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Making This One Change to How I Wrote Job Descriptions Made Me a Better Recruiter

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Before I became a recruiter, I worked in several different industries. I was a guidance and control system engineer, financial analysist, manager of capital budgeting, director of business planning, director of logistics, VP Operations and business unit general manager. So, when I started as a recruiter and began recruiting for these roles, I had no need for job descriptions since I knew what the jobs I was filling were pretty much all about.

To address any differences, I just asked the hiring manager to describe the problems and challenges in the job and I would find someone who was competent and motivated to do this work. To prove these candidates were competent, I conducted a “pre-hire performance review” digging deep into the person’s most comparable past accomplishments.

This morphed into the Performance-based Interview approach I advocate today which, according to Harvard’s Todd Rose, the author of The End of Average, this is the most accurate interviewing method he’s seen for assessing ability, motivation and fit. I also made sure the method was legally validated as part of my book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, by asking one of the top U.S. labor attorneys to thoroughly review it.

But, despite the effectiveness of the job definition and interviewing approach, after a few years of successful recruiting my placements per month fell off the cliff. During this down period, it took me 6-7 candidates to make one hire, when before it was only 2-3.

The problem was I was missing the X-factor — I was no longer handling search projects for which I fully understood the job.

As a result, I reverted to box-checking skills and boilerplate to describe the career opportunity. Since I was acting as a classic used car salesman, the best candidates opted-out and the least best were those who needed the job and the hiring manager was desperate to hire a decent person.

How I began successfully recruiting for roles I didn’t fully understand

It took me about a year to figure out a solution to my lack of job knowledge. I just tossed the skills-based job description aside and used the intake meeting to create a performance-based job description that defined the work a person needed to do rather than the skills needed to do the work. Not only did this approach work, it also allowed me to successfully handle any type of search assignment whether it was for hundreds of people working in a quick service restaurant or for a critical “C-level” executive.

This example from a recent search for a CFO demonstrates this approach. The initial job description required the candidate to have an MBA and CPA, 10+ years of consumer products distribution industry experience with companies of $500 million or more. When I asked the hiring manager what the person needed to do to be successful, the biggest performance objective was to, “Massively upgrade the internal financial reporting package and implement an accurate forward-looking forecasting system.”

Using LinkedIn Recruiter, it took me and my sourcer only six hours to find 20 CFO prospects within 20 miles of the company headquarters who had done comparable work. None matched the exact skillset listed on the original job description, but the CEO agreed before we contacted any of the candidates that these were all viable people. We then sent customized emails and InMails to each one and got an instant response rate of 35% on the first mailing. It went to 75% with a little persistence.

When I talked to the candidates – all passive, but open to talking – I asked them to describe their biggest financial management project. After making sure the compensation range was in the ballpark, we set up exploratory calls with the CEO for those who passed this critical performance threshold. All were interested in taking the next step since the potential of a better career opportunity became evident during the conversation.

As the CEO started meeting these candidates his first reaction was, “I didn’t know these types of people even existed.” As I’ve discovered and rediscovered long ago, these great people have always existed as long as you stop using skills, experiences and competencies to define your requirements.

Recognize that these types of job descriptions are not job descriptions at all; they’re people descriptions and by using them you include the best people including all diversity candidates who bring a different mix of skills and experiences to the table. This is the X-factor that hiring managers need to articulate and recruiters need to fully understand before they ever start another search again.

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