You could be offering a six figure salary to test ice cream from a beach in Barbados, and still be struggling to attract applicants if the role and context isn’t clear. A well written job description provides clarity for all parties and will sell the opportunity to candidates.
A job description is something we are all familiar with. But perhaps not everyone is quite as familiar with how important it is for attracting and retaining top talent to your company.
Many companies will quote that their people are their most important asset. When companies look to acquire a new key asset the stakeholders will define the scope and description of what it is they want and why, and recruiting in important hires shouldn’t be any different.
All too often we see job descriptions that clearly started as an internal tick-box exercise, perhaps to get a role signed off initially by the board. It can be seen as something that has to be done before recruitment can start, rather than something that enables the process and helps everyone decide upfront what is required, saving everyone a lot of time during recruitment.
Because of this, they are frequently not fit for their external purpose – a concise tool to relay the job requirements and required experience to candidates. This lets the company down right at the beginning of the process, by putting off good people and potentially attracting unsuitable ones.
A good job description should have an overview, including the purpose of the role, reporting lines and location; key responsibilities and accountabilities; a reference to the roles’ internal and external contact points; and a person specification outlining what is expected of an applicant in terms of education, experience, skills and behaviours.
Furthermore, this is an opportunity to showcase the company’s brand, culture and values. First impressions count, even on paper, and a sloppy job description will do nothing to help prospective applicants buy in to the company’s ethos. A well written job description which clearly describes the key focus and challenges of the role is an immediate differentiator.
Here are my five tips to writing a fail-safe job description:
1. Get a broad range of input
It is important for HR teams to use their skills to guide a recruitment process, but there is a need for clear input from senior managers who will work directly with the new hire.
As a rule, if you will be interviewing the candidates, you should have input to the job description. Otherwise you will be wasting a lot of your own and other people’s time when you turn up at third interview and discount all the candidates for something no-one knew you required.
If the role includes working closely with a key external organisation (such as a major client), it is wise to ask that client what kind of skills and competencies they think are important to the job.
2. Stay up to date
Writing a good job description takes time, getting it right saves a lot of time. Candidates can tell when it’s been cobbled together by taking a job description for another role and then vaguely asking someone in the HR team to add a couple of things in. Or a line manager has taken a three-year-old job specification and hasn’t bothered to update it.
Either way you’re left with an inaccurate reflection of the role, and if you don’t set out with the right goal, what chance do you have of achieving it?
Make sure you have a clear, up-to-date and bespoke job description written before you go to market.
3. Avoid discrimination
The Equalities Act 2010 makes it illegal to treat people differently at work because of factors including gender, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy and religion.
Although most of these forms of discrimination are – thankfully – very rare in job descriptions, you must be careful with the terms you use to describe the attributes you want from candidates. Saying you want a set number of years of experience, or using adjectives such as ‘established’ or ‘mature’, can leave you open to claims of age discrimination.
Aside from the legal requirement for keeping an open mind when recruiting, there are sound business reasons for assessing a broad range of people and not ruling out potential stars because of a biased mindset.
4. Avoid jargon
I’ve been handed job descriptions that say an employee will be expected to “provide expert advice to the MPR board on the TCO and changes to the TOM”.
It is important to stress that you are in a competitive market for people’s attention – many of whom are not even actively looking to change job. You must use the job description to sell the opportunity to work for your company – don’t turn people off using dull corporate language that means very little to them.
Also, to attract the widest possible range of candidates, you want the job description to be understood by people from other companies, other sectors, and maybe even other countries. Keep it simple.
5. Don’t over specify
This is a classic recruitment error. Someone asks a line manager what their ideal candidate looks like, gets a wish list of 18 points that resembles a battery-powered motivational speaker and turns away all mere mortals reading it.
Make sure you are ruthless here. Split the person specification into essential and desirable requirements, and think about what you really can’t live without.
Try to keep the number of bullet points to a minimum, avoid duplication and obvious points (i.e. able to use Microsoft Office). The person specification for the Governor of the Bank of England that came out this week only had seven required points of experience. If the most powerful unelected position in the country can condense the role requirements to seven, most other roles ought to be able to do the same.
One way we often help companies think about this is by looking at people who have excelled in the role in the past. If someone was recently promoted from the job having excelled, and didn’t have a degree, then perhaps you don’t need to list university education as an essential criteria.
**This blog post is the first of seven based on Newsom Consulting’s eBook The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Senior Managers in Transport and Infrastructure***
To get your free copy of the e-book of “The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Senior Managers in Transport & Infrastructure” please click HERE