Ten Reasons to Dump Your Job Description

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Hiring, Leading
Reading time: 3 min.

A job description is meant to tell the person in the job and other interested parties what to expect from the job. What is this job all about? How will we know we are doing a good job? How do we hire for this job?

But a job description does a rather poor–um–job of it. That’s because most job descriptions are just lists of tasks (sometimes labeled duties or responsibilities) to be performed.

Here are 10 reasons why job descriptions as lists of tasks don’t work.

  1. Lists of tasks are hard to understand and manage because every job has dozens to hundreds of things that might be done.
  2. Lists of tasks are static. What might be the appropriate thing to do now may be wrong, ridiculous, or unnecessary in the future.
  3. Lists of tasks don’t capture priorities. How would we know which tasks could be deferred or ignored? How do we know what work is critically important?
  4. Lists of tasks can’t tell people where they should spend more of their time and where they should spend less.
  5. Lists of tasks miss how, often, our highest priority work may demand the least amount of our time.
  6. Lists of tasks say what to do or how to do it. They don’t explain why.
  7. Lists of tasks were an adequate way of describing jobs in the past when everyone worked in the factory or in factory-like desk jobs. In the factory, we did exactly what we were told. Over and over. The boss did the thinking. Today, we all have to do the thinking.
  8. Lists of tasks can’t guide our thinking. Jobs today include expectations like, “Ensure that board meetings run efficiently. Psst! By the way: the board has at least two wingnuts who try to wreck everything.”
  9. Lists of tasks don’t give people enough room to do things their way. We are hiring them for their talents, experience, and values. Why prevent them from using them?
  10. Lists of tasks can be accomplished (mostly or in full) and still the person doing the job can fail because they aren’t delivering desired results. And the person will feel unjustly criticized because they were busy doing the outlined tasks.

In the end, we will fire people for lack of results not lack of ticking off boxes. We all want the results. Let’s dump job descriptions start by defining roles based on desired results.


In your corner,


PS: A superb place to start is with our own role. Try writing three to five statements that describe how, at the end of the year, we will know you have done your job well. What will be true as a result of your work?


Today’s photo credit: Voxphoto via photopin cc


Write A Job Ad That Works

Posted 4 CommentsPosted in We=All Who Matter
Reading time: 4 min.

Most job ads are too long, too vague, or written to attract exactly the wrong people. If we use as a template the typical ad we see on job boards, our ad will fail to attract (and our processes may reject) the best possible people. Follow these pointers to build ads that work.

  • Start with them. Write the first paragraph in second-person voice. Describe who they, the ideal candidate, are and what they are looking for. Example: “You are a that rare person who cares about and is adept at technology and business. You see the huge opportunities for bridging these two worlds in ways that delight clients and create success for all involved. Your ideal next role would…” etc. Every candidate begins to explore a role by asking the questions, “Is this for me? Would I fit?” By focusing first them–not your organization or the job–you respectfully engage candidates where they are.
  • Define the role cleanly. In the second paragraph, describe the 3 to 5 key accountabilities of the role. Do away with those lists of tasks, duties, or vague (unimportant, not measurable) responsibilities.
  • Describe talents not skills. Use the third paragraph to highlight the most important qualities that the ideal person for this role will have. These are mostly personal qualities (say, self management) and talents (e.g. negotiation). Particular skills (say, using this piece of software) can be taught quickly enough if they have the necessary deeper talents (say, project planning). It is far more efficient to hire for personal qualities and talents then train for skills than to hire for skills and have to fire for lack of needed qualities and talents. Certifications are not nearly as valuable as we make them out to be. Unless certifications are legally or ethically required, leave them out.
  • Say a little about yourselves. The fourth paragraph says just a bit about your organization’s values, purpose, and goals.
  • Add a bit of boilerplate. Next, include what would normally include for salary, benefits, reporting structures, policies, and practices. In the US, for example, you might state here your compliance with equal employment opportunity regulations.
  • Invite them. The last paragraph describes next steps in second-person voice. “If this role sounds compelling to you, please…”
  • Match the tone to them. The overall tone of the ad should match the style of the type of person you want to attract. Are you looking for someone who is assertive/to the point or more tactful? Enthusiastic or more skeptical? Even or rapid paced? Precise or unbound? If we use, for example, an enthusiastic tone (“Join this exciting, dynamic team of professionals..”) when the ideal person for the role is more logical/skeptical, we may turn off the people we want.
  • Edit for flow and length. Make sure the ad has enough information to be compelling. And err on the side of shorter rather than longer.

This approach works for full-time, part-time, and sub-contracted roles. Use it the next time you need to make a solid hire. Pass it on to others who may be hiring.


In your corner,


PS: If you write a job ad like this, you may not be able to programmatically filter out candidates the way you can with traditional job ads. For example, let’s say you would normally include a bachelor’s degree as a required qualification for a given role. When candidates who lack this degree apply, you can reject them out of hand. This kind of filtering helps you manage the volume applications you get for each posting.

If you write the job ad as I suggest, you may lose some or all of your ability to filter applications. And it’s probably worth losing that ability. Most qualifications, like most skills, are insufficient predictors of success in a role. I suggest that the time and money you spend processing every unfiltered application would be small in comparison to cost of poor hiring based on qualifications or filtering out potential stars.

Today’s photo credit: The Year of Mud via photopin cc

The Best and Worst Ways to Describe a Role

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Hiring, Leading, Strategy, Success
Reading time: 2 min.

“Fit” is such an important driver for people and need for organizations. Everyone–from the big boss to the mail room clerk–in every organization–from the largest multi-national to a sole proprietor–needs to understand where she fits and how she contributes to the organization.

The worst way to define a role is with a job description. A job description lists things like tasks or functions performed in the job, who the job reports to, and the skills required to do the job. Job descriptions don’t guide the person in the role because they are hard to recall, follow, and change as time and business needs change. Example: “The job of special assistant to the associate team leader includes drafting, distributing for comment, and publishing the daily TPS reports.”

The best way to define a role is with key accountabilities. Any role can be described in three to five of these sentences that answer the question, “At the end of the year, what will we see to know that this job has been done well?” Roles defined by key accountabilities are simpler to grasp and easier to manage. Example: For a sales person, the key accountabilities might be “Generate at least $20M in revenue for the company this year,” “Support existing clients; 80% of revenue will come from existing clients.”

Try it. Define your role (or one you have to hire for soon) in three-to-five mostly measurable sentences. Then watch how much easier it becomes to do, hire, or manage that role.


To your continued success,


P.S. Do any companies still have mail room clerks?