I read a provocative article the other day, Why We Should Banish Job Descriptions and Resumes, on ere.net. This sounds like a crazy idea (particularly to someone in the staffing industry!) but the author, Lou Adler, makes some interesting points. He believes that the traditional description, what he refers to as a “skills-infested job description,” “prevents companies from hiring the best talent available. By default they wind up hiring the best person who applies.”
Adler goes on to advocate not only “scuttling…traditional job descriptions and pre-assessment tests but also traditional skills-intensive resumes…since they too filter out some really good people who might be more competent, but possess a slightly different mix of skills.” Instead, he suggests using performance-based job descriptions, and also asks: “Since we promote people based on their performance, why don’t we hire them the same way?” I’m not ready to abandon the traditional documents yet, and in some ways neither is Adler, but I’m all in favor of the idea of focusing on performance and results as opposed to trying to simply match skills on a resume to skills in a job description.
He gives a great example of thinking and hiring in this way and I encourage you to read the full article for all the details. One of his main points is that it may be more beneficial to hire someone who has previously achieved the results you need, even if they don’t have the exact years of industry experience, advanced degree, or other common specific but often limiting requirements included. In his case, the hiring firm wanted an MBA, 10-15 years of direct industry experience, and deep knowledge of electronics among other things, none of which the eventual hire had, though he was a huge success at the job. What the candidate did have was experience in a similar manufacturing environment, managing a large team, and responsibility for P&L, including turning around an underperforming company. I’ve made this point before in advocating for employers to look at a candidate holistically. Recognize that if they have achieved success in a related industry or discipline, it may be a better harbinger of their ability to succeed in your organization than matching some of the bullets on a list of requirements.
Adler also makes a valid point when he says that bad job descriptions deter good candidates from applying. My firm specializes in placing IT, engineering and other highly-skilled technical professionals, so I understand the need for specific skills and experience but I also see clients cling to long lists of “must haves” that both deter people from applying and cause the clients to instantly eliminate others with great potential on the basis of their resume alone; and they are rarely actual “must haves.” In the end, clients often end up hiring without someone matching all the skills. Creating a performance based job description means that you are thinking about what you really need that person to do, not necessarily be.
Does your job description require an advanced degree simply because the last person in the position had one? Have you added requirements that the previous job holder didn’t have? Why? Will a certain number of years of experience really matter or is it more of a round number? Some people do more in two years than others in ten. If it’s critical to success then by all means include it, but include things sparingly and thoughtfully, not just “because.” Make sure your entire hiring process – from the job description to the offer – allows the best candidates to be considered, not just the best ones that make it through filters and obstacles you may not even be aware you are throwing up.
No one sets out to write a bad job description but it is easy to have good intentions and end up with something that makes it harder to attract the right candidate. Many companies are still operating under the expectation that high unemployment and lingering economic conditions mean there is a large supply of talent and they can be very selective but it’s not really the case in most instances, if it ever was, and certainly not in the technology industry. As the competition for talent continues to heat up, attracting the best candidates will increasingly mean attracting passive candidates, much harder to woo than those actively applying. This ups the importance of ensuring that your job description doesn’t needlessly turn people off.
I think the key take away is that job descriptions and resumes can only accomplish so much and being aware of the pitfalls and inherent limitations in both documents, and working to counter them, will get you better results. It is tempting, in fact necessary because of the time pressures on all of us, to want to weed out candidates and work with manageable numbers, but it’s also good to be reminded that in doing so we may be overlooking some gems. It’s a balancing act to be both selective and inclusive but the more you can do so, the better your choices will be!
President and CEO
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