May 4, 2021

Is It Time to Cancel Job Descriptions?


Episode Highlights

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Does this job description look familiar to you? That’s probably because it is. A copy of a copy, reposted in perpetuity…

It’s rare that a job description captures a company’s true hiring need. There’s always something that’s not in there, often the most important thing. And it pretty much never convinces a job seeker that it’s the right place to be. It’s as if both sides have given up on the old JD.

But why is the most basic and ubiquitous form a job advertising so bad at both attracting and vetting talent? Is it time for a re-think of the entire concept?

Jeff Smith and James Hornick have (reluctantly) read more job descriptions than they care to count. And they dish out the hot take in their next 10 Minute Talent Rant: Episode 9 “Is It Time to Cancel Job Descriptions?”

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick, I’m joined by Jeff Smith and we are on the clock. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition, hiring space and maybe even pitch a solution or two. This week’s topic: is it time to cancel job descriptions?


So little bit of a lead in here for before I kick it over to you Jeff, so job descriptions and job ads aren’t the same. I’m aware of that. But for the purposes of this convo, they kind of are. They’re very closely related and what I really mean is this, most companies don’t even write job descriptions so they have something to advertise.


They have more of a purpose for that but that’s usually what these things are used for and then they suck. So, Jeff kick us off here. What is the actual utility of a job description supposed to be? What’s supposed to be their purpose? Yeah, so I think there’s three main buckets. One, and the most important is the marketing and socialization aspects ofa well crafted job spec.


So it is your first, it is as a candidates first glimpse into not only how you articulate your own company but how you articulate a job, what it looks like, what your culture is, yada yada. So number one, it is that first entry point to soliciting candidates. Secondly, and I think something that people don’t think about is the compliance aspects to it.


And I won’t get into all of like the HR minutia of everything, but there is verbiage that’s entitling, that steers things to exemption versus non exemption. There’s like country specific stuff that we could get into but at the end of the day, a job description does from a compliance perspective give some sort of legal construct as to what you’re looking for and what that candidate pool looks like.


And then finally, it’s the core skills and abilities. And we’ll talk about this later but this doesn’t mean list 55 different minimum requirements, but what this means is clearly articulating the knowledge, skills, and abilities that you wish to acquire as an organization. So putting this in kind of context, and what we’re going to rant about this today, how many times have you lost a team member? And the knee jerk reaction is just to put up the same job you put up three years ago. I mean that’s the problem that we have, is everyone just recycles, rehashes without putting any kind of thought into things. And you’re kind of mentioning from the compliance standpoint, here’s the thing it’s challenging, it’s hard to keep – like jobs changed so rapidly nowadays. If you’re a digital marketing manager or you work in technology, doesn’t really matter what your skillset is, things are happening at such a rapid pace that duties are constantly changing.


And no one really updates their job description while they’re working that job. When you start a job today versus next year versus the year after that, chances are that no one’s going back typically and redoing your entire job description. So it really, even from a compliance standpoint, it doesn’t really get that job done either.


But I think that, kind of on top of what you were saying. So look at the two benefits that you should have in a job description and a job ad when it’s getting kind of communicated to the outside, it should attract people but you can also detract people who aren’t the right fit.


Right. And that’s the big value missed that I think a lot of people have is everyone complains about how many – they post a job, they get flooded with hundreds of responses. It’s because they’re not doing anything that actually – they’re not giving anyone actual details that will help them make a decision.


Is this right for me? Or is it not right for me? Yeah. I think that you hit the nail on the head in terms of if a team member leaves or worse, you’ve decided to cut ties with a team member as an organization, what is the point of putting out the job description that you wrote for that person four years ago?


I don’t understand that thought process and we’ll get into more fixes, but before we forget, I want to, I just really want to make a point about a best practice that every manager, as annoying as it might be should work with HR at least once a year in updating their job specs.


And again, we talked about description versus I can’t remember what you called it at the beginning – profile – whatever it was, but there should be a rewrite of all of those competencies every year to account for the drastic changes that happen in everybody’s role as new technologies emerge, as new processes merge, and account for those so that they’re relevant and they actually described the job that this person will do. I think that if you want to talk about what we need to see another thing, be more spefific of what’s broken. People don’t apply to jobs because it’s a list of skills. That’s not what gets anyone excited about working for companies.


