The Common Sense Job Description – In Short Supply


The JD is far from outdated. As technology continues to reshape hiring, the JD of the future will be different (here is a recent such column from the FT). But in 2016, it remains a pillar of the hiring process, as does a CV. So let’s focus on the here and now..

I see an increasing erosion of common sense in how JD’s are used to both edify and entice-which is the main thrust of any marketing material. Below are my suggestions on how to ensure a JD passes some common sense rules.

a) Where is it?? Surprising as it seems, I’ve seen a number of large and small companies not bother with a JD at all. The rationale–if there is one–is that it isn’t needed; people will know what the job is, the hiring manager can explain it when necessary. The mere rigour of putting pen to paper to sketch it out forces one to design. Admittedly it takes more time, but with it goes more clarity and structure in actually hiring someone — and more common sense.

b) Good writing always matters. The ‘boilerplate’ JD has been around for decades, and with more job boards, LinkedIn or otherwise, the generic JD has proliferated. For lower level or entry positions, it absolutely makes sense, as many people will indeed be doing the exact same job.

But further up the food chain, particular strengths are required. In today’s social media JD’s, there can be unusually long cultural descriptions with a paucity of must-haves. Listed requirements on such JD’s can fall into the line-up of ‘the usual suspects’ : ‘a self starter and team player’; ‘a good communicator’;  ‘can work under pressure and meet deadlines’, and so forth. I do understand the needs, but such JD’s lack common sense, which compels a writer to spend more time on crafting it. I’m not trying to revolutionise the content, but merely remind that one size doth not fit all.

c) Combustibility of New Hire and New Job. If a JD is written for a brand new job to be done, most often you should look within the company before casting the net externally. In my experience, an internal hire is best suited to tackle a greenfield job that has no precedence. But many times, companies look for people from outside–which often sets a new hire up for a very steep learning curve. Common sense dictates otherwise, so write to an appropriate audience.

d) The porridge should be neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.. Many times JD’s are written as too specific, or too wide. Both are unsound. If too specific the job will be outgrown, as it should (unless you are hiring for a job that will not change). A JD too wide makes it hard to know where one is to begin and how to properly assessed. A sound JD must have enough definition, vision and structure so it cannot be outgrown quickly nor so far ranging that only a gaggle could succeed.  A comprehensible  and common sense JD is in the middle, which leads to the next point..

e) Make the JD readable and accessible, and performance based Slang, acronyms, repetitive phrases all show varying degrees of insolence towards the reader. Remember, the main functions of a JD are to appeal, enlighten and show relevant candidates what a successful outcome looks like. In doing so, have enough content so anyone can read it and know quickly [in their heart of hearts] whether it is for them or not.

For example, an Asia-Pac role should call for someone who has worked in the region long enough not to be dangerous, has a steady network, and is cross-cultural enough-socially and linguistically-to forge relationships. All straightforward, and should be highlighted more than ‘can work independently’ or ‘strong organisational skills’, and so forth. What are the absolutes and what are the relatives? Lou Adler and Barry Shamis have both written extensively about performance-based JD’s.

f) A soupçon of levity. Every company culture is different, and every new hire wants to fit in with the existing team and contribute, 100% of the time. Being able to write a JD that loosely reflects some of the culture rather than function is not the same as a long JD introduction, advising the reader what a great place it is to work. Personalise it, even if a few words only; the careful reader will see the effort. That leads to:

g) Proofread. A poorly written CV eliminates  interest. Common sense, no? A job description reflects the company, the hiring manager, the role, the environment. If the composer of the JD can’t muster the right level of professionalism to do so, it’s a flashing sign to candidates. As is true on a CV, (and those who have been the recipients of my CV edits know) each word counts on a JD. Make it sing-it’s easily do-able.

A great JD doth not guarantee a better pool of candidates, but it does guarantee a higher level of professionalism and engagement. It costs little if anything, and is the essence of reputation and branding.  Use more common sense when structuring a JD. Remember it is marketing collateral, not an advert for a job opening.

And does it pass the basic common sense test? If you were applying for it yourself, would it wink, beckon, make you both nod and smile?

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