Better Job Descriptions: The Overlooked Hiring Process Step That Improves Your Business Outcomes
The only reason to hire is to achieve a business impact. Your hiring efforts should shorten the distance between having a job opening and hiring someone who makes a big impact. The first step on the path toward business impact is attracting the right candidates. In all likelihood, most job seekers first impression of your company will be your job description. But most job descriptions actually get in the way of your hiring and recruiting efforts.
Instead of writing job ads, most organizations post the job description as the job advertisement. This leads to three problems:
The job ad is dull and uninformative. Job descriptions are usually a dull legal formality -- the language used is impenetrably vague and impossibly ambiguous, and there is rarely much concrete detail about performance expectations.
Instead of saying, "The successful candidate is responsible for..." it’s far more useful to say "Working here, you will be expected to..." One provides both scale and context, the other could apply to any job.
The ad isn’t attractive to the right people. To best achieve the business impact you want, you will need to hire top performers -- the people who are drawn to challenge. As Steve Jobs once described it, they want to "put a dent in the universe." These candidates read job ads in the hopes of finding something interesting. But because the language used in job descriptions is so disappointingly vague and uninformative, it actually prevents job-seekers from understanding how exciting the job can be, so they do not apply.
With a dull job description, all the color drains out of your vibrant, interesting job, leaving everything looking...beige. And there’s nothing challenging or exciting about beige. Top performers will look elsewhere.
The ad does not differentiate your job from the competition. A job ad should distinguish your job from all the other jobs someone might consider. If you want to attract the best people in town, you need to offer them the best job in town. Your job should clearly represent the smartest next step in their career.
But most job descriptions are so vague, they could easily describe hundreds of other jobs. They offer laundry lists of responsibilities and qualifications, but fail to explain what business outcomes are expected. As a result, you receive resumes from under-qualified people who guessed at what you really need, and you don’t receive resumes from qualified people who assumed that your job was not significant. Compounding the problem even further, you might actually end up hiring someone who seems right...but is very, very wrong, because you did not take the time to be clear about what actually predicts success on the job.
When your job advertising underperforms, your search drags on. Eventually, you end up desperate -- in the unenviable position of hiring "the best of the worst" from the people that who did respond to your advertising.
So how can you better connect your job descriptions to the business outcomes you want to achieve? Get more specific.
Context is what helps people understand your staffing needs. Think ahead a year to the performance review. Consider which business results are needed for you to be thrilled with someone’s performance at the end of their first year. What challenges would the new hire need to overcome? How would you measure their success? Describe the scale of impact you are looking for. (Not only will this exercise help you a year from now, it will also help you during the interview. If you know how to properly evaluate whether a candidate is the right fit, you can better determine if they have real passion for the work, or are just a charismatic empty suit.)
Examples of better context include (see more examples on our Jobs page):
- "You will strengthen organizational operations through development, design, and implementation of key initiatives and projects, processes, and procedures."
- "Work with the CDO to establish annual revenue goals and ensure they are met. Design and implement a program to significantly grow foundation, corporate, and government/agency revenue over time (growth in both total revenue and average partnership/grant size)."
- "You will be the expert on our target population, understanding the data, its availability, and presenting it in a manner that offers useful tools to national and local partners."
- "You will ensure procurement actions are compliant and will move the process expeditiously from solicitation, to approval, to delivery of the goods or services ordered."
Ultimately, strong job advertising will help you hire better people. Repurposing the legally-required job description won’t be enough, because it does nothing to help you attract great people.
But change your job advertising to more effectively advertise -- to be more appealing, and attract the right kinds of job seekers for your position -- and you can find better people to achieve the business results you need. Follow the advice in our full guide, "6 Steps to Writing Job Descriptions that Attract Great Candidates," and you can make your job postings twice as effective.
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