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Why You Must Eliminate Job Descriptions

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As far as I’m concerned, the use of traditional qualifications-based job descriptions is the primary reason companies are not finding enough top people. In this article, I’m going to prove that they are unnecessary, counter-productive, reduce the size of the applicant pool, encourage sloppy management, and are the cause of most hiring mistakes.

A Dozen Reasons to Ban Traditional Job Descriptions for Hiring Purposes

  1. You don’t need job descriptions to source top candidates. Posting detailed job descriptions was not common pre-Internet. Somehow the job boards trained us that this was the best way to attract talent. In the olden days, companies posted smaller ads highlighting their requirements. In many cases, companies posted mass hiring notices for multiple jobs with generic titles. In the career journal sections of most major newspapers, the jobs that were posted were written with interesting titles and flowery career-oriented copy. Ah, the good old days.
  2. Top people don’t need all of the information on a job description to consider exploring an opportunity with a company. As more good candidates go online to look, the objective of a job description should not be to pre-qualify the person, but rather to generate interest in the position and company. You don’t need a job description to do this. Instead, a splash page summarizing a group of jobs with some facts about the company is all that’s needed. These splash pages should describe the company culture, the growth prospects, the importance of talent in the company, something about career opportunities, and a few reasons why these open jobs are important to the company’s future. Once you interest a candidate in a class of jobs and the company, then you can begin a nurturing process or drive these people to specific jobs.
  3. Job descriptions give managers the right to stop thinking. At best, qualification-based job descriptions are shortcuts to bad decisions. They don’t describe the work that needs to get done; they describe the skills a person supposedly needs to have for doing the work. By not describing the real work that needs to get done, lots of time is spent looking for the wrong person. Understanding real job needs is the primary task of managers. As far as I’m concerned, if managers are unwilling to spend time to clarify expectations before they hire someone, they shouldn’t be managers.
  4. Job descriptions require unnecessary reporting and added technology. The OFCCP regulations clearly state that you don’t need to report on people applying for generic positions. Using job descriptions requires more technology and more reporting to track individual candidates applying for individual jobs. This is unnecessary. The emphasis in the early stages of sourcing should be on attracting someone’s attention, not reporting. Consider that the OFCCP developed the requirement for reporting on Internet applicants only when companies started posting specific job descriptions. This was a problem that didn’t exist pre-Internet.
  5. Job descriptions take too much time to find. A splash page for all marketing (or sales, accounting, etc.) jobs can be found in seconds. If the page is compelling and interesting enough, good people will then want to engage with the company and spend time looking at specific opportunities. On the splash page, suggest that interested candidates email their resumes. Once these are parsed into your system, the company can then determine whether the person is appropriate for specific open positions. Then email the person back. You only need to report on those who express an interest. Finding a specific job not only takes too much time, but it also prevents a company from engaging with the candidate if an appropriate job isn’t available or if the right job can’t be found. This is a huge waste of an opportunity.
  6. Job descriptions exclude high-potential candidates. Most job descriptions list average skills and experience requirements. The best people tend to have less experience or different experience, but they more than make up for this with potential and talent. Since online job descriptions are boring and exclusionary, few of the best performers will apply. Even if they do apply, the person doing the screening will consider the person too light. For this reason alone, job descriptions listing absolute levels of skills and experiences should be banned.
  7. Job descriptions cause fully qualified candidates to exclude themselves from consideration. Even if a fully qualified person sees the job description, the person won’t apply because it’s uninteresting. Good people apply for a job because of the work they will be doing, not the skills they possess. The only fully qualified people who do apply for boring jobs are those who are desperate, or those who are already sold on the company. Since you don’t want to hire the desperate, you don’t need the job description. And since you do want the fully qualified who are already interested in the company, job descriptions are unnecessary.
  8. Job descriptions shrink the pool of high performers to zero. If you haven’t already lost the best people due to the above problems, you’ll lose anyone else remaining due to administrative problems. Some of these include “the hard-to-find the job” problem, the difficulty in applying, the problems with disrespectful knockout questions, and recruiters’ inabilities with the ATS’ built-in search engine tools to quickly bring the best people to the top of the sort list.
  9. Job descriptions don’t predict on-the-job performance. A person can possess all of the skills, experiences, industry background, and academic qualifications listed in the traditional way and still not be able to achieve the results desired. This could be for a variety of reasons, including the person is bored or the person took the job for the wrong reasons. Whatever the reasons, it’s far better to prepare a high-level overview of the job with a quick description of the challenges and big projects. These types of performance-based job descriptions will quickly broaden the pool of top people applying. During the interview you can use more detailed performance profiles to accurately assess fit using our one-question behavioral interview.
  10. Job descriptions are the primary cause of hiring mistakes. Interviewers on the hiring team don’t use the traditional job description to assess competency. Instead, each person uses his understanding of the real job to make a decision. As a result, their biases, perceptions, personality, and prejudices will dominate the selection process. It’s far better to get everyone to reach consensus on real job needs before starting the interviewing process. This way everyone is assessing the person using the same criteria.
  11. Job descriptions are not objective. If someone without the exact mix of skills and experiences listed on the job description can do the work, then the factors listed are misleading. This excludes a lot of good people from consideration. Because something is measurable (e.g., five years of experience) doesn’t mean it’s a valid predictor or an objective measure of on-the-job performance. In fact, companies promote or move people internally who don’t have the listed skills or experiences based on different criteria (generally their past performance and future potential), but somehow we don’t use this same criteria to attract and hire people from the outside. I find this odd.
  12. Job descriptions are useless from an onboarding and performance management standpoint. A good onboarding program typically begins with a review of the real requirements of the job, including the expected results. Clarifying expectations this way has been shown to increase on-the-job performance, reduce turnover, and improve personal satisfaction. Once on the job, employees are evaluated based on what they’ve accomplished in comparison to what they should have accomplished. These types of performance-based job descriptions are far more useful than qualifications-based job descriptions for onboarding, but somehow this basic management principle is ignored when hiring the person.

These reasons alone should convince you to reconsider using traditional qualifications-based job descriptions as the de facto standard for hiring purposes. From a sourcing standpoint, they are unnecessary and counterproductive. A splash page highlighting a group of jobs is all that’s necessary to entice candidates to explore opportunities with your company. This allows you to build a bigger pool of top-flight candidates without extra reporting and bureaucracy. Once you have a particular job in mind, it’s better if you emphasize the results, opportunities, and challenges involved in the job, rather than composing a laundry list of specific skills and desirable characteristics. I refer to this type of “new age” performance-based job description as a performance profile, but don’t post this publicly, either. Just use the performance criteria to screen and select people from your pool of interested candidates. This will result in a much smaller pool of stronger people. These are the only applicants you need to track. This alone will free your recruiters to do more creative sourcing and find more top candidates. When you view traditional qualifications-based job descriptions as the problem, rather than the solution, completely new approaches to sourcing and recruiting are possible.

This article originally was published in the Electronic Recruiters Exchange ( Check out ERE for more great recruiting information.