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A Zillion More Reasons to Abolish Job Descriptions

by Nov 4, 2010, 2:17 pm ET

As most of you know, I think job descriptions are the primary reason why companies can’t find or hire top talent. For this reason alone they should be abolished. Here’s the first dozen of a zillion reasons why.

  1. Except for the list of responsibilities, they don’t define jobs at all; they define people taking the jobs. If these descriptions left out the required skills, years of experience, industry background, and academic requirements, they’d actually offer something useful as a place to start.
  2. They’re bogus. If there are more than a few people who can do the work required without having all of the skills, experience, industry, and academic background listed on the job description, it means the list is bogus. We all know managers develop these lists as rough guidelines to filter out the obviously unqualified. Rarely is it based on a scientific study including a detailed job analysis correlated with the skills and experiences of those already successfully performing the job. On this basis alone, the requirements listed are questionable.
  3. They’re illegal. If qualified minorities are excluded from consideration based on bogus criteria, wouldn’t that constitute some type of questionable selection process? Additional proof: we all know many people who get promoted into these roles or hired from the outside who don’t possess the requirements listed. (See point 4 below for more on this.)
  4. They aren’t used for internal promotions. The reasons people who get promoted into bigger jobs are primarily because of their leadership, potential, team skills, and a track record of delivering results. By definition, a promotion means these people don’t have the experience and skills listed on the job description. The purpose of these moves is to obtain these skills and experiences. So if they’re not used for internal promotional moves, why should they be used for outside hiring?
  5. They eliminate high-potential candidates from consideration. The best people — especially passive candidates — want career moves that stretch them. Few top people will respond to a job posting that emphasizes skills and experiences unless it’s with a well-known company, or if they are persuaded to check it out through a trusted person or recruiter who contact them. This extra hand-holding narrows the field of people who would even be interested in talking. Worse, most hiring processes screen out these people before they even get through the door.
  6. They don’t predict on-the-job performance. We’ve all met plenty of people with the requisite skills, academics, and experiences who aren’t top performers, and we’ve all met plenty of top performers with a different mix of skills, experiences, and academics. Think about all of those top performers who got promoted in point 4 above. If they don’t predict performance, why would anyone use them to screen candidates?
  7. They turn off passive candidates. The best people — even those who are looking — base their decision to evaluate a company, compare offers, and accept one over another based primarily on the three Cs: career, compensation, and culture. No one bases it on the requirements listed in the job description. So why even include them in the posting? Idea: just include the bare minimum of requirements while emphasizing the employee value proposition and a high-level summary of the big projects the person will be handling.
  8. They make diversity hiring more difficult. Many, if not most, diverse candidates bring a different mix of background experiences to the table. That’s one of the reasons why they’re invaluable hires. Under this situation, why would you want to apply a non-diverse, generic filter to screen out diverse candidates? Yet this is what happens when traditional job descriptions are used to find non-traditional hires.
  9. They’re designed to weed out the worst, not attract the best. Most people justify the reason for listing skills and experiences in their job postings by saying it’s to eliminate the clearly unqualified. Unfortunately, in the process, they also prevent the best from even applying. This idea might be okay if the supply of top-notch, high-potential qualified candidates is greater than demand. Since this is rarely the case, on this point alone, they should be abolished.
  10. You don’t need them for building a pool of candidates. There is no law that says you must list all of your job requirements to build a pipeline of candidates for future jobs. (If you think there is, please ask your lawyer to cite it for you and include the actual verbiage in your comments. Also, don’t cite the Uniform Guidelines, since it doesn’t describe how to create a pool of candidates.) Somehow people have gotten the idea that posting an individual job description is based on some legal requirement. Actually, the idea was created as a way to maximize revenue for job boards. Consider pre-Internet advertising: most companies posted large display ads advertising groups of jobs. This is now coming back in vogue as companies create candidate pipelines.
  11. They decrease employee satisfaction and increase turnover. If you don’t tell people what they’ll be doing before they start on a new job, the likelihood the person will find the actual work involved exciting, appropriate, and satisfying is problematic. Clarifying expectations up front has been shown to be the primary driver of on-the-job performance and employee satisfaction. In my mind this should represent the bulk of the job description, with some minimalist statement about the skills and experience requirements.
  12. They make no sense. Why not fit the job to the person, rather than fit the person to a job? I’ve worked on many search assignments where the initial job was modified to optimize the person’s abilities and passions. While this was done to increase the likelihood the person would accept the offer, the end result was that jobs that were sculpted this way resulted in improved on-the-job performance, reduced turnover, and increased employee satisfaction.

Of course, you need some level of skills and experiences to handle the actual job requirements, but in most cases managers use job descriptions as shortcuts to get the requisition approved. Unfortunately this shortcut has serious downstream repercussions, as described above. Without defining the real job as a series of performance requirements or tasks, we eliminate the best possible candidates from consideration, increase the difficulty of hiring more diverse candidates, and hire people who are unlikely to perform at peak levels even if they are fully qualified. It’s hard for me to believe anyone can defend the use of job description from a business, legal, or moral standpoint. But I’m sure many of you will try.

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.

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  • Darrel Grumman

    Great article! I believe you are spot on in the “abolishment” of main stream job descriptions. In positions that do require a specific skills set, the skills needed are assumed. (i.e. doctor, lawyer, etc. .) But in the general business world, job descriptions are simply a tool used to disqualify many likely candidates. If you are looking for a specific skill, name it, but do not create a lengthy document that lists generic traits and skills. For me it comes down to being honest. If you want something, don’t beat around the bush, ask for it!!

