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Ban Job Descriptions and Hire Better People

Posted By Lou Adler On February 13, 2013 @ 1:37 am In Advice and How-Tos | 14 Comments

For the past 30 years I’ve been on a kick to ban traditional skills- and experience-based job descriptions. The prime reason: they’re anti-talent and anti-diversity, aside from being terrible predictors of future success.

Some naysayers use the legal angle as their excuse for maintaining the status quo.

To debunk this, I engaged David Goldstein, a preeminent legal authority from Littler Mendelson (the largest U.S. labor law firm) to compare the idea of using a performance-based job description to the traditional job description.

David has agreed to present his findings in a webcast on February 19. (I’ve included a summary of his white paper in one of my recent publications [1], and we’ll be happy to review his complete white paper [2] upon request.)

A performance-based job description (aka performance profile) describes the work that a person needs to successfully accomplish during the first year on the job. Most jobs can be fully described in 6-8 performance objectives. These are in the form of “complete the detailed project plan for the new automated warehouse in 120 days.” This compares to the more traditional: “Must have 5+ years of logistics and supply chain management experience in high-volume consumer durables, plus 3 years of supervisory experience.”

This comparison alone should be enough to demonstrate to any recruiter the fallacy of using traditional job descriptions for finding and assessing talent. There are about 100+ other articles I’ve written for ERE over the last 10 years describing job descriptions as fundamentally flawed and counterproductive. Here’s are my top six (out of about 20) reasons why:

  1. While some level of skills is important, the “amount” written on a job description is arbitrary, misleading, and capricious. Certainly none were developed via a detailed job analysis. From a commonsense standpoint, it’s obvious if a person can do the work described in the performance profile they have exactly the level of skills needed. It’s what a person does with his or her skills that determines ability, not their absolute level. In fact, a person with the least amount of years of experience and the ability to learn quickly are the top performers who everyone wants to hire. Why would anyone in their right mind want to exclude this people from consideration?
  2. A performance objective that describes the work including the measures of success is equally as objective as some absolute level of skills and experiences. This is the legal aspect David will cover during the webcast. He’ll point out that performance profiles are not only more objective and better predictors of success, but they are also non-discriminatory.
  3. A recruiter who doesn’t know the real job requirements is quickly branded as a gatekeeper by any talented candidate. Knowing the job is essential for a recruiter, at least if they want to find, recruit, assess, and close passive candidates. Hiring managers also treat recruiters without real job knowledge as vendors, box-checkers, and paper-pushers. As a result these recruiters have little influence on who is actually interviewed and ultimately hired.
  4. Traditional job descriptions prevent diversity candidates, high-potential lighter candidates, returning military veterans, and highly qualified people with different but comparable results from being considered. All of these problems are eliminated using performance profiles.
  5. Attitude, cultural fit, team work, organizational skills, drive, and consistency are easy to assess using performance profiles. Measuring these without consideration of the performance requirements for the job and the underlying environment (manager’s style, resources, constraints, challenges, and pace) is an exercise in futility. For proof, consider why all of the competent people who have been hired later underperform.
  6. Top active and passive candidates are not looking for lateral transfers. This is exactly what a list of “must haves” implies. The only differentiator then becomes the compensation package. Using performance profiles as a benchmark, the interview can be used to demonstrate the “opportunity gap” between the candidate’s background and real job needs. This opportunity gap can then be used as a tradeoff for a big compensation increase.

This should be enough to convince anyone why traditional job descriptions should be banned if a company wants to hire more top people, expand their diversity hiring programs, hire some great people who bring a different mix of skills and experiences to the job, and implement a robust military veteran hiring initiative. You’ll been able to stop making excuses at the very special webcast on February 19 [3].


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URL to article: http://www.ere.net/2013/02/13/ban-job-descriptions-and-hire-better-people/

URLs in this post:

[1] summary of his white paper in one of my recent publications: http://budurl.com/EGFH1

[2] review his complete white paper: http://budurl.com/contactnew

[3] webcast on February 19: http://budurl.com/AGlittler

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