Why We Should Lose The Traditional Job Description

The job description no longer serves a purpose in job searching. We need to change them so they tell a story, not dictate responsibilities.

For as long as any of us can remember, companies have been using the same old job descriptions. They list all the required skills that are necessary to complete a particular job at a company. However, a job description can be, and is, a critical tool in the hiring process. It is the tool that is created by HR in combination with the hiring manager (hopefully) in which the recruiter seeks out the best suited individuals. It is then that this tool is used as the criteria to delineate between multiple applicants to determine the “best fit”, but let me ask you, does the traditional job description honestly determine the “best fit” or does it simply determine the best set of skills?

Below are some of the positive aspects from using a traditional job description:

  • A description of responsibilities that is agreed upon between the employer and applicant.
  • Serves as a benchmark for compensation structuring across the industry.
  • Sets up an expectation of outcomes based on the agreed upon skill sets of the applicant.
  • Serves as an organizational and team development tool for the hiring manager.

First of all, I do not want to diminish the positive aspects of the job descriptions, with that said though, I do want to highlight its weaknesses.

Now, I would like to highlight the traditional job description’s weaknesses:

  • Highlighting a certain number of years of experience needed limits the potential pool of candidates. It eliminates the people who have high potential to move far within the organization, light experience and career changers.
  • Many bullet points listed on a job description usually cannot be quantified as a performance objective or a measure of success.
  • If the job description is not written by both HR and the hiring manager than it is a worthless document that will hurt both parties in the long run. With simply HR writing it, key aspects of the position will be left out and with just the hiring manager writing it, it will be incoherent to the reader and massively long because hiring managers are not trained to write job descriptions.
  • Does not describe the long term goals and objectives of the position.

As we can see, there are pros and cons. However, this article will strictly be about the evolution of the job description and making the case for the slow transformation into something better!

Below, I would like to share with you my thoughts on the job description and what comes to mind first when thinking about evolving it.

  • We should hire the person first, and then together write a job description that we both agree on. It’s the recruiters’ job to find the right person to present to the hiring manager. They can source this person by having strategic conversations with the hiring manager.
  • Job descriptions are often written by a multitude of people in a feeble attempt of collusion therefore resulting in the final product looking like patched up jeans or the opposite. This is because everyone wants their piece displayed and yet no one edits the job description accordingly into one cohesive document.
  • Too often we relate the job description to our annual evaluation. The annual evaluation should be a living document that grows with you as you gain new experiences. A job description becomes outdated after you are hired and is not updated once since.
  • Why don’t job descriptions describe culture fit? The way they are written seems like robot responsibilities instead of focusing on long term projects and cultural fit of the applicant.
  • Surveys after survey have shown that majority of people do not succeed in their first 18 months, not because of technical competence, but because of coachability and emotional intelligence (EI). (Please see Mark Murphy’s book, Hiring for Attitude). This means the job description is filtering people for technical competence, but not for coachability and EI.

Now, I understand the job description is only one tool in the toolbox, but why does that mean we should accept this mediocre tool? The hammer was just a hammer up until a few years ago when they invented anti-vibration hammers with magnets built into them along with ergonomic designed grips. It’s time to upgrade our tool… it’s time to at least have the conversation about upgrading the tool. It has come to the point where it is beyond damaging the company, its now hurting the applicants and their career paths.

You may ask, what is your solution then?

Well, I already shared a few of my thoughts above on what I think about on revamping job descriptions. Overall, I feel that we should start thinking in terms of projects, long term objectives and personality/culture fit.

First and foremost, HR must work in conjunction with the assigned recruiter and hiring manager. They must facilitate a conversation between both parties and design a meaningful document or guide that the recruiter can use to source applicants (active and passive). A traditional job description does one thing well and that is attracting active job seekers. Ultimately, it is the recruiter’s job to sell the job seeker on the position and company.

Once the recruiter has identified viable candidates, the hiring manager will interview them to determine their long-term viability. This should be done by determining their learning agility, coachability and emotional intelligence. Now, we get into a much larger conversation in regards to the hiring manager’s capability for interviewing. Of course, HR should be training hiring managers on the tactics of interviewing, but rarely does this happen; usually it just entails training on what NOT to ask. Personally, I am huge of fan of Justin Menkes’ structured interview tactics. Either way, whatever you decide to use, HR must facilitate the process in which there is a formalized process for interviewing and vetting.

Once you have successfully hired the correct individual, within their first week, HR should facilitate a conversation between them and the hiring manager and together, write a goals and objectives plan so they can be properly evaluated by the end of the year. This part is critical! The company needs to show the new employee that they are valued and the employee needs to show the company what they will be working towards.

These are all just ideas, nothing more nothing less. However, the conversation needs to start with HR. Not only are these traditional job descriptions holding HR back from enhancing the company culture from an HR perspective, but it’s also holding back potential and future employees of the company. It all reminds me of the age-old conversation between the CFO and CEO.

CFO asks CEO – What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?
CEO – What happens if we don’t, and they stay?

Investing in employees does not start when candidates becomes employees, however, it starts when a hiring manager decides to create an opening on their team.



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