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Falling Down on Our Job

by
Kristen Fife
May 22, 2009, 5:12 am ET

I was talking to a friend of mine who is a senior manager/director-level IT professional who was recently laid off. He was moaning about poorly written job descriptions, and what he was telling me bothered me. A lot.

There was the “CIO” position calling for a high school diploma and two to three years of experience. He actually emailed the company and found out it was a startup with fewer than six employees. They were really looking for a network admin and thought a flashy title would attract someone entrepreneurial. OK, this is obviously an amateurish company that has no clue how to write a job description to save their lives.

But what about the global telecom company that was looking for a software manager who had a requirement of “5-7 years experience using .NET 2.0 or above.” In Seattle, I can tell you exactly when .NET became “the platform.” In 2004. My friend spoke to the recruiter, and she told him that he didn’t have enough .NET 3.0 experience; the hiring manager wanted someone with at least five years of experience with .NET 3.0. But 3.0 has only been around for three years or so. We are only on version 3.5 now. My friend tried to explain that to the recruiter, but she obviously had no understanding of the technology she was recruiting for.

As a recruiter, I have friends and colleagues constantly asking me “why do companies do this?”

It ranges from the whole lack of follow-through when it comes to the candidate experience to hyping job descriptions way out of proportion (sheer hypocrisy, IMHO, when we complain about exaggerated resumes!) How many times can I say to my professional network that hiring managers generally write job descriptions, and unless a recruiter is really knowledgeable about the industry and the job, s/he has no idea why two “requirements” may be mutually exclusive, or that sometimes a company will use a generic description to build a pipeline, or that perhaps the organization has an internal candidate lined up but for legal reasons has to post the job externally? It’s getting really old, really fast.

And in my own search for a position in the last several months I am appalled at the lack of what I see as “professional courtesy.” If I have a phone screen or in-person interviews with a member of an organization for a recruiting position, and you don’t give me the courtesy of answering my email or phone call a week later to follow up on my candidacy, why on earth would I consider working for you? Obviously you don’t value the candidate experience.

Yes, we are swamped with resumes and our sourcing may be falling by the wayside. Yes, our hiring managers are being incredibly slow to respond to us and candidates are getting desperate. Yes, we may even be concerned about riding out this economy. But many of the pains the candidates are feeling are not new, they are not unique, and as a profession we are giving ourselves a bad reputation, worse than even it was before. My own rule of thumb is that if a candidate has spoken with anyone from my organization (phone screen, for example) they deserve a politely worded email or phone call to let them know they are no longer a candidate for the position.

If organizations are laying off their seasoned recruiters in an effort to save money, they are doing themselves a huge injustice when job descriptions and situations like the ones outlined above become more commonplace than not. Recruiters should be some of the most valuable gatekeepers any organization — be it corporate, non-profit, or agency environments — has in their arsenal. And part of that gatekeeping responsibility lies with the recruiter to push back on badly written job descriptions. It goes to the “account management” portion of our profession. We are the experts at what we do, and our hiring managers should respect that knowledge and work in partnership with us.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Kathy Lori

    I’ve seen this for YEARS. Yes, years. I’m a software developer, not an HR person. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out who writes these job descriptions for technical positions. Yes, I’ve seen the “we want 10 years .Net” when it’s only been around 5. The worst part is that even if you have 3 o4 4 years, they won’t even consider you. If you tell the HR dept that .Net is only 5 years old, they won’t hear what you’re saying. I was out of work for 4 months. How many resumes did I send out, never heard a word. How many phone interviews and face to face interviews, never heard back. I always sent thank you notes via snail mail. I would wait a few days or a week before I would call a company and see if they had made a decision. Thankfully, there are some humans out there who do reply. The majority either don’t know that this is a civility or are overworked or plain don’t care.

  2. Jim Sullivan

    From a third party perspective, I often ask the very basic question when given job specifications – WHY? Why do you need 5 years? Why do you need a technical degree? Why doe the manager want x – y and z? Since we have a tendency to be more functional specific I also try to assist in giving a good HR person reasons to ask about specific requirements in a job posting. The issue I see is a mistake we all make – The Hiring Manager (who wrote the job description) knows what he/she wants – so why question them?

    If we don’t ask any questions then we can’t look like we don’t know what we are looking for to fill their job. And we sure don’t want to look or feel inept. You have to remember that YOU are the HR professional and NOT the IT (or engineering, or accounting, etc) professional. Most of the managers that I speak with almost always thank me for my questions because now I have a better view of their position (my job posts may still leave a lot to be desired) but at least I have a good handle on the person the hiring managers wants to interview.

    Not sure about you but I don’t believe many people actually READ the posted requirements. My inbox proves that.

    Often, what a manager SAYS and want the job post READS are not the same because it may be “lost in transition”. For example: MGR SAYS – I need 5 years of experience AND someone that knows .NET 3.0. AD READS: Need 5 years experience with .Net 3.0. Managers should read and approve job posts and this issue may go away (but don’t count on it!)

  3. Steven Walesch

    Kristen, you are so right on about job postings, it’s scary! While companies spend significant dollars on employment branding, they’re content to recycle internal job descriptions, containing jargon that’s mostly meaningless to external audiences, and post them to their own career sites and various commercial sites. The impact on their brands is very negative, which impedes their ability to entice top candidates. Truly exceptional candidates won’t bother with job postings that read like legal briefs and are about as exciting as watching paint dry. As one of the most visible components of most companies’ recruiting efforts, job postings receive the very least attention. Writing an appealing, compelling job posting takes about 10 minutes and can totally differentiate an employment brand. Time well spent!

  4. Will Branning

    I make an effort to respond to each and every candidate who emails me their resume. And I notify each and every candidate of feedback I receive from clients on their resumes I’ve submitted and from phone screens and interviews. The old adage, “treat others as you’d like to be treated” is what I always try to do. It does take extra time and effort, but I know how it feels to not get feedback & the bad impression it makes on me…

    Thanks for writing about an important topic!

  5. Don Patrick

    Kathy, Jim and Steven all nailed it. This is not about some recent unfortunate overload of work that happened because our economy has tanked and layoffs are at the pandemic stage. In a general sense (those of you who this does not apply to, my apologies ahead of time)job description quality and most corporate HR response systems have either been broke or non-existent for many, many years. Call it a lack of process quality control, a lack of customer service, or just plain inattentiveness, the result is the same, and it reflects very poorly on any of us that work in the human resources environment. Thanks for once again pointing it out, Kristin.

  6. Robin Gillman, SPHR

    Yes, I agree with Kristin that there are many poorly written job descriptions out there. Usually, what makes these poor descriptions obvious are two metrics: time-to-fill and turnover ratio.

    What happens with a poorly defined job description, is that the recruiter and/or hiring manager is A) looking for experience/skill that can’t possibly exist (i.e. positions that call for more experience with a specific software longer than the language or software has been out) B)looking for the wrong skills for the position C) looking for a clone of the former employee D) looking for the wrong level (overqualified/underqualified) E) not defining the position as being integrated or part of the whole function, department, company because they do not see the big picture.

    Regretfully, we do not live in a perfect world and not all recruiting scenarios are perfect. This means that individuals apply for a job that looks like a perfect match for their skill set, background, and abilities. However, on the back end the job in actuality is not a match because the job description is inaccurate. What this means is that the recruiter receives resumes and applications matched to the job description and not the actual job. Ultimately, time is wasted on both sides leaving many unhappy campers and a recruiter who has to send or call many candidates who were matches that weren’t…

    Again in a perfect world, everyone would receive a polite note or a call informing them of their status. However, in the real world, there are communication breakdowns. What usually happens is A)the recruiter gets distracted; B) the recruiter works on commission and time is money; C) the recruiter is contract and doesn’t get to tie up loose ends or D)the recruiter doesn’t have the heart to tell the candidate s/he didn’t get the job.

    Taking a more positive tone, once in awhile, the company has a perfectly automated system and the recruiter can just press a button and send out emails enmasse. And once in awhile, recruiters encourage candidates to follow up because of the above reasons for communication breakdowns.

  7. Kristen Fife

    While I agree much of this is not new, there has been a *marked* increase in this sort of bad job description authoring the last few months. I’ve seen it first hand as well as hearing about it. And, with as many Senior recruiters being let go and their shoes being “filled” with junior professionals who really don’t know any better, it’s truly giving recruiting a bad name in this economy.

  8. Robin Gillman, SPHR

    Yes, I definitely agree with Kristin’s last comment regarding the replacement of senior recruiters with more junior or lower cost recruiters ($12/hr). This reinforces what Jim mentioned regarding asking questions. A more experienced HR professional is usually not afraid to ask the hiring manager questions, no matter how gruff the hiring manager may appear to be.

  9. How to locate referral candidates. | My Job Referrals

    [...] Don’t go overboard. The job description should outline the requirements but it should not list every single responsibility and task the job will perform. Postings with lines and lines of requirements read as ‘avoid me at all cost’ jobs.  Also validate that it’s realistic, don’t require 5-7 years of experience for a platform or field that has only been existence for… [...]

  10. Kristen Fife

    I totally agree with your assessment of going overboard on job requirements. But *too* generic a JD only invites an avalanche of truly unqualified candidates. I ask my hiring managers to give me an external link to the technology (article, wiki, blog, etc) that talks about the project that is being used that I can send to qualified candidates.

  11. Joshua Letourneau

    Recessions often result in an increased supply of candidates within the overall market (due to layoffs, consolidations, etc.) This increased supply is indirectly correlated to candidate treatment, as well as the overall hiring cycle (in number of days), etc.
    Put simply, recessions lead to increased candidate supply, which then leads to lowering levels of feedback, protracted hiring cycles, etc. The result? As soon as the economy turns the corner, those candidates who were treated like a piece of meet in the hiring and onboarding process look to move on to places where they’re actually appreciated.
    I often laugh that recessions lead to the old dating philosophy, “Don’t chase ‘em – Replace ‘em.” When there are volumes of resumes pouring in, it’s as if Recruiters can rest on their laurels with the attitude, “You’re not special, Mr. Candidate – I have 100 resumes of people just like you on my desk if you’re not interested . . . or if you feel as if you’re somehow entitled to some feedback from last month’s initial interview.”

  12. Amy Agneta

    While I see a lot of poorly written job decriptions out there, I find many people are too lazy to read the complete job decription and often submit their resume for positions they are clearly not qualified for. I try to send a quick email to those who apply for positions they aren’t qualified for, but it’s frustrating that they don’t take the time to read it thoroughly.

  13. Writing job postings to get referral candidates to apply. « Pay for Results, Not Job Postings - My Job Referrals

    [...] Don’t go overboard. The job description should outline the requirements but it should not list every single responsibility and task the job will perform. Postings with lines and lines of requirements read as ‘avoid me at all cost’ jobs.  Also validate that it’s realistic, don’t require 5-7 years of experience for a platform or field that has only been existence for 3. [...]

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