Hiring staff is never a manager’s favourite list item; it is often considered a necessary evil. The typical process begins with you determining the need to hire a consultant or employee and putting thought into what they will be doing. The next step is to communicate with someone who can find the person you need, normally your HR Department or a Recruiter. They ask you to write a job description, and since you are no novelist, it takes a few weeks. You send the final masterpiece off, doing your best to convey the role to a non-technical person and articulating the type of person you are looking for, trusting that in their hands you will find the right fit. A few weeks later you get some resumes, review them and select a couple to interview. You then invest several hours interviewing candidates and determine that none are a fit. Again, you seek out HR or your Recruiter, left feeling unhappy and frustrated with having to start the process again.
Why are the results so often bad? There are a few reasons:
First, writing a job description is the hardest thing you, as a manager, have to do. As stated earlier, you are not a writer by trade and getting your thoughts to paper is a slow and laborious process. You must also write this document considering the audience – a person who likely has little technical background all the while knowing their misunderstanding can lead to inappropriate candidates applying for the position.
The second issue is ‘grapevine’ communication, the process of information passing from person to person. This leads to lost details as well as information inadvertently being altered as it passes to the next party. The child’s game “Telephone” is a great example of this. The first person starts with a simple sentence and tells it to next person, continuing like this all of the way down the line. The more people involved, the greater the probability of the sentence changing. A similar thing can happen to a job description. The job description starts with your technical lead telling you in their words the technical skills needed. You attempt to relay these to HR or a Recruiter, either verbally or written, and they in turn explain the role to a candidate. By this point, the understanding a candidate has of the role and requirements expected of them is regularly incorrect. This is a situation where the term “lost in translation” can truly be applied.
Thirdly, a manager’s own personal bias can create issues. Racial profiling aside, all managers will build a job description based on their prior experiences and personal beliefs of what skills and attributes the new hire should possess. These issues are often greatest when you have to fill a role that has been filled many times previously. For new roles or new technologies, as a manager you want to ensure your needs of this position are met. This bias can lead to even greater errors in hiring, permeating through any job description and potentially leading to poor results. Bias also enters into determining what the candidate should get paid. The issue of compensation is a very touchy one; many people believe the manager should be paid more than staff that report to them. The question then arises of how big that differential should be?
The final issue frequently occurs when replacing staff. Many times a manager will take the resume of the person who had the job before and attempt to replicate that person. Unfortunately, people’s resumes are like snowflakes, no two are ever alike. Utilizing this strategy will lead to many frustrating interviews.
We want to provide some tips to improve your job description writing to alleviate some of the challenges you face. Here are some simple but effective suggestions;
- Use clear and concise language, right to the point. No need to write a novel.
- Use non-technical language and explain acronyms used.
- Keep sentence structure simple. It is not an essay contest.
- Sell the position; the job description is more marketing than HR. The more exciting the job description, the better the candidates who apply.
- State what a successful person will accomplish on the job.
- Avoid any gender, race or age based language.
- Answer this basic question from a candidates point of view: “What’s in it for me?”
- This document should serve as the basis for the performance reviews – this can be an invaluable tool in the future when working with your new hire on evaluating performance and helping you keep the staff on track to do what they were hired to do.
- Share the job description with many stakeholders and consider their input.
- Ask your Recruiter or HR to write a draft that you can review & edit.
Spending time up front before posting a job will help reduce the wasted hours many managers experience in the resume review and interview stages of hiring a contractor or staff. Involving others in the process will speed up things up. However, a word of caution that seeking universal agreement of the job description will slow things down. Don’t seek approval, simply seek input.