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Your Job Descriptions Must Describe the Job

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Guy sitting at a desk holding a pen and balancing a notebook in his lap, explaining something.

 

Potential applicants certainly need to know what skills, traits, and qualifications your company desires for a given position. Many hiring managers feel that these are the most important guidelines they can publish in a job description. In fact, many even feel that they are the most important criteria for choosing a candidate.

Hiring expert Lou Adler disagrees. He is continually dismayed by the job postings and candidate profiles he encounters, including those of top companies. According to Adler, too many companies focus solely on describing the candidate they’re looking for instead of describing the actual job. As a result, they lose out on excellent candidates and instead hire people who have particular qualifications or experiences, but who are not inclined to perform well at the job in question.

While it is important (Improve Your Job Descriptions) to list skills and educational requirements in a job description, it is equally, if not more, important to understand the position you are hiring for. The duties, responsibilities, and goals of the position should be communicated to potential applicants. A list of skills can only be developed by understanding the job in question. Describe the job responsibilities first, then consider what skills are required to perform those successfully.

A candidate’s exact skills and experiences may not be a perfect match for a job description, but any knowledgeable manager should learn to recognize transferable abilities and signs of good performance. Adler tells of finding highly successful candidates who have the skills needed to do the job, but not always in the exact combination companies are looking for. He recommends that companies not get caught up in hiring candidates who have the exact same qualifications as their past employees.

Actual ability must be considered over specific qualifications like degrees or past job titles.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that skills and qualifications aren’t important, but they can’t be the sole focus of your candidate selection. Instead, focus on the evidence provided by the candidate’s past experiences and performance.

Adler states that in many companies, “80-90% of the people who get promoted internally into these same spots don’t have the experience, skills and academics listed as required for someone hired from the outside.” Yet those companies are perfectly happy with those internal hires. This is because their employers already know that they are trustworthy, have the capacity to grow, and have suitable, if not perfect, experience levels. It can be difficult to take this risk with outsiders, but it can pay off when done intelligently.

Adler states, “The worked [sic] required to be done determines the skills needed, the skills needed don’t define the work required.” By including “key performance objectives” in the job description and evaluating candidates accordingly, companies can improve their hiring success rate, encourage diversity, and snag top talent that may have otherwise slipped by.

Adler’s job description recommendations are part of the multiple-measure approach to hiring. He and other experts have found whole-picture consideration to be the most successful means of talent acquisition. Use multiple means of evaluating candidates rather than simply scanning resumes for certain qualifications or multiple pre-employment assessment tests. By focusing on the job responsibilities, you will be using an evidence-based approach that can help build your company on solid ground.

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