Why Your Job Descriptions Could Be Harming Your Hiring Prospects

If you want to engage candidates motivated to excel in a role, not just do the job, it’s time to rethink the way you approach your job descriptions.

Job descriptions have a simple goal: to focus your talent search on qualified candidates. Traditionally, that means creating an exhaustive list of tasks performed and experience required, in the hopes that unqualified candidates will rule themselves out of contention. And therein lies the problem.

By prioritising tasks and experience over the impact a candidate will make in the role, most job descriptions drastically limit the job they describe. If the goal is to discourage the wrong people from applying, it’s natural to want to be as detailed as possible on what the job involves and who has the skills to do it. But that also increases the odds of a potential star self-deselecting because they don’t match up to every point on the profile.

To put it another way: the job description should be a tool to plan for excellence. Very often ‘hoping for competence’ is the limit of its ambition.

From job description to success profile

Fortunately, there is another way. The success profile gives you and your candidates a better lens through which to view the role in question. In place of dry lists of duties, experiences and qualifications, it defines the job through outputs, achievements and successes.

Many exponents, including recruitment and training guru Lou Adler, call this a ‘performance-based job description’. We think ‘success profile’ says more with less.

Either way, the key is to change the way you see the job you’re describing:

A job isn’t… an inflexible set of actions carried out robotically until further notice.

A job is… a dynamic performance intrinsically bound up in the results it delivers to your company. For example:

  • A salesperson’s job isn’t to talk to prospective customers, but to bring more money into the business.
  • An engineer’s job isn’t to create technical plans, but to solve problems.
  • A recruiter’s job isn’t to sift applications, but to improve quality of hire.

These are broad examples, but any job should be definable by a clear set of objectives, measurable over time to show when someone is succeeding in that role. (Adler’s claim is that “just about every job in the world could be defined this way with 6-8 performance objectives”.)

What job information goes in a success profile?

These performance objectives form the core of the success profile. They could include:

  • Expected outcomes – What 6-8 things must a person achieve in the role to be labelled a success after e.g. 6 months or a year?
  • Success measures – Quantify them clearly (e.g. ‘Increase product sales by 10% in Year 1’, ‘Improve our Net Promoter Score by +5’ or ‘Migrate us to a new ATS’).
  • Growth potential – If the role comes with prospects, include them. Again, be specific. Where could a high performer end up after two years? What heights have previous postholders gone on to?

What candidate requirements go in?

Needless to say, the success profile also reinvents the person spec. It has to: If a job is defined by results not duties, it makes no sense to set out an arbitrary list of requirements for how those results must be achieved. For instance:

  • Why does someone need 10+ years’ experience? What if they have four but they’re a really fast learner?
  • Is a degree absolutely necessary to answer the question ‘Can I increase turnover by 20% in Year 1?’
  • Can a programmer be trained up in one of the six languages you’ve speculatively listed under skills required?

The point is that results can be achieved in unexpected ways. Enlightened employers are ready to be surprised. To avoid the risk of turning away a great candidate who doesn’t tick every last box, you need to distinguish essential requirements from nice-to-haves.

Once you have your essentials, define them in a role-specific way. Don’t fall back on empty phrases like ‘excellent oral and written communication skills’. Tell people what they’ll be doing with them (e.g. emailing customers, providing product demos). Likewise, nail down soft skills such as ‘can-do attitude’. What is it about a person that makes others think they have a can-do attitude? What specific behaviours do they exhibit?

Is it worth changing the habit of a lifetime?

Making a change this fundamental in your hiring process is undeniably hard work but there are persuasive benefits for all concerned.

Candidates love the approach because…

  1. It lets them imagine themselves in the job. They get to visualise themselves succeeding, progressing and having an impact in your company, not just performing an assigned set of tasks. This is a way to speak directly to their abilities AND their motivations.
  2. It gives them something to get excited about. Every sales job description out there talks about ‘using your people skills and strategic sales outlook to achieve results in a high-pressure environment’. How many put a figure or a timeframe on those results?
  3. It opens the job up to new audience groups. Where traditional job descriptions risk disqualifying candidates on superfluous requirements, a success profile lets people decide whether they can do what’s needed with what they have.

Smart employers love the approach because…

  1. It prioritises qualified candidates over unqualified ones. Old job descriptions say ‘if this profile doesn’t look like you, this job isn’t for you’. Success profiles say ‘if you can get these results, we’re interested’. It selects in qualified candidates and launches your relationship with them on a positive footing.
  2. It’s the choice of diverse employers. The success profile has the potential to widen the candidate pools you source from and the breadth of quality candidates you attract. It opens up the possibility of different paths to the same destination.
  3. It’s a useful interview tool. By defining the job in a more meaningful, focused way, the success profile is a better starting point for competency and performance-based interview questioning.
  4. It’s easier to update. Future-facing employers review their job descriptions at least annually. The quantifiable nature of a purpose-based role profile makes it easier to identify and change any out-of-date details.

You can probably tell we’re firm believers in the value of switching your thinking to adopt the success profile approach. Indeed, we’re planning a follow-up post contrasting a sample success profile with its job description counterpart.

You can sign up for Talent Unlimited updates to be notified when it goes live.