I Hate Job Descriptions


I don't remember when it started. I've been in the executive search industry for nearly 20 years. At some point, reading a standard corporate job description gave me a visceral gag-reflex like a bad day at the Chinese buffet.

Every couple of days, I look up from my desk and announce, "I hate job descriptions!" My staff will look up at me bewildered, as if to say, "what do you want us to do about it?" Consider this my final gripe session. Job descriptions, how do I hate thee...

They Are Misleading

A typical job description lists 10 duties. Usually, 2 of the 10 duties will take up 80% of your time. Those two duties are really all you need to know. Everything else is just filler. What about the qualifications section? Most candidates head straight to this section to see if they are "qualified"? The assumption is that the qualifications listed are 100% accurate, but what happens if they aren't accurate? As a battle-tested recruiter, I can say that job description qualifications are turning elite candidates away from your open jobs everyday.

They Are Boring

Why do we need these things anyway? Most people would agree that the goal of job descriptions is to ensure that candidates with the right qualifications apply to right job openings. Newsflash: if you bore the pants off them, they won't apply. Does your job description sell? You might have a boring job description if...

  • It is filled with legal (Cover Your Ass) lingo like, "Must be able to lift 50 pounds."

  • It is a diatribe of job duty minutiae.

  • It is filled with words that don't mean anything like misc and etc.

Is there ANYTHING about the description that would make them want to work for you? Does your job description talk about the exciting things happening with your company? How about opportunities for growth and development? Does it appeal to people who want to make an impact on an organization?

What Instead?

Put yourself in the candidate's shoes. Think about what resonates with your employees. If you don't know, ask your staff questions like, "Why do you like working here?" Write those selling points down and work them into them description.

Start your description with a question. Are you a Senior Tax Manager looking for a path to partnership with a family-oriented firm? You get the idea. Since only a small minority of companies (usually third party recruiters like myself) actually use this practice of selling job descriptions, you will stand out.

Do I need one at all?

Great question! I'm glad you asked. It depends. I would argue that a job description makes the most sense where there is an abundance of talent. However, if there is a talent scarcity, a job description can actually discourage excellent candidates from applying. This means that, in most companies, there are jobs where you should use a job description and jobs where you shouldn't!

If you know from experience that listing a job description on your website won't produce the desired results for your Senior Director of Technical Accounting and SEC Reporting, then don't do it. Pick up the phone and call the one recruiter who you know to be specialized and dialed-in to this niche and let him go to work.

Let's just agree on one thing. Job descriptions that turn away good candidates are evil and should be burned at the stake. There, I said my peace. Thanks for letting me vent. I feel better now.

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Jeremy Bennett has been interviewed by Crain's and the Houston Chronicle. He is the CEO of J Bennett Recruiting, a boutique Retained Executive Search Firm that specializes in Healthcare. He is a father of two and connoisseur of West Coast IPA’s.

#jobdescription #Recruiting #HumanResources

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