  • David Schupbach

    “just include the bare minimum of requirements while emphasizing the employee value proposition and a high-level summary of the big projects the person will be handling.”

    So you don’t want to do away with them you just want to edit them.

    Make up you mind.

    I am sorry but they are necessary when you are hiring teams of people I do agree with you that we should incliude more about the company, team and environment but to say they should be abolished is little absurd.

    If you are expecting to attract passive candidates with job descriptions then you need to fire your recruitng staff because they obviusly have no clue.

    You also talk about them being illegal but then you state “Why not fit the job to the person, rather than fit the person to a job?”. This seems a little more illegal to me than a job description. How can you back up that type of hire?

    Lou I like your articles but we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

  • http://www.alasdairdmurraycopywriter.co.uk Alasdair Murray

    I’m a little confused. Are you referring solely to the in-house document that is usually compiled by a line manager or HR person that defines the scope and responsibilities of the role, the day to day duties and the skills and experience required to do the job, or are you talking about people who cut and paste those descriptions into job ads? Or are you talking about a bit of both?

    A job description is not a sales tool. it is merely a checklist. The only time anyone outside an organisation, i.e. a candidate, should see one is if they have been shortlisted/are up for an interview.

    As the poster above says “if you are expecting to attract passive candidates with job descriptions then you need to fire your recruiting staff because they obviously have no clue.”

    You say “Few top people will respond to a job posting that emphasizes skills and experiences unless it’s with a well-known company” – where did you fish that shaky fact out from? In my experience people at all levels are flattered to be sought after because of their skills and experience. That and the promise of a fair degree of challenge and responsibility.

    Here’s the thing. Too many people, recruiters particularly, get confused over the difference between a job description and a job advertisement. The former is, as I say, just an internal checklist. The latter however, is, or should be, an alluring piece of copy that brings to life the detail of the job description and paints an honest and alluring picture of the role and the organisation in words.

    If only more people would stop banging on about how the JD should be abolished and start getting under the skin of an organisation and the role they are recruiting for and then really selling that role in words in the form of a job ad then there would be no need for any debate. What’s happening though, sadly, is that people are confusing/combining the two. That’s why you get so many awful, awful job ads on the web. ‘Ads’, for want of a better word that have no allure and thus no appeal to candidates, no matter what level of their career they are at.

    I do have an agenda, yes. I am a professional copywriter who has spent 20 years in recruitment advertising both as a client services professional and a creative. I can turn the most mundane job description into an all singing all dancing piece of copy that majors on the USPs of the company and the role and paints an honest and enticing picture. I’m not suggesting you use my services (I’m in the UK) but that maybe you and your people change your mindset and get less hung up about JDsd and more focussed on ekeing out the selling points of each and every role you are asked to fill for your clients.

  • Dave Pollock

    Lou – 100% accurate on all accounts. However, I think you’ve missed the most important reason for doing away with Job Descriptions. Ironically, it’s the reason written into almost all of the descriptions themselves… right at the end.

    It reads: “Other Duties As Assigned”

    Translation for High End Positions: “If you’re really good at something, we’ll have you doing that as soon as possible.”

    On the Low End: “If nobody else is available, you’ll do it.”

  • Dave Pollock

    Alasdair – “…an alluring piece of copy…” is otherwise known as a crock of _ _ _ _ to most intelligent readers. It’s also a lie and can be construed as false advertising to those nit-picking lawyers when they file suit on behalf the new hire.

    To an actual job seeker, it’s a red flag that screams: “This job is so bad, we can’t use common english words to describe it without turning you off completely.”

  • http://www.alasdairdmurraycopywriter.co.uk Alasdair Murray

    With respect Dave, alluring doesn’t mean false or misleading. I have written thousands of job advertisements down the years and not once has the copy resulted in a law suit or even a comment about trades descriptions.

    The thing about job copy is that it has to be is honest. Yes, some people get confused and think that in order to write a decent piece of copy you have to throw words like ‘dynamic’ and ‘go-ahead’ etc. in there or make the job out to be more attractive than the actuality. You don’t. Indeed you never should. It’s playing with fire. By being honest and identifying the USPs both of the role and the organisation however it is possible to attract the right kind of candidate. Cutting and pasting a job description or trying to be false about the merits of the job and the company however, don’t work.

    You can catch some of my views on http://www.recruitingblogs.com if you wish. One blog is entitled ‘A job description is not a sales tool and never will be’ and there are other job ad writing related blogs on there too.

  • Keith Halperin

    Hi Lou,

    Let me go through your arguments point by point:
    1. Expect for the list of responsibilities, they don’t define jobs at all; they define people taking the jobs. If these descriptions left out the required skills, years of experience, industry background, and academic requirements, they’d actually offer something useful as a place to start.
    KH: That’s easily remedied by including an actual thumbnail description of the job.

    2. They’re bogus. If there are more than a few people who can do the work the required without having all of the skills, experience, industry, and academic background listed on the job description, it means the list is bogus. We all know managers develop these lists as rough guidelines to filter out the obviously unqualified. Rarely is it based on a scientific study including a detailed job analysis correlated with the skills and experiences of those already successfully performing the job. On this basis alone, the requirements listed are questionable.
    KH: That’s an opinion, not a fact.

    3. They’re illegal. If qualified minorities are excluded from consideration based on bogus criteria, wouldn’t that constitute some type of questionable selection process? Additional proof: we all know many people who get promoted into these roles or hired from the outside who don’t possess the requirements listed. (See point 4 below for more on this.)
    KH: That’s an assumption based on an opinion.

