When’s the last time you read an excellent job description?
The kind where after reading it, you thought: I know exactly how this person spends their day, what they’re responsible for and what skills will help them succeed.
I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever read a job description that made me want to jump with joy over the sheer clarity and thoughtfulness of it. More often than not, they’re generic catch-alls that describe the minimum requirements for a specific job function or level, e.g. Client Success Director. They fail to address what you and I really want to know, which is:
- What are the immediate goals for this hire? What problem are you hiring them to solve?
- What do they need to accomplish in the first 6 months?
- What does success look like and how will it be measured?
The most serious consequence of a generic job description is that no one — not the hiring manager or the interview team — has carefully thought through the most critical skills or how to screen for them. Without quantitative ways to evaluate candidates, “gut feel” is the most typical default.
Here’s our best advice on how to write a meaningful job description, that will save you from interviewing and hiring the wrong people.
1. Sell the job first. I always find it baffling when offer letters start out with the requisite employment-at-will language or read like a legal contract. There’s no fanfare, no welcome, no “This is going to be a great partnership and we’re so excited to have you!” Same thing with job descriptions. Don’t lead with the wonky stuff, e.g. a job title that makes sense to no one outside your organization, like Level 2 Programmer. Tell your prospective hires how they can contribute and what it will mean to the company. For example: “You will lead our longest-standing and largest client, a global retailer that spends over $10 billion in advertising per year.”
2. Describe immediate and most important contributions. I’m being careful not to say job functions. Job functions are template stuff that can be lifted from any similar job description. And though cut and paste is easy, it does you a disservice. If you’re relying on this hire to look for ways to grow a client account, or build infrastructure where there is none, or inject morale and presentation skills into an uninspired team, spell it out. Maybe this isn’t the job description that gets posted on LinkedIn, but it is the briefing document that goes to recruiters and to the interview team.
To get yourself in the right frame of mind, push all the similar job descriptions out of the way and write down the 3 critical things this new hire must accomplish.
When I asked this question on one of our recent intake calls, the hiring manager, bless her, said this:
My goals for this hire, in priority order are:
- Define our SEM strategy
- Develop a cadence for our brand awareness efforts
- Translate this to targeted campaigns for each of our verticals
- Develop an email nurture strategy
In the job description, however, SEM wasn’t mentioned and proficiency with CRM platforms was the dominant skill required. Her immediate need was for a paid media specialist and the job description described an email marketer. See how that could go sideways?
3. Define how they’ll allocate their time. Walk them thru a typical day. The very best job descriptions weave together skills and duties in a narrative fashion. For example: You see the story in data before anyone else does, and are adept at representing it to clients. Or, You have a consultative and solutions-oriented approach, allowing you to partner with clients and recognize opportunities to extend the relationship. Doesn’t that sound way more intriguing than Achieve organic growth on assigned accounts? Bleck.
4. Don’t forget about career path. People don’t change jobs to do a similar thing under a different roof. They are moved by opportunities not afforded to them by their current employer. Something as simple as defining who they’ll report to and who they’ll manage will help them make inferences about growth, autonomy and leadership. Besides, it’s nice to demonstrate that you have a long-term plan and vision for their role in the company, not just what’s on fire now.
We’re happy to help if you’re struggling with a job description. Email us with your woes.