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It’s Not You… It’s Me Your Job Description Template!

If you are reading this and you can’t remember the last time you updated your company’s job description/job advertisement templates then please grab a coffee and spend 5mins reading this article. It might just help you recognize unnecessary jargon, diversify your talent pools, increase the number of relevant candidates across your roles, and allow your recruitment team to spend their time more efficiently on the things that matter most i.e. engaging and building relationships with your next great hires.

The job description

First of all, let’s talk about the job description. The job spec, the JD. Job descriptions are usually created to act as an advertisement on a company’s career site or job board with the purpose of attracting as many potential candidates as possible for a new vacant position. Job descriptions can sometimes be copied and pasted from a previous or similar role, written in a hurry by a member of the HR team or the assigned hiring manager who needs this role filled yesterday, and then passed on to the recruitment/sourcing team to aid in their search for suitable candidates. Therefore, the journey of the job description, the numerous exchanging of hands, the urgency to get the role live, and the hope of attracting as many potential candidates as possible can lead to;

  • Ambiguity
  • Vagueness
  • Intangible/unsearchable terms
  • Lack of clarity
  • Unintentional or unconscious parameters
  • Buzzphrases e.g. “ability to work in a fast-paced environment, motivated self-starter”…

None of these things in isolation pose much of a threat to getting a job description created, uploaded, set live on a company’s career site, and subsequently for some suitable talent to apply or be found. However, from a sourcing point of view the ambiguity, the unintentional parameters, the buzzphrases, and most significantly, the missed opportunity for critical questioning and reciprocal dialogue with those involved in the hiring process can result in a very shallow talent pool, undesirable candidates, frustration, and in some cases it can lead to a complete breakdown of trust between those looking to make a hire and those responsible for hiring.

“I’m a fire starter, a conversation starter!!!” — The Prodigy (Job Description Remix)

I am not totally against job descriptions. I promise. In fact, we can get a lot of important, clear, and searchable parameters from them such as job title, location, specific skills, must have certification requirements. However, I feel people underestimate the true power a job description holds in its most basic form. To anyone who comes across your job description online or on your careers site it’s an advert. To your recruitment team, to your sourcers, to anyone involved in the hiring process it is so much more than that. It’s a conversation starter. It’s the kindling that allows you to ignite a meaningful and powerful conversation with those involved in the hiring process which will set your sourcing efforts and talent engagement strategies up for success.

Additionally, with employers shifting towards a more skills-based approach to hiring and developing talent (over 21% increase in job postings advertising skills and responsibilities instead of qualifications and requirements) the need for enhanced partnerships, critical thinking, and regular & welcomed communication has never been more important.

Operationalizing a job description

Challenge the assumptions

In order to uncover hidden talent, broaden your search horizons and reduce your reliance solely on certain terms within a job description you are going to need to leverage one of the most undervalued skills available to you at this very moment. Your voice. Too often in the hiring process (and in business in general), we make assumptions that can be detrimental to our own productivity and efficiency. For example, we assume that the person who wrote the job description must have some sort of degree in doing so and must not be questioned or challenged on it. We assume that because the job description says 4–7 years of experience required every potentially relevant person who has <4 years or >7 years is not applicable. Please challenge your assumptions. Odds are the VP who wrote the job description had 1,000 other things on their to-do list that day and they rushed through it. And who knows, your next shooting star could be sitting there waiting to be found, in a job they are not fulfilled in with 3.5 or 8 years of experience.

How do you challenge these assumptions?

Firstly, ask yourself. Really ask yourself. Critically analyze the job description, what makes sense and what doesn’t, what’s clear and what isn’t, what’s vague, and what’s precise. Do your own research, make notes, draft a list of questions you have after examining it. Focus on the why? the what-ifs? if we were to change x to y what would happen? If we expanded the location to bordering cities would that be acceptable? If not, why not? and so on. Secondly, find whoever wrote the job description and is responsible for the hire and ask them. Don’t underestimate the power of asking good questions.

Making the intangible tangible

Buzzphrases such as “team player”, “ability to work on own initiative”, “natural born leader who is motivated by lining up KPIs and knocking them out of the park” may sound good (to some) and they do an excellent job of beefing up the word count of a job description but from a talent sourcing perspective they are unhelpful, unsearchable and intangible. Some intangibles such as the above are always going to be intangible so don’t get too bogged down in trying to uncover their true meaning. As we say in Ireland “It’s pure waffle”. However, there are going to be intangibles worth exploring, worth questioning and are definitely capable of being operationalized and will help you structure your approach to the search. To help you visualize what I’m talking about I’ve taken a job description/advert I found online for a multinational company looking for an HR Business Partner in Seattle, Washington.

Job description as presented online

Job description after attempting to make the intangible tangible

Taking the time to critically analyze a job description (such as the quick example above) will not only give you an opportunity to think broader, it will also help you to see each new sourcing challenge in a much more creative and collaborative way. So, if you are reading this and you are a sourcer or a recruiter or a head of talent why not set some time aside this week to dissect a couple of your stagnant roles and see what an “operationalizing session” might do to help. Have fun with it. Get a couple of your team together. What are you not thinking of? How can you reach the not-so-obvious talent? How can you diversify the search? The candidates are out there. You just need to figure out how to find them!

Job description exhaustion — signs and symptoms to look out for

  • Elusive origin of the template itself. “We use this template because we’ve always used it”. “This was the template that was here when I joined”.
  • You find yourself building the job description for new roles around the template rather than focusing on building the job description/advertisement around the role. Don’t let a template dictate how you communicate to the world. Get creative.
  • Regularly falling into the trap of thinking that updating your job description templates is not a priority in respect of every other aspect of the hiring process. Let this serve as a gentle reminder, it absolutely is a priority. Now more than ever.
  • If you are reading your own job description and they absolutely in no way convey your company culture or employer brand, throw them out. Remember, your job descriptions form part of a potential future employee’s first impression of you.
  • Reposting the same job advert over and over again without making any changes and expecting different results. *Resists urge to quote Albert Einstein*

If you’ve made it this far thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts? I’d love to hear it. Drop them in the comments or get in touch directly.

Patrick Kelly

Innovation Program Manager @ Starcircle

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