From Bloomberg Businessweek:
Far too many organizations miss golden opportunities to bring onboard best possible talent for the tasks at hand — and those of the future. When it’s time to recruit, hire, and onboard, the most common approaches are routine and rote, prone to misjudgment and error. The process is costly and, in the end, unfruitful.
This failure begins at the very first step: writing the job description. As international talent management expert Dorothy Dalton laments, “Copy-paste recruitment is generally business as usual in most organizations…Even if the post was last filled five years ago, the chance of anyone thinking it might have to be crafted differently are slim. Generally, the only changes I see are to inflate the qualifications.”
If you think the job you’re hiring for hasn’t changed in the last five years — or even in the past year — then it’s probably just about the only thing in your organization that hasn’t. And the practice of over-inflation of job qualifications often discourages desirable candidates to apply — candidates with potential who won’t be easily bored in the role. So instead of leaning on this these approaches, learn to pinpoint what you really need from a new hire in order to properly compose and position the job description. Here are four suggestions:
Know what you need now, but also envision the future.
Think of the job as an s-curve, with lots of room to grow in the role at the low end of the “s” and high proficiency but little potential at the top end. In most cases, I advocate hiring someone who will onboard at the low end and enjoy an enthusiastic and extended growth experience, with a commensurate level of job engagement, satisfaction, and productivity as they ascend the curve to reach high proficiency.
Sometimes, however, you need a sharpshooter with the expertise to solve a pressing problem. You can’t wait for them to grow. The tradeoff is that they will quickly move on, either to another organization or to a new challenge in yours (if one is available for them) and you will need to hire again, hopefully for a longer tenure.
Before writing the job description, think about what will best serve the organization in both the short and long term. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to contract a gig worker to solve the problem and hire an employee for longer-term growth.
Understand the hiring context.
Evaluate the role in the context of the team in a large organization, or in the whole organization if your workplace is on the smaller side. Filling a job is a growth opportunity for the business, not just for the individual; the best fit is found when it captures growth for both. You can better align your job openings and descriptions with what your business needs by better understanding your current roles.
For example, we consulted with a company that had motivated mid-level managers who were nonetheless uncertain about opportunities for advancement. This was especially true for people who had worked in the organization for more than 10 years. As the company developed new jobs to be filled, we recommended that they survey a targeted group of individuals related to the role they were hiring for. In the survey, they asked people to outline what they actually did versus the job description for their role. Questions included: Why do these differences exist? What has motivated or required them to do things differently than their job description would suggest? What tasks are associated with the standard phrase “and other jobs as specified?” What challenges have they faced and overcome to be successful? How is success gauged — what are the metrics used? And, finally, how long have they been in this role?
The results of this type of survey can identify roles that need to be trimmed or pruned out altogether. It can facilitate proper allocation of valuable human resources and help identify opportunities for internal movement and advancement of proven talent. You may even find you don’t need an external hire at all, or that you need to hire for something different than the vacant position. Ultimately, you will be properly informed when writing the job description if you know what current employees are doing and what they want to be doing. The gaps will reveal themselves.
Avoid limiting language.
As I noted earlier, the goal of a job description is to invite applicants. To do this successfully, avoid limiting language. Gender-biased language, for example, is known to discourage possible candidates. This is perhaps especially true of women when language is overly masculine (examples include words like “outspoken,” “competitive,” and “ninja”). But it is not limited to them. Men are also discouraged by feminine language (“nurturing,” “collaborative,” or “loyal”), particularly in postings for traditionally women-dominated jobs, like nursing.
Similarly, careless language can discourage minority applicants or unconventional ones such as on-rampers (how would a term like “career-oriented” sound?), gig workers seeking traditional employment (ditto), or even entry-level workers (very discouraged by the word “experienced”). If a job really doesn’t require two years of prior experience, don’t claim it does. If you’re trying to diversify your workforce (and I hope you are) then include language specifically inviting diverse interest. For example, “We are committed to diversity in our workforce.” Kristen Pressner, the global head of human resources for Roche Diagnostics, advocates that we “flip it to test” our language: If you are a man, how might your language sound to a woman? If you’re white, how might the job description read for a person of color? If you’re a driven career person, would what you’ve crafted invite an applicant who needs to work from home? Also test the language you use with a diverse group of individuals before you post. They can help illuminate your blind spots.
Think about meaning.
People want to contribute, to feel energized and passionate about what they do. They want to be inspired by ideas that can help solve problems and meet needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean changing the world or addressing cosmically important issues. But it does mean believing that we are making our corner of the world happier, brighter, and safer in some small but significant way.
It is critical that organizations ensure the roles they are hiring for are quality opportunities for meaningful work, personal growth, and impact. This needs to be conveyed through the job description and even into the interviewing process. For example, Chatbooks is a company that helps people create printed scrapbooks from their Instagram photos. Rather than focusing on specific skills, they use words like “high-performance creativity,” “grown up,” and “optimistic” to describe their values and the kind of candidates they are seeking to employ. When you hire an individual whose values align with the purposes of your organization, it’s a win-win. Craft the job description to invite those people to apply.
When you get a job description right, you provide an opportunity for your next employee to assume market risk — to play where others in your organization aren’t, utilizing their distinctive strengths. The odds of success are much higher than if they face competitive risk, battling for turf with entrenched players in your organization. The right fit means that a new hire has room to grow; when your employees grow, so does your organization.