Bill Wednieski 248-343-6027

Help me, help you: What your job description has to do with it

HR pros: you’ve all gotten one… or dozens. A resume that came through your inbox and was promptly met with Ctrl + Del strokes. If your job description looks like a resume you’d delete, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

Job descriptions or job specs often leave much to be desired. A bad search and often bad hiring process frequently have a root cause beginning with a poorly written job description. A poorly written job description may scare away top candidates, and a recruiter, internal or external, is highly likely to miss the mark on a target that is poorly defined.

What does a great job description look like?

  • First, look at your job description the same way you look at a resume. Does it look sloppy and inconsistent in appearance? Is the font the same size and type, or did the author or authors cut and paste from a bunch of different sources and not bother to clean up the formatting?
  • Titles: are you naming this role correctly? Not sure it makes much difference to the company if you call it an Accounting Manager or Accounting Supervisor or Controller; however, it may be a big difference to the candidate.
  • Location: You can’t write anything relevant in 2021 without considering Covid-19 and whether remote work in any frequency is a possibility. At a minimum, employers need to address this issue up front because many candidates are going to ask.
  • Length: Is it too long or too short? I see accomplished executives with 30-year careers fit their resumes on two pages – sometimes even a single page – and also see college grads with multi page resumes outlining the tasks they handled working in fast food or a summer job cutting grass. As one of my favorite professors in college used to say, “Concise is nice.”
  • Responsibilities and Qualifications: A job description that lists too many responsibilities and qualifications likely loses sight of what the actual handful of very most important ones are in the role.

woman looking at job description while on the phone, with laptop

Did each bullet earn its way into the job description?

The job descriptions I see are often part what the previous person did and part wish list of what HR / Hiring Manager / Executive want the candidate to do. If the person you are replacing was with the company a very long time or the company experienced high growth and the previous person “wore many different hats,” consider whether all of those hats really are “must haves” for the replacement. Critically examine every single bullet listed for responsibilities and qualifications. Ask a subject matter expert or hiring manager to explain it to you if you don’t understand the role and responsibilities.

True story: I once worked with a brilliant woman that was hired to manage SOX, internal controls design, implementation and testing. She turned out to be a complete rock star with an extraordinary bandwidth that included SOX plus treasury, capital markets and M&A due diligence. As expected for a high performer, before long she was promoted to a global role with the parent company. When her departure was announced, my CFO walked into my office and said, “Bill, I need you to get me a person to handle SOX, treasury and due diligence” (and he wanted it done for the paltry salary the previous person was being paid). It’s worth noting the fact that we were a company with $8 billion in annual U.S. revenue. I was candid telling my CFO we could work with every recruiter in town and we still wouldn’t find anybody with a matching skill set for that salary.

In many companies, there is usually somebody that ends up doing the dirty jobs nobody else wants to do, or there’s a weird mashup of tasks simply because the previous employee took on the tasks out of natural curiosity even though it had nothing to do with their official function. Does your new hire really have to take on all of those mashed up responsibilities? If not, consider the open position an opportunity to clean up. When redlining or creating the job description you may reassign tasks where they really belong or stop performing them altogether. Examples are salespeople helping with physical inventory counts or plant related tasks, or accountants handling human resource related tasks.

Is the price right? 

When the departing employee has been in place for a long time, the company location is remote, or the role is a specialty type role you may be surprised what it will cost to land the talent you need. When you set your budget is it firm or is there some stretch? A rule of thumb is the more bullet points, especially qualifications and certifications, added to the job description, the higher the price tag. Ask your network and validate what you are thinking or ask a recruiter – we talk to candidates and employers all day long, and know what you get for various price tags. I find sticker shock is more frequent if the company infrequently hires hard to find candidates.

job description paper focused in on the word 'salary'

In closing

Keep your job description crisp and take each opportunity to hire as an opportunity to optimize what it is you are looking for in your next employee. Apply a critical eye to all aspects of the description and what it offers. Happy hiring!

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Recruiter Bill Wednieski is the Managing Director for The Headhunters. Learn more here.

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