Technology Is Killing Job Descriptions

There is an increasing reliance on technology to find talent. Don’t get me wrong. I think the right technology is very useful in recruiting, but there must be a better balance between the use of technology and the (still) uniquely human skills needed to attract strong candidates. Unfortunately, balance rarely exists for job descriptions. 

When scrolling through the myriad positions posted on job boards or LinkedIn, it’s often hard to decipher what the job really is. Such lack of clarity can be even more egregious for senior-level roles. A typical job description often repeats the same buzzwords: “strong communications skills,” “can work independently and collaboratively,” “manage tight deadlines,” “able to think strategically,” and so forth.

There’s also often far too much jargon or, worse, typos. A posting may list years of experience and some required functional skills, but as to what the job truly looks like day-to-day, things remain hazy.

Why should this be? A job description is one of the best pieces of marketing collateral a company can produce. If the goal is to attract sharp talent, why do employers put forth anodyne job descriptions? Why are companies not investing the time and thought to polish up their pitches to the market more compellingly?

I think there are a few reasons.

1. The larger the company, the greater the automation. In theory, this should be great because it frees up TA professionals to spend time crafting better job descriptions. However, they’re often too busy managing aspects of the technology itself and consequently lack the time to focus on more creative work. Unfortunately, they’re also driven to achieve more quantitative than qualitative measurements.

2. If the company has a recognizable brand, it’s easier to replicate job description content. Just have your system alter titles and locations and you’re done. And what happens next? Many of the CVs received will make no sense, the result of a voluminous scatter-shot approach.

3. Fewer people read. Everyone scans. CVs are scanned to pluck out a few words. Meanwhile, many candidates glance at job descriptions and don’t take the time to read. Why should they? The poorly written copy is a blight on every organization.

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4. Hiring managers are increasingly disengaged from the search. They often don’t create or review  the job description. That’s wrong. Hiring managers should manage the search and work with recruiters to ensure accurate and effective descriptions for roles. But there are often too many internal silos and speed bumps to careen over, so everyone sticks to their knitting.

In my experience, smart talent will not be curious to investigate further if a job description omits relevant information such as daily responsibilities or even, yes, the job’s downsides. An accurately written job description can help make sense of a company’s culture and allow people to decide whether to pursue or opt out.

What Can You Do?

To create better job descriptions, consider using a more conversational approach. And seek the help of your marketing team. HR and TA are seldom qualified to market or think differently about how to “go to market.” Having someone from marketing take over the role of writing job descriptions is sensible and overdue. In addition, hiring managers must be more fully engaged in the process of actually hiring. Many have been dis-intermediated by TA teams. Small steps with large and positive results. 

Hiring will be easier only when the job description is restored to its proper place and marketed more thoughtfully, and when hiring managers can work more collaboratively to create a more compelling description and vision. Which is what leadership should be doing anyhow.

Neal Horwitz is the founder of Henry Hale Maguire, a Singapore-based executive search and executive coaching consultancy, focused entirely on Asia-Pacific. He first worked in executive search with Hunt Partners in Hong Kong, and after moving to Singapore founded Henry Hale Maguire, concentrating on senior-level Asia Pacific executive search and executive coaching, along with career management and transitional development.

Neal has also served on numerous boards in Hong Kong, including The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, the JCC of Hong Kong, and The UJC of Hong Kong. He has given many presentations on Asian cross-cultural challenges, market entry, how to succeed in a politically charged environment, how to rebrand and re-market in challenging times, and moderated/presented at regional conferences.

Neal earned his B.A. in economics and political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and certified in evidence-based coaching from Fielding University.

His book, The Art of the Smart: How to Steer Your Career, was published in 2015. He writes regularly on work and career issues, cross-cultural teams, organizational dynamics and hiring practices.

Neal used to present his own mainstream jazz radio show in Chicago’s Hyde Park (Barack Obama’s old neighborhood). He has lived in Asia-Pacific for 29 years, is married, and is the father of twins. You will not find him on Facebook.

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