    4. They aren’t used for internal promotions. The reasons people who get promoted into bigger jobs are primarily because of their leadership, potential, team skills, and a track record of delivering results. By definition, a promotion means these people don’t have the experience and skills listed on the job description. The purpose of these moves is to obtain these skills and experiences. So if they’re not used for internal promotional moves, why should they be used for outside hiring?
    KH: Irrelevant- why should they be used for internal promotions?

    5. They eliminate high-potential candidates from consideration. The best people — especially passive candidates — want career moves that stretch them. Few top people will respond to a job posting that emphasizes skills and experiences unless it’s with a well-known company, or if they are persuaded to check it out through a trusted person or recruiter who contact them. This extra hand-holding narrows the field of people who would even be interested in talking. Worse, most hiring processes screen out these people before they even get through the door.
    KH: Lots of opinions here, but no facts.

    6. They don’t predict on-the-job performance. We’ve all met plenty of people with the requisite skills, academics, and experiences who aren’t top performers, and we’ve all met plenty of top performers with a different mix of skills, experiences, and academics. Think about all of those top performers who got promoted in point 4 above. If they don’t predict performance, why would anyone use them to screen candidates?
    KH: Irrelevant- Why should they be used for predicting on-the-job performance? A rough analogy: why should some blueprints of a house predict how well you’d like living there? Also: does ANYTHING effectively and verifiably predict on-the-job performance?
    7. They turn off passive candidates. The best people — even those who are looking — base their decision to evaluate a company, compare offers, and accept one over another based primarily on the three Cs: career, compensation, and culture. No one bases it on the requirements listed in the job description. So why even include them in the posting? Idea: just include the bare minimum of requirements while emphasizing the employee value proposition and a high-level summary of the big projects the person will be handling.
    KH: Opinion based on anecdotal experience.

    8. They make diversity hiring more difficult. Many, if not most, diverse candidates bring a different mix of background experiences to the table. That’s one of the reasons why they’re invaluable hires. Under this situation, why would you want to apply a non-diverse, generic filter to screen out diverse candidates? Yet this is what happens when traditional job descriptions are used to find non-traditional hires.
    KH: Opinion based on a faulty or unproven assumption- that a non-diverse, generic filter screens out diverse candidates.

    9. They’re designed to weed out the worst, not attract the best. Most people justify the reason for listing skills and experiences in their job postings by saying it’s to eliminate the clearly unqualified. Unfortunately, in the process, they also prevent the best from even applying. This idea might be okay if the supply of top-notch, high-potential qualified candidates is greater than demand. Since this is rarely the case, on this point alone, they should be abolished.
    KH: Opinion based on either faulty assumption or anecdotal experience.

    10. You don’t need them for building a pool of candidates. There is no law that says you must list all of your job requirements to build a pipeline of candidates for future jobs. (If you think there is, please ask your lawyer to cite it for you and include the actual verbiage in your comments. Also, don’t cite the Uniform Guidelines, since it doesn’t describe how to create a pool of candidates.) Somehow people have gotten the idea that posting an individual job description is based on some legal requirement. Actually, the idea was created as a way to maximize revenue for job boards. Consider pre-Internet advertising: most companies posted large display ads advertising groups of jobs. This is now coming back in vogue as companies create candidate pipelines.
    KH: Irrelevant- why should they be used to build a pool of candidates? Rough analogy: I may not need a rubber mallet to build a bookshelf, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw it away…

    11. They decrease employee satisfaction and increase turnover. If you don’t tell people what they’ll be doing before they start on a new job, the likelihood the person will find the actual work involved exciting, appropriate, and satisfying is problematic. Clarifying expectations up front has been shown to be the primary driver of on-the-job performance and employee satisfaction. In my mind this should represent the bulk of the job description, with some minimalist statement about the skills and experience requirements.
    KH- this is like 1) That’s easily remedied by including an actual thumbnail description of the job, and letting them know throughout the hiring process what the real job is like.

    12. They make no sense. Why not fit the job to the person, rather than fit the person to a job? I’ve worked on many search assignments where the initial job was modified to optimize the person’s abilities and passions. While this was done to increase the likelihood the person would accept the offer, the end result was that jobs that were sculpted this way resulted in improved on-the-job performance, reduced turnover, and increased employee satisfaction.
    KH: Perhaps in your world companies are willing to extensively custom-tailor a job around a particularly fine candidate’s KSAs, but in my world, it’s “strictly off-the-rack”. I’d be willing to venture that the vast majority hires are made to find the person for the job, not the other way around.
    ………………………………………………….
    In Summary:
    You don’t like job descriptions (and we know you don’t like resumes).
    When you can come up with cheap, easy, and verifiably effective alternatives to these that a mom-and-pop business can use to get a decent bookkeeper, (or any of the other 10+ million businesses in the US get who they need), let me know. Meanwhile, I’ll do the best job I can with what I have.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • Tom Fosgard

    I think I hear that you are saying “hire the person, not the job.” If so, that’s great and it can be done within the job description framework. My favorite is “They weed out the worst rather than attract the best.” Indeed, that is an essential function of them. It covers your a** in a legal sense as you eliminate candidates from consideration. In fact, isn’t that the whole reason why job descriptions exist, to cover the company in recruiting and performance management? If that is indeed the case (and I think it is), we are stuck with them in recruiting. The best we can do is create better marketing pieces from our job descriptions and be a little flexible.

  • Sandra McCartt

    I don’t know about anyone else but the second or third question i get, or request from a recruited candidate is.

