Traditional Job Descriptions Don’t Attract Top Talent

Over the last 20 plus years of recruiting, we have reviewed hundreds of job descriptions from a wide variety of companies and for a wide variety of positions. The vast majority of these job descriptions have the same format. They list the responsibilities, duties, and experience required.

It is a one size-fits-all, generic job description. Traditional job descriptions are useful documents that meet legal requirements, but they should not be used for hiring purposes.

There are two reasons why these job descriptions are ineffective as a hiring tool. The first reason is traditional job descriptions describe the minimum qualifications required for the position, such as minimal education, minimal years of experience, and minimal skills.

This often leads to hiring the least qualified from the pool of qualified candidates. The harsh reality is when you define a job in mediocre terms, odds are you will attract and hire mediocre candidates.

The second reason is traditional job descriptions fail to focus on what defines success in this role. Most people would agree that a person who just performs the duties and responsibilities outlined in traditional job descriptions would rarely be considered a success. In fact, most candidates would not last long in a company that is growing and outpacing the competition. Just because the person has the experience listed doesn’t mean they can deliver the desired results.

Here’s the misnomer, past experiences are a good indicator of future performance. Past experience is actually a poor indicator of performance. Past performance is a better indicator, but the best indicator is their ability to deliver results in your company. After all, you are hiring for your company, not for what they did at a past company. Of all the traditional job descriptions reviewed over the years, few if any mention future expectations.

For example, how many times have you heard someone say: “We’re looking for a VP Operations” The reply is “What are you looking for.” The typical answer is usually, “We need a person with 10 years experience, 5 years in our industry, team leader, strategic thinker, good communications and an MBA is preferred.”

This is all about the person and nothing about what defines success in the role or what the person is expected to deliver once they come on board. It is naturally assumed if the person has the experience mentioned, they can deliver the expected results. It is our contention that experience has nothing to do with delivering results. Just because the person was a great VP of Operations at their last company, doesn’t mean they are the right VP of Operations for your company.

Instead of using the traditional job description, we recommend using our Success Factor Snapshot (SFS.) This snapshot is a list of Success Factors. Success Factors are simply the results you want this person to deliver, in order for you, the hiring manager, to consider this person a successful hire.

Taking our example of a VP Operations, our Success Factor Snapshot would define the Success Factors the VP needs to deliver – usually within the next 12 to 18 months. For example, the SFS would read:

Within the first 30 days develop a plan of action that will improve on time deliveries from 85% to 96% and present the plan to the CEO.

Within 6 months, develop and begin implementing a vendor qualifications program that will ensure zero defects and 100% on-time deliveries from vendors.

Within 9 months consolidate the operations of two plants and produce a cost savings of at least 15%.

We would continue developing these Success Factors until we have 5 or 6 that clearly define what is expected of the candidate once they come on board.

Now when asked the question “What are you looking for.” The answer is “ we need someone who can improve on time deliveries to 96%, can implement a vendor qualifications program and consolidate operations with at least a 15% cost savings.” Instead of defining the experience, you are defining success in this role.

We believe that if you find a person that can accomplish these Success Factors, you’ve found the person with the right experience.

Using the Success Factor Snapshot as a hiring guide sets the stage for a successful hire. Instead of the traditional job description, the Success Factor Snapshot clearly states expectations and lets the candidate know what is expected of them once they come on board. The SFS defines success in the role, not minimum qualifications. After all isn’t that what you really want to hire.


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