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Why Quality Job Descriptions Still Matter in Today's Workplace

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Neil Morelli, Ph.D., IO Chief Psychologist, codility.

After analyzing over 100 startup failures, CB Insights found that 14% of them were due to the lack of the right team. Before saying it’s just startups, a 2020 McKinsey survey of nearly 500 global tech and C-level leaders found that changes to “talent strategy” had a significant impact on bottom line of their business. In short, people make the place.

Yet the first step to recruiting the right people into your organization is often the least well-served: writing the job description.

Lately, HR gurus and business leaders have questioned the value of the job description in the hiring process. The requirements, information and wording of job descriptions are often sources of bias, confusion and frustration for candidates and employees.

Moreover, new working methods often go beyond what can be communicated in two pages. But I argue that job descriptions still matter in today’s workplace if we can bring them into the 21st century.

Write job descriptions correctly

Done well, job descriptions are an essential roadmap for many people management functions, including recruitment, engagement, and development. Job descriptions can have an outsized impact on the trajectory of younger, smaller companies through their talent.

High-quality job descriptions help attract candidates aligned with a company’s mission, values, and culture. High-quality job descriptions also help teams stay grounded in competency-based hiring decisions by focusing on skills that predict success in the role, not arbitrary standards and indirect qualifications (eg. example, education, experience) that have low predictive value.

Why an evidence-based approach works

So what is a “high quality job description”? It’s a job description that optimizes for content rather than speed. It may be easier to dust off an old job description for a similar role in the interests of time, but failing to attract the right talent or setting the wrong expectations can have detrimental long-term effects.

Instead, high-quality job descriptions use data from job analysis, an evidence-based method for uncovering and effectively communicating the “essential nature” of a job to lay experts. Job analysts gather qualitative and quantitative data by reviewing job documentation, interviewing experts, observing actual employees performing the job, and administering surveys.

A thorough job analysis can benefit talent acquisition managers for several reasons:

• Failure to understand the true skill requirements of a job can lead to decisions based on irrelevant factors and outdated or inaccurate assumptions.

• A job description that scratches the surface of what is needed is vulnerable to unconscious and implicit bias.

• Job descriptions that fully understand the work required can fuel an effective talent management strategy that meets today’s demands and anticipates future needs.

With an evidence-based job description in hand, hiring managers can:

• Ensure a fairer and less biased hiring process that is inherently fairer and supports a diverse talent pool and an inclusive organizational culture.

• Attracting the right candidates aligned with the company’s role and unique mission, vision and values.

• Significantly reduce the risk of unconscious and implicit biases by targeting standardized selection tools, such as assessments, to the skills that matter.

• Better understand how specific roles fit into long-term organizational priorities.

How to write a quality job description

Like a good meal, well-written job descriptions start with quality ingredients; it is this data that a thorough analysis of the work can provide. Assuming you have this data, here are the steps to create a high-quality job description:

1. Add a clear statement describing your company’s mission, vision, work environment, culture and differentiators. This section should explain why the company is the right one to work for in evocative and creative language. