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Recruit Right: What’s in a Job Description?

What’s in a Job Description? More than you probably think, is the short answer to that!

A well thought-out and accurate job description isn’t just a way to tell your employees, both current and prospective, about a job.  It’s an opportunity to communicate your core values, to focus your recruitment process, to enhance your candidate’s experience of your company and to get the best out of your people.  Here’s how…..

It’s widely accepted that a Job Description tells its reader about the job in question, be they a current employee considering that push for promotion, a candidate who’s stumbled across your Company online or an employee preparing for their, much anticipated, end of year appraisal.   A good Job Description though, and particularly the Person Specification (where we detail the skills and experience the job-holder must have to do the job well) can be a powerful tool for promoting your Company’s core values.  Take a value as straight forward and common place as learning.  Your Person Specification could request that your applicants “Have an up to date record of CPD”.  This will get the job done, but what does it say about your Company?  Not a great deal.  Why not say you are “Actively seeking exceptional candidates with a passion for learning”.  This tells your reader that you’re proactive, aiming high, you’re looking for the best and only the best and that you want people who live and breathe and really value their learning, not just the employee who coasts through the training course just to get the certificate.

“Experience of working in a customer service environment” is another common interloper found in Person Specifications right across the web.  Really?  What about “We are seeking colleagues who thrive in a challenging customer focussed environment”?  (although one always has to guard against the use of flowery language for the sake of flowery language) You’ve just shared with the reader a little about the culture of your Company, that you’re looking for only the best, that you want candidates with a record of success and you’ve managed their expectations a little too, this is “challenging” work!   Whether your reader is a candidate, an employee or a customer these are messages that you need to get out there.

Not only does a carefully worded (but never too flowery) Job Description give an insight into your Company’s values – customer experience, learning, innovation, social responsibility, the list goes on – but it has other benefits too.  The Job Description is one of a candidate’s first steps in their journey from prospective candidate, browsing the web or flicking through the Thursday papers, to your newest recruit.   It’s important to make that journey as pain-free as possible.  What is it they say about our perceptions of people being formed within 30 seconds of meeting them?  The same is true about your Company.  If your Job Description is wordy, full of company-specific jargon and poorly laid out or if your Person Specification is dry and stale or 8 pages long, the candidate will already be forming some pretty unflattering opinions about your Company.

Worse still, an inaccurate Job Description presents its own challenges.  If the job requires that the job-holder can drive, tell them in the Person Specification.  We instantly get rid of any prospective candidates who can’t drive.  Creating a Job Description isn’t about appealing to the masses; it’s about focusing your recruitment campaign on the right people, in this case only those who poses a skill essential to undertake the job, driving.  The same is true of any skill, experience or qualification though, if they are essential for the job, be up front and say it.

But, let’s not confuse what is essential with what we would like!  Essential criteria on a Person Specification are just that, essential – the job holder cannot possibly do the job without this skill or qualification.  A pilot and a pilot’s license, a company director and experience operating at strategic level, a Civil Engineer and membership of RICS (for example).  So how can we get a balance between appealing to a wide enough candidate pool, whilst being able to narrow down our search?  The answer is never to be afraid to specify desirable criteria.  These allow us to narrow the field a little once all the candidates have satisfied us that they meet our essentials.  Don’t forget that candidates can often request to see what’s been written about them and to legitimately and confidently tell them that they did not meet the desirable criteria where other candidates did, really takes the pressure off!  Be careful to distinguish between the essential and desirable criteria, to get the two mixed up can lead to difficulties.  To state categorically that a job-holder must have a driving license, if it can be shown that the job can be done by other means opens the door for a discrimination claim under the Equality Act for example.

And finally, a Job Description doesn’t stop becoming useful once the candidate is in the door.  It will form the backbone of your induction, Performance Management and appraisal procedures, ensuring they are performing, the values your Company promote are upheld and they are clear about what’s expected of them.  As long as the Job Description is an accurate and fair reflection of the job the employee is doing and no-one feel they’ve been hired under false pretences then there should be no cause for distrust or disengagement.

In short, a good job description is a useful tool for ensuring you get the best of your people.

So, what’s in a Job Description……