Tuesday, November 21, 2017

7 Things Missing From Most Job Specs Which Prevent Hiring Effectively

When I was writing my Ad Age column, I wrote about creating better job specs in order to get better candidates. In a nutshell, the issue is that most hiring managers and human resources people don’t know how to write actionable job specs and descriptions.

Most of the specifications I receive are merely a list of desirable attributes which are vaguely related to the job (for instance, years of experience and category background), but the specs rarely give real direction or provide quantifiable details against which candidates can be measured.  The long and short of it is that if a job candidate is rejected for a reason which is not part of the job spec (usually the case), the spec needs to be revised.

Here is a list of things which most often are left out of job descriptions:

1)    What do you really want the candidate to accomplish
What problem(s) do you want the candidate to solve? (Too many clients actually tell me that there are no problems, but, even for the most junior people, there are issues that need to be addressed  from as mundane as billing problems to as complicated as properly handling work assignments.)

2)    What metrics will be used to measure successful performance
If you don’t know what has to be done, how will you measure the performance of your new hire?  What constitutes success (or failure)?

3)    What kind of experience is really required
This is not about category familiarity.  It has to do with the broad picture.  For instance, if it is a senior hire who is being brought on to help improve the client relationship, you should look for candidates who have similar experience improving client relations.  Category knowledge may or may not be relevant.  If it is a more junior hire, what can be improved over the previous person in the spot?  The best job spec I ever had was from an agency with a retail account and they wanted someone with experience changing logos; click the link to read the whole story).

4)    What are the difficulties of this job
An effective hire will only be achieved if the company is introspective and objective about the actual job.  Is there a lot of travel (I can think of many people I have interviewed on big, worldwide accounts who had to travel four and five days a week.  They burn out.  They value their family too much to stay in the position for an extended time.)  Is the client difficult?  Is the client relationship good, bad or indifferent? Are there internal problems which need to be handled?

5)    What is good about the job
Is the job a stepping stone to other positions?  Are the hours flexible?  Is it a good client with an established long-term relationship?

6)    Are there issues within the company which need to be spelled out
I was once hired by an agency to be head of account management. On my first day on the job, I was told that the agency was dissatisfied with their entire account management department and wanted me to change it. It was not what I did.  I was never a hatchet man and at that tune I had no real experience doing this.  I should have been told this before I started.  It should have been part of the specs.

7)    What management style and experience is necessary for success
Over the years I have seen agencies which are essentially nice places hire a bull in a china shop who comes in and inappropriately raises hell with their staff.  I have seen companies hire people who have no clue as to handle difficult clients or quirky employees.  This is a very elusive problem, but it needs to be articulated.

If these things are not considered and part of the job specs and description, it is very difficult to find the right person to take the job.  Spelling them out will help increase the chances for a successful hire.  Often, while recruiting, a hiring manager will give me feedback.  Often they are responding viscerally to the candidate e.g. not a good fit or too junior or too senior. The comment may be fair and true, but telling me that without specifics of how and why the person is wrong is not helpful to the process.

If the issue is articulated and had not been included in the spec, the specification needs to be revised. Good feedback can only speed up the process; when I have been given an articulate comment, I have often withdrawn a second candidate because I know he/she would be wrong for the job. Knowing the issue(s) helps to make the process more efficient. 


  1. My experience as a creative person, as a smartass, as a person with 27 jobs on his resume is that the #1 problem is: No one hires you to be the owner. ALWAYS got me in trouble eventually...

    1. :-). Even if they did hire you to be an owner, they probably didn't mean it anyway.


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