    “Please send me the job description so i can review it and decide if i want to move forward.”

    What am i supposed to say, “Sorry Mr. Candidate we don’t believe in job descriptions and our client won’t provide one see here’s the deal we want to send you in there with no idea of what the company is looking for other than what i’ve told you.” The position is CFO but that’s all they want to say about it.

    Granted many of the job descriptions are not functional and are so generic that we many times go back to the client and ask , “What exactly is the person going to be responsible for on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis and what are your expectations for someone to be successful in this role.” “Sales volume of your company, number of people supervised and who are they, etc. etc.

    A job description is always necessary in my world as a place to start, has nothing to do with promotion in the future. Never heard of anyone being told that they did everything reflected on the job description so they were getting a raise or a promotion.

    I agree Lou that they should be relevant but eliminating them seems very silly to me as it would seem everything would become subjective as to “I don’t know really what you are looking for but this guy can the job because he can do anything.” An oversimplification perhaps but i have never had a candidate earning over 100K a year who would move forward without review of whatever job description the company had come up with. Seems to me it would be interviewing blind.

  • Lou Adler

    Some comments to the comments –
    Keith – when does opinion become fact? 10X, 100X, 1000X – I’ve been doing exactly what’s described above since 1978 – over 1500 placements at my search firm between 1978-1998 – is that an opinion or a fact?

    Others re: JD’s – what I’m proposing here is a different form of the traditional JD that list skills, etc. – Instead, it’s a replacement of the traditional JD listing outcomes, projects, tasks, challenges, problems to solve, teams to build/develop, results to achieve, work to be done, etc. – not a list of skills, etc. to have. It seems so obvious that you still need to have some document to give to candidates and get from managers, it’s just one that doesn’t emphasize skills. I’m dumbfounded that anyone who think from the points above that you wouldn’t have some document. I’ll post an example of this “new non-traditional JD document” on the Recruiter’s Wall (wwww.recruiterswall.com) right now – so you can get a sense of what it looks like.

  • Keith Halperin

    LA:
    Keith – when does opinion become fact? 10X, 100X, 1000X – I’ve been doing exactly what’s described above since 1978 –over 1500 placements at my search firm between 1978-1998 – is that an opinion or a fact?

    KH:
    Must we constantly repeat this? Lou, until someone independent who has no stake in the outcome is able to duplicate/verify your results, it remains an opinion- maybe a good opinion, maybe a correct opinion, but not a fact. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.

    Also, if I understand your latest comments, you believe that many/most job descriptions need considerable improvement from the way they are now, NOT that candidates should receive no written document to help them learn about the job. I’m going way out on a limb here, and say the vast majority of recruiters agree with you, and so do I.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • Keith Halperin

    Lou, must we repeat this continuously? Opinion becomes fact when someone who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome verifies/duplicates your results. Until then, what you have is an opinion- maybe a good opinion, maybe even a correct opinion, but not a fact. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.

    Also if I understand you correctly, you believe that most JDs are imperfect and could be improved, not that candidates should receive nothing written to tell them about the job. I’ll go way out on a limb here, and say that most recruiters (including me) agree with you.

    Cheers,

    Keith “Just the Facts, Ma’am” Halperin

  • Lou Adler

    Keith – are your comments based on opinion or fact?

    here’s an LinkedIn ad you should review – http://budurl.com/QEADLI – this was generated using our ad wizard – it if generated more top candidates than a parallel ad – would you consider that a fact or an opinion?

    If you consider that a fact, then we have 1000s of other comparable facts. For some quick proof go on the Recruiter’s Wall and ask people for more facts – the fact that the facts aren’t verified in the form you like doesn’t make them non-facts, or opinions.

    Have you tried any of the ideas mentioned to see if they work? If you did and they worked you’d know if they are valid and provable, if they don’t work as described – then they’re no good, and I would accept this as a valid fact, not an opinion. But without proof they’re not facts, your comments are just your opinions.

  • Lou Adler

    Keith – here’s another opinion from Jason Belknap that was on the Recruiter’s Wall –

    “This is great! I recently completed two different ads from the Ad Wizard and hired a great candidate and I am currently working on filling the second role now. I cant tell you how many people I have talked to that said “for some reason this ad just spoke to me and I had to learn more” come to find out these people who wanted to learn more before officially applying were excellent candidates who may have not applied if they saw a boring job description with a bunch of skills and requirements. These candidates wanted challenges and were interested in making a difference. Happy Crazy Ad Wizarding!”

  • Sandra McCartt

    When one uses the word abolish it normally means elminate, therein lies the reason for your dumbfoundment at the comments. Improper use of the word abolish when the intent was to express an opinion that job descriptions should be revamped to be relevant as to expected performance.

    I’ve placed as many people as your firm between 1975 and the ongoing present and that’s a fact, smack daddy.

  • Lou Adler

    Sandra – Actually they should be abolished – that’s exactly what I meant – abolish them. It was not an opinion. I really want to abolish them. The fact that someone wants to call the new description of the job defining the real work, tasks, performance objectives, etc., is a total separate discussion. I just want to abolish the use of skills, experiences, etc, to source, screen, recruit, and close as a primary tool for hiring top talent, since they have no value. Surprisingly, other than Keith, no one commented on the points presented. I’m still dumbfounded that anyone can defend the use of the traditional job description for the reasons cited.

  • Sandra McCartt

    Well, here’s the job description:
    Fellowship trained neurosurgeon with 10+ years experience, no record of mal practice lawsuits, ability to perform frontal lobe delicate surgery on trauma patients in high stress situations.

