once, when I placed an agency chairman, the original job spec included all kinds of descriptions of tasks that a company chairman should have – new business, finance, management, etc. These things are all expected for a company chairman.  What was missing, that I discovered after I spent a day at the company,  was that the existing management was extremely hostile to the idea of bringing in an outsider (I was hired by the parent company).  Hostile is an understatement; they were downright threatening because all of the existing management were being passed over and each of them felt deserving of the job. Their tenure ranged from eight to twenty-five years, but, in truth, none were really chairman material.  I changed the specs to include that appropriate candidate had to be tough as nails in order to control this group, but he or she had to be able to cover their iron fist with a velvet glove. so as not to alienate this truculent group; they would be necessary in the short term.  Changing the specs enabled me to find the right person.

If a candidate is eliminated for a reason not within the original job audit, then the audit needs to be rewritten. The job audit should be a fluent document. It should be adjusted as interviews take place so as to be up to date and continuously actionable.


  1. I'm not sure if this is entirely related, but as concerns a new role and finding the right fit, I've found it's also helpful to have Clients involved in the process. Particularly if the person is middle to senior management. I learned this the hard way, hiring staff across the board who sailed through internal agency interviews, only to be later rejected by Clients for varying reasons.

    1. Unknown: Your point is well taken. I am sure I have posted about this. Getting clients involved is a two edged sword.

      It puts clients in total control of your business and the people servicing them. It is the first step in allowing the client to run his/her business, which is inherently unhealthy. On the other had, it is terrible to hire someone only to have them rejected by your client.

      May I suggest an alternative: Have your client fully participate in the writing of the job audit. Make sure you know in advance who and what is looking for. They should sign off on the job audit. But don't allow them to interview. If it is done right they should be happy with your hire.

  2. I wonder if an organizational reality check ought to be a part of the audit as well. Employers who post for a creative director when they really intent “design director” —an overwhelming frequent occurrence—are inviting a mismatch. Even more to the point, if you see a firm recruiting for a CD with 3 – 5 years of experience, you know they really have no idea what goes (or at least should go) into the position.

    1. Jef. you have a good point. But even with fairly sophisticated large companies, I see this kind of thing happening. Often job specs are merely a wish list of attributes, including experience an titles, which have nothing to do with reality.

  3. Thanks for your post on job audits; the timing is perfect! We’ve learned the hard way that re-using stale job descriptions can lengthen the recruitment process – but it’s still so tempting to try and cut corners. Your job audit elements provide a “thought map” we can use to put together better hiring documents. Thanks again!

  4. Thanks, Beth. You now the old expression, "Garbage in, garbage out." Doing a thorough job spec up front can save a lot of grief later on. I appreciate the comment.


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