They see a brain dump of skills. What things – like the question you need to be asking yourself is what things are actually sexy about your company? What things are cool that people really want to know about and how do you communicate those things? And that’s how you either attract people or repel the people who aren’t necessarily the best fit.


And I think it’s the easiest thing to do in terms of differentiating yourself, pick a project. Pick one project. What’s one initiative you guys are doing that’s cool? What are you actually hiring this person for? What’s the actual business need that they’re fulfilling? Talk about that. Yeah. And I almost never see that in job descriptions. I have a question for you.


So the question is, and I probably know the answer. When’s the last time you saw a job description that explicitly talked about a cool project that that organization is working on? Can’t even think of it. Exactly and we’re sitting here talking about it now. It’s like I can’t fathom in a world that we’re the only people that have ever come up with this.


Like I think there’s again, a knee jerk reaction to do what’s always been done and to not shake things up and any organization that is looking to differentiate themselves, this is one of those tiny little things that you could like – we always talk about software engineers, but tell us like how you’re migrating your systems. What new technologies you’re using and how it impacts the business.


Not just write it in the laundry list. Like okay, you’re using AWS, Hadoop, Jenkins, whatever, I don’t even know what all of those things mean, but an applicant looks at thatand at best –  everyone’s using those things. Yeah. And at best everyone is – they’re looking at it and saying, okay, that’s like a lot of things.


And then at worst, they’re saying this company doesn’t know what they’re looking for at all. They’re just plastering a bunch of stuff, I’m going to move to the next ad. And here’s an idea: instead of just writing it on a blank page, a boring page, why don’t you just get your face and put on a video somewhere on your site? Like we’re doing it right now.


It’s really cheap. It’s really easy to do. And I was going to give – we talked about this before, I was going to give a shout out because my boy Nate Guggia, that’s what he’s actually working on right now. His company, they’re developing a new product, Before You Apply is what it’s called, this is literally what they’re doing. They’re asking companies, questions. Stuff they actually want to know, like what challenges are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months? Where do future ideas come from? Feature ideas come from? What’s hard about what you’re building?


Why do team members stay at the company? What are the values at the heart of the – things people actually want to know about a company and just getting video of people kinda talking about it. Yeah. I understand that there will be visceral reactions for some individuals that don’t want to get on video and don’t want, and that’s fine.


There are multiple people within organizations that are more than comfortable getting in front of a camera and selling not only themselves but their projects and their organization. Find those people. Get them into video, get a stock repository of it and embedded into your job descriptions.


It is so easy and your competition is doing it for those that are thinking, that are saying, wow, that’s a good idea. It’s not mainstream yet. But I suspect as people have gotten comfortable with video, especially in the days of zoom, that this will become a more prevalent feature and a welcomed feature, at least for us as recruiters. The thing is if you’re talking about a project you’re working on or if you’re talking about something and the person doesn’t like it, they’re not going to apply. And you just save yourself so much time by having people who don’t honestly like what you’re doing, applying. That’s less vetting you have to do but you’re also getting closer to people who are the better fit anyway.


Yeah. And you’re also getting rid of the Hail Mary’s, like the folks who are applying just to see what sticks. They’re going to say, “Oh man, this is pretty specific. I’m not the right fit.” All right. Takeaways. What do you got? Anything? I think that canceling the idea of it being a compliance paper, like – there’s churn and burn of like HR specificity and use it more as a marketing or advertisement collateral. A job rec should be exciting, like it should be a call to action for the person to say, “Wow, I think I’m a great fit for this and I’m super excited about the product and the org.”


You said it, talk about current projects and future plans and what impact that person is going to make. It gives you a tangible feeling of what it will be like to be in that seat. And then finally stop with the requirements. Talk about knowledge, talk about skills and talk about the abilities that you want to acquire both hard and soft.


And we are short on clock, so that’s a wrap for this week. Thanks again for tuning into the 10 Minute Talent Rant, part of the Talent Insights series which is always available for replay on Hirewell’s YouTube channel as well as the Talent Insights podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify and YouTube.


Jeff thanks again. We’ll see you soon.


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