    The patient is you, still want to abolish that job description?

  • Lou Adler

    Sandra – What do you call a Dr. who was last in his/her class?

    Could a Dr. with 5 years of experience be better than one with 10 or 20 performing the surgery? If yes, then your so-called job description is invalid. That’s my whole point. Thanks for the set-up.

    I want the doc to successfully perform these surgeries regardless of the absolute level of skills and years. My need is for a description of successful performance or outcomes – what the person does or achieves with the skills, not the skills themselves to do the work, since these are a faulty measure of success.

    Of course, the person needs a certain amount of skills, etc., but it’s the measurement of success that’s missing in traditional job descriptions. As a result of this they should be abolished. Which is the whole point of the article.

  • http://www.alasdairdmurraycopywriter.co.uk Alasdair Murray

    Lou, the ad wizard (whatever that is) copy is a lot better than the bland cut and pasted job descriptions (rather than advertisements) that you can see a plethora of on the web each and every day. But, the copy is still stilted and the punctuation poor, possibly because an ‘ad wizard’ is a bit of technology rather than a human being? I was a bit out of breath reading some sentences! Also, I’m not sure if the line ‘where change is not an option’ is necessarily a good sell in the very first sentence.

    Here’s an example of the sort of copy I write each and every day http://bit.ly/c9GdPF – OK, it’s not my finest hour words wise but as you can see, it has a certain flow to it. it sells the job and the organisation and it only gets dull when the technical knowledge has to (client’s insistence) be included at the end.

    The point is, EVERY job can and should be written like this. Why? Because it talks to the reader. It tells them quite clearly what’s in it for them. It also tells them a bit about the company they will be working for in an honest way, AND, it was written using a client’s job description as a guide to the key points to include (it’s my job to pick out the best bits and make them all gel together in three or four paragraphs) It doesn’t make false claims, it just majors on all the good bits about the role and the organisation. Sadly, that is what is lacking from so many online job postings – and I am not sure an ad wizard can ever write copy as well as a trained human being. Still, at least it’s an improvement if one can’t afford to use the services of a professional copywriter like myself.

  • Lou Adler

    Alasdair – the ad wizard is just a piece of technology that gets people to write better copy. It’s nothing remarkable, but it does work, despite the grammar problems, by getting people to think about what drives a person to apply.

    If your ad copy gets top candidates to apply, it’s perfectly fine. I wouldn’t go this way, but there are many ways to get great results.

  • Sandra McCartt

    Good point Lou. Something else that should be added to the job description. Must have graduated in the top 10% of their class and have top references of proven expertise and success.

    Thanks for the addition to the job description.

    Could a doc with five years experience do a better job? Who knows but my preference would be for one with 10 to 20. In many fields people are looking for people who have a track record of seeing a lot of different situations, good and bad thus the reason for adding levels of experience to a job description.

    But i truly think you are all over the board with this one.

  • Jose Alonso

    Thanks Lou for your provocative ideas. Could you post a template of the ideal job description? I think these templates are opportunities for managers to think about what kind of people they would like to hire.

  • http://www.msi1.com Brett Gurney

    Great comments here, clearly controversial to some – Some Takeways: 1). If you accept most formatted job descriptions and use it to recruit, shame on you. 2). If you fail to conduct a detailed needs assessment with your client directly, you will not have the necessary information. 3). Work with agreed upon point by point “profile” to the specific need / problem and match to that. 4). Advertising / Marketing the job is not posting / communicating the JD. 5). There are some jobs, that if you have to describe to the candidate, they are not qualified (Neurosurgeon). 6). Jobs requiring regular creativity, independent decision making, self-management, etc.. cannot be captured by “Job Title” in a single all-encompassing document.

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Lou, unless it comes from a neutral, unbiased source who can replicate your results, what you have is an opinion, an anecdote, or a subjective fact. You could have a million happy customers and hire folks for 1000 years, and it wouldn’t change that.

    Re: the ad- refreshingly informal, but also reeks of being too “salesy” and full of recruiting-hype. It might be getting more good candidates than a boring description, but it might not get as many as a well-crafted ad/JD from Alasdair. Even if it did, that proves nothing except that one given ad in a particular case is better than another given ad. One again, I’ll be really radical and say that if your point is that an interesting ad may (in most cases) get more and better candidates than a boring one, well I’ll agree with you again.

    Also, I think that having candidates come to you through ads, descriptions etc. is a weaker and more passive approach than directly sourcing the people you want and then using your sales skills to try and sell the position/company.

    @Sandra: Good point.

    @Jose: Great request.

    @Brett: Well said, very relevant, to the point, and accurate.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • Lou Adler

    Keith – unfortunately you’re just giving your opinions. Do you have any facts to back them up?

    And this is the biggest opinion of them all – “Also, I think that having candidates come to you through ads, descriptions etc. is a weaker and more passive approach than directly sourcing the people you want and then using your sales skills to try and sell the position/company.” Where are the facts to back this up? It might be true, but without facts it’s just another opinion.

    The link to a sample new age JD was provided earlier – http://www.recruiterswall.com – here it is again.

  • Lou Adler

    Here’s a YouTube 2-minute video (http://budurl.com/agsecret) where the case is made in a slightly different way as to why you should abolish traditional skills-infested job descriptions to hire passive candidates – at least if you want to hire any good ones.

  • Sandra McCartt

    This is beginning to remind me of that cartoon where “Daddy” was not called “Daddy”, he was “Not the mommy”.

