industry news thought leadership talent innovation

Crafting Meaningful Job Descriptions for Successful Recruiting

Crafting Meaningful Job Descriptions for Successful Recruiting

“Kill your darlings.”  This phrase was introduced to me by composer Laura Jobin-Acosta at the opera the other night.  It’s the idea that composers and librettists sometimes need to take the things that they love about a piece and edit them out anyway for the greater good.  Your favorite note can take a measure from tight to messy.  A keyword can change an aria from powerful to overwrought.

What does any of this have to do with recruiting?  Are you struggling to land the right people for your organization?  Perhaps you need to look at your job descriptions and kill your darlings.

If you’ve been to Precision’s blog before then you’ve likely come across my strong feelings on resumes.  I have equally strong feelings regarding job descriptions.  I can’t tell you how many times a client will come to us with a job description that exceeds six pages.  These hiring managers are the ones who are unlikely to consume an entire seven-page resume but somehow a six-page JD makes sense?  Too often the job description isn’t written by the hiring manager.  It may not even be written by someone who understands the role, where it fits within the organization, and what will be needed to be successful.  There’s a JD library somewhere.  It’s a cut and paste, maybe a cut and paste of a couple of JDs.  It’s long on requirements and short on purpose or intent.

When Precision and I kick off a role with a client, I often tell the hiring manager to set the JD aside for the discussion.  I want to know what a manager really wants.  What are the three to five absolute must-haves for the role?  What does a good fit look like to you?  What has worked here before?  What failed?  I take that feedback and I craft our search based on that, not the JD which may not reflect any of what’s important to the manager or team we’ve talked to.

I was deep in the offer phase with a Precision client a few years back working to bring on a Vice President.  The candidate was supremely qualified, had interviewed well, and was sold on the role and company.  Then I got a call from HR: the candidates had never finished their undergraduate degree.  20 years of experience in the military followed by 15 years of progressive experience in industry and yet six missing undergraduate credits nearly tanked an excellent hire.  A call with HR and the hiring team revealed that for VP hires, a degree is required.  This was a darling destined to be killed.  We talked through it, amended the language of the JD to allow for an opening and my candidate got (and accepted) his offer.

This is just one example of what plagues the industry sometimes.  Finding the right fit for your team, especially in a candidate’s market like we are in now, requires openness and flexibility.  Don’t say you need 15 years of experience when you know that 7 good years will do.  Countless candidates are looking at the experience requirement – often the first qualification in a JD – and passing if they fall under the bar.  Don’t ask for experience managing a team of 20 if the role only has a team of 4.  And please don’t ask for a degree (or a specific type of degree) unless they will absolutely be using it on a daily basis.

The best way to generate a meaningful job description that will attract the candidates that you want is to start with an entire blank sheet of paper or Word document.  Right down six to eight essential responsibilities for the role.  Then walk away.  After refreshing your coffee, review them for accuracy.  Walk away again.  Ponder the qualifications of someone who is currently successful with those responsibilities.  Return with more coffee and write down those quals.  Voila.  You’re well on your way to a meaningful JD.

As much as I hate to say it… next step is your JD library or careers page.  You’ll need some initial language about your company or department.  Keep it concise.  You want attractive and meaningful.  Three sentences tops and then perhaps another two or three that summarize the role.  Be careful not to repeat yourself.  You will notice your organization probably has a few key responsibilities that are kept in for compliance reasons.  “Other duties as assigned” is often one of these, so go ahead and throw that in if needed.  What’s not needed is a “good communicator” “team player” or even “Microsoft Office proficient”.  You should be crafting questions that assess communication skills and style and then vetting team players on your own during the interview phase.  And Microsoft runs the world.  In our industry, even the people living under the rocks are proficient with Outlook.

Working on a hire with a group and worried about incorporating everyone’s input?  Circle back to the exercise from the previous two paragraphs and start there.  Compare the bullet points from each person’s “blank page” assignment.  You should find very similar items.  Agree on language that both works for you and the team and reflects your organization.  If someone, or multiple someones, come to the discussion with drastically different bullet points then immediately stop.  Resist the urge to put all of the lists together.  Bananas, barbecue sauce and grilled cheese are delicious on their own; just not on the same plate.  Your team hasn’t come to a consensus on what is a good fit for your organization.  It’s better to determine that when putting together a job description than when putting together an offer.  Make sure everyone’s expectations are aligned.

Your job description, along with your website, is the first introduction a candidate has to you, your team, and your organization.  A well-thought-out, properly written, expressive JD will go a long way to capturing more, and more quality, applicants.  If you’re having trouble finding the right talent for your organization then start by looking at your job postings and remember to kill your darlings.

Andy is the Chief Innovation Officer for Precision Talent Solutions, a proud husband and father, and a great listener.