    Now we have a job description with background requirements and a space for years of experience that is the “Not a Job Description.” Traditional Job Description? Not quite but pretty specific as to background experience and how much of it. The expectations and responsibilities added save time as opposed tot he generic but i would say that the title is Project Manager, n’est pas?

    Would it have been more to the point if this had been about abolishing the traditional job description as opposed to stomping our little pointed foot and wanting to Abolish Job Descriptions. At any rate it’s moot because they will not be abolished no matter how badly Lou wants it to happen. End of Story.

  • Keith Halperin

    @Lou:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_evidence
    Scientific evidence has no universally accepted definition but generally refers to evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is generally expected to be empirical and properly documented in accordance with scientific method such as is applicable to the particular field of inquiry. Standards for evidence may vary according to whether the field of inquiry is among the natural sciences or social sciences[citation needed]. Evidence may involve understanding all steps of a process, or one or a few observations, or observation and statistical analysis of many samples without necessarily understanding the mechanism.

    …………………………………………………..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anecdotal_evidence
    The expression anecdotal evidence has two distinct meanings.
    (1) Evidence in the form of an anecdote or hearsay is called anecdotal if there is doubt about its veracity; the evidence itself is considered untrustworthy.
    (2) Evidence, which may itself be true and verifiable, used to deduce a conclusion which does not follow from it, usually by generalizing from an insufficient amount of evidence. For example “my grandfather smoked like a chimney and died healthy in a car crash at the age of 99″ does not disprove the proposition that “smoking markedly increases the probability of cancer and heart disease at a relatively early age”. In this case, the evidence may itself be true, but does not warrant the conclusion.
    In both cases the conclusion is unreliable; it may not be untrue, but it doesn’t follow from the “evidence”.
    Evidence can be anecdotal in both senses: “Goat yogurt prolongs life: I heard that a man in a mountain village who ate only yogurt lived to 120.”
    The term is often used in contrast to scientific evidence, such as evidence-based medicine, which are types of formal accounts. Some anecdotal evidence does not qualify as scientific evidence because its nature prevents it from being investigated using the scientific method. Misuse of anecdotal evidence is a logical fallacy and is sometimes informally referred to as the “person who” fallacy (“I know a person who…”; “I know of a case where…” etc. Compare with hasty generalization). Anecdotal evidence is not necessarily representative of a “typical” experience; statistical evidence can more accurately determine how typical something is.
    Accounts of direct personal experience are commonly equated to anecdotal evidence where this form of evidence is not one of the above categories of anecdote, hearsay or conclusion deduced from generalisation. Unlike anecdotal evidence the reliability of accounts of personal experience is normally capable of assessment for legal proceedings.
    When used in advertising or promotion of a product, service, or idea, anecdotal reports are often called a testimonial, which are banned in some jurisdictions.[citation needed] The term is also sometimes used in a legal context to describe certain kinds of testimony. Psychologists have found that people are more likely to remember notable examples than typical examples.[1]

    ………………………………………………..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivity_(science)

    “An objective account is one which attempts to capture the nature of the object studied in a way that does not depend on any features of the particular subject who studies it. An objective account is, in this sense, impartial and one which could ideally be accepted by any subject because it does not draw on any assumptions, prejudices, or values of particular subjects. This feature of objective accounts means that disputes can be contained to the object studied.”[citation needed]
    —Stephen Gaukroger, History of Objectivity p. 10785
    ……………………………………………..

    Lou: And this is the biggest opinion of them all – “Also, I think that having candidates come to you through ads, descriptions etc. is a weaker and more passive approach than directly sourcing the people you want and then using your sales skills to try and sell the position/company.” Where are the facts to back this up? It might be true, but without facts it’s just another opinion.

    Keith: Yes, this is my opinion and consequently, is no less relevant/valuable than anything you have said. I am willing to let it (and anything else I say/claim) be empirically tested by unbiased individuals with nothing to gain but the truth, and if proven wrong, am fully willing to admit it. Are you willing to do the same, Lou?

    ———————————————————–
    @Sandra:

    Once again, I’ll say that most recruiters (including me, but evidently not Lou) agree with you that improved, interesting, and (perhaps) untraditional JDs are better than boring ones, and should be used instead of eliminating all JDs.

    Cheers,
    Keith “4 out of 5 Intelligent Recruiters Like Him” Halperin

  • Steve Crumley

    Here is another way to look at it, and I think this illustrates what Lou is getting at.

    Consider the last 10 people who were hired to work next to you. Of those who were people you’d consider successful, why were they successful? Was it because of their years of experience, skills, knowledge and education? Or, was it because they had the right motivations, behaviors, and work ethic? I’d pose that the candidate who doesn’t have all the right skills, but does have the right motivations will very quickly learn what he doesn’t know, and will seek out the right people to help him learn. And, that would be your successful candidate.

    Conversely, if you look at those around you who failed, in most cases, they fit the “job description” and requirements. But, they likely were not motivated to do the work, or had other bad behaviors.

    So, if you want someone who is going to be successful, focus on their behaviors and motivations, and consider their ability to exceed your expectations. As Lou points out, often people who are promoted internally don’t meet the official requirements. That’s because we know their behaviors, and expect them to learn quickly.

    So, the point of the job description should be to help the reader understand what it takes to be successful, how that is measured, and what rewards success will bring them. It should entice them to say, “that really sounds like something I’d like to try!”

    For example, in my job, one of the success factors is improving time to fill. I’d be more interested in a job that says “Use your talents to help us solve our time to fill problem by reducing cycle time by 30%” rather than “you are responsible for measuring and managing time to fill”. Or “help us drive change across our recruiting organization, and build a world-class recruiting function” as opposed to “the highly qualified candidate will have 2 years of recruiting experience with facebook and other social media”.

    Focus is on the results. If I can demonstrate how I’d meet the goal, then actually accomplish what I promised, does it matter if I met the “legal” job description and requirements?

  • Lou Adler

    Steve – perfectly stated!

    Two questions to ponder based on Steve’s post. Is there anyone who can be a top performer without all of the stuff listed on the traditional job description? Is everyone who has the stuff listed a top performer? If you can answer yes to either question, you can clearly see why traditional skills-infested job descriptions should be abolished.

    Rather than fight it, try it if you don’t believe it, and set yourself free. This is one of the high-achiever behaviors Steve was referring to.

  • Keith Halperin

    @Lou:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_evidence
    Scientific evidence has no universally accepted definition but generally refers to evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is generally expected to be empirical and properly documented in accordance with scientific method such as is applicable to the particular field of inquiry. Standards for evidence may vary according to whether the field of inquiry is among the natural sciences or social sciences[citation needed]. Evidence may involve understanding all steps of a process, or one or a few observations, or observation and statistical analysis of many samples without necessarily understanding the mechanism.
    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anecdotal_evidence
    The expression anecdotal evidence has two distinct meanings.
    (1) Evidence in the form of an anecdote or hearsay is called anecdotal if there is doubt about its veracity; the evidence itself is considered untrustworthy.
    (2) Evidence, which may itself be true and verifiable, used to deduce a conclusion which does not follow from it, usually by generalizing from an insufficient amount of evidence. For example “my grandfather smoked like a chimney and died healthy in a car crash at the age of 99″ does not disprove the proposition that “smoking markedly increases the probability of cancer and heart disease at a relatively early age”. In this case, the evidence may itself be true, but does not warrant the conclusion.
    In both cases the conclusion is unreliable; it may not be untrue, but it doesn’t follow from the “evidence”.
    Evidence can be anecdotal in both senses: “Goat yogurt prolongs life: I heard that a man in a mountain village who ate only yogurt lived to 120.”
    The term is often used in contrast to scientific evidence, such as evidence-based medicine, which are types of formal accounts. Some anecdotal evidence does not qualify as scientific evidence because its nature prevents it from being investigated using the scientific method. Misuse of anecdotal evidence is a logical fallacy and is sometimes informally referred to as the “person who” fallacy (“I know a person who…”; “I know of a case where…” etc. Compare with hasty generalization). Anecdotal evidence is not necessarily representative of a “typical” experience; statistical evidence can more accurately determine how typical something is.
    Accounts of direct personal experience are commonly equated to anecdotal evidence where this form of evidence is not one of the above categories of anecdote, hearsay or conclusion deduced from generalization. Unlike anecdotal evidence the reliability of accounts of personal experience is normally capable of assessment for legal proceedings.
    When used in advertising or promotion of a product, service, or idea, anecdotal reports are often called a testimonial, which are banned in some jurisdictions.[citation needed] The term is also sometimes used in a legal context to describe certain kinds of testimony. Psychologists have found that people are more likely to remember notable examples than typical examples.[1]
    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivity_(science)
    “An objective account is one which attempts to capture the nature of the object studied in a way that does not depend on any features of the particular subject who studies it. An objective account is, in this sense, impartial and one which could ideally be accepted by any subject because it does not draw on any assumptions, prejudices, or values of particular subjects. This feature of objective accounts means that disputes can be contained to the object studied.”[citation needed]
    -Stephen Gaukroger, History of Objectivity p. 10785
    ……………………………………………..
    Lou: And this is the biggest opinion of them all – “Also, I think that having candidates come to you through ads, descriptions etc. is a weaker and more passive approach than directly sourcing the people you want and then using your sales skills to try and sell the position/company.” Where are the facts to back this up? It might be true, but without facts it’s just another opinion.
    Keith: Yes, this is my opinion and consequently, is no less relevant/valuable than anything you have said. I am willing to let it (and anything else I say/claim) be empirically tested by unbiased individuals with nothing to gain but the truth, and if proven wrong, am fully willing to admit it. Are you willing to do the same, Lou?
    …………………………………………………
    @Sandra:
    Once again, I’ll say that most recruiters (including me, but evidently not Lou) agree with you that improved, interesting, and (perhaps) untraditional JDs are better than boring ones, and should be used instead of eliminating all JDs.
    ………………………………………………….
    @Steve: You helped raise a very important question: How much does motivation count in job success? Should we hire a less KSAd but more motivated candidate? Would it be best to have a basic “bar” of KSAs that all candidates must have, and then hire the most motivated? Is motivation a constant, or a variable? Sounds like there are a number of academic papers there….

    Cheers,
    Keith “4 out of 5 Intelligent Recruiters Like Him” Halperin

  • http://www.careeradvancement.on.ca Carla Sorowka

    Lou, couldn’t agree with you any more. I actually touched on this subject a bit in my personal blog when I wrote about how Workopolis doesn’t work.

    http://carlaisblogging.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/why-workopolis-doesnt-work/

    I usually look at most things using the 80/20 rule. I think in this case, 20% of people are going to ‘get’ our way of thinking, and the other 80% will dismiss it. Unfortunately, it’s these 80% that will always be lagging unless they’re willing to change.

  • Lou Adler

    Carla – thank god for some sanity!

    Note to everyone, especially those who don’t agree with Carla and Steve – we just had a roundtable with the top OFCCP attorney (your attorney probably seeks her out for guidance) in the US this AM with 8 directors of recruiting from major DC area firms.

    Her take on all this – performance objectives are better than skills to define the work, because they tend to be more objective. Being truly objective is the key here.

    However, regardless of the objective criteria you use, a screening process must be used based on these to qualify people. If you use skills-based JDs and hire people who don’t have the skills listed you’re violating OFCCP and EEO regs. The same is true if you use performance objectives to define the job, rather than skills, etc. This is not an opinion.

    That’s why pipelining and performance-based screening is far more efficient and produces better candidates. This part is an opinion, but a reasonable and logical one based on the success we’re having finding and getting top performers hired in our search practice. More persuasive is the fact that most companies are moving towards this model now as attested to the success of Jobs2Web and LinkedIn’s corporate recruiter-based products. In some way, this is what the social media buzz is all about.

    Good news. As a result of all of the “opinions” in the comments above, we will be hosting a regular webcast series with the aforementioned legal star starting in January to discuss these types of issues and clarify everything. The first webcast will be on why we should abolish skills-based JDs if you want to hire top people.

    Regardless, I suspect only the 20% who “get it” – as Carla pointed – will actually attend. Once the truth is revealed you also will also find out how to dump traditional skills-infested job descriptions if you want to hire the top-half of the top-half. Check out the events page on http://www.aderconcepts.com for the schedule and sign-up for the newsletter if you’d like to make sure you get the notices. We’ll have this first legal event up after T-day.

  • Dave Pollock

    There is no question in my mind that performance objectives far outpace skills when the playing field is level and the performance standard is known.

    One question I have is this: If performance implies a measurement, and measurement implies a standard, how long do you think it will be before another “top… Attorney” figures out that either there is no standard, the standard is relative to some other major variable (volume, geography, industry, etc.), or that candidates can easily adjust their performance ratings by manipulating the measurement variables? Similarly, what happens when the applicants previous employer changes the measurement standard after the employee has left? Which standard is “right” when the OFCCP makes thier inquiries?

    Clearly perfomance is the best option when when comparing apples to apples. But having lawyers define it as it relates to employment is like playing 3-D Chess… and we’re all forced to play, pay, and accept the inherently incomprehensible outcome as some sort of helpful solution to “discrimination”.

    This is not to promote the merits of skills-based hiring – another ill-defined concept – but rather to call attention to the difficulty of objective measurement in employment and the wasteful, illogical, and self-serving forum in which we passively and misguidedly allow the outcomes to be written into law… adding yet another layer of rules to the 3-D Chess game, at our expense.

  • http://blog.yoh.com Mindy Fineout

    Thanks for the article Lou! I was fortunate enough to see you give a talk on this exact topic at a Northwest Recruiters Association meeting a few months ago and found it very insightful. Companies need to see job postings as a way to enhance their brand and attract top talent. Listing a laundry list of sometimes irrelevant skills and demands is not the way to to do it. Great post!

    Mindy Fineout, http://blog.yoh.com

  • Lou Adler

    Keith – re: the empirical tests. Of course, I’m willing to do it. Do you think we haven’t? I’ve suggested in numerous columns for you to talk with Dr. Charles Handler. He’s done some validation testing for us. He’s also written a whitepaper on the validity of using performance profiles vs. job descriptions. Have you talked to him yet? He’ll be happy to give you his scientific appraisal.

    In addition, Fisher and Philips (3rd largest labor law firm) has written a whitepaper on the legal validity of the whole Performance-based Hiring process. Both whitepapers are in the back of the book I sent you. The 57 book reviews provide some evidence that the ideas (see Amazon) actually work. Have you read these? Many of these people have conducted their own internal validity studies, which is a prereq to using it in many companies. Have you contacted these people to get their viewpoint as to its validity.

    We’ve also trained over 20,000 hiring managers and about 5,000 recruiters. Many of these companies – but not all – have conducted their own internal validation studies and surprising you’d think there would be some evidence that it doesn’t work if the studies proved the process didn’t work. I’ve only been doing this 20+ years, so you’d think there would be some evidence that it doesn’t work, if it didn’t. Even if you compare the published remarks of how well it works to those saying it doesn’t work, would be equivalent to some type of meta-analysis. When does 50:1 in favor, or better become scientific enough for you? Based on these points alone, I think it’s more incumbent on you to prove it doesn’t work than for me to prove to you it does. No one is forcing you to use the process. All our clients test it out and obtain the required OD/legal approval before going forward.

    With our search clients I guarantee our performance with a 100% money-back guarantee if we don’t produce candidates who meet the requirements on the performance profile. As part of this we set the benchmark as the top-half of the top-half. Would you like to talk to some of them or the people we placed?

    The truth is out there. All you have to do is see it, rather than assume it’s flawed as your starting premise.

  • Lou Adler

    Keith – another point. Are you familiar with Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm? In this book he categorizes technology adopters into five big group from early adopters to laggards. Early adopters tend to try stuff out as soon as it’s introduced. Laggards won’t even think of using the technology until it’s 100% proven out by 90% of the population first. Here’s a link to an image – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Technology-Adoption-Lifecycle.png.

    Unfortunately, by the time the laggards try this stuff out, the early adopters have moved on to the next great idea.

    Where do you think you fall on this continuum?

    BTW, have you heard of the Internet? I hear they finally got the bugs out and it works as predicted back in the early 90s. Interestingly, most of these early predictions were just opinions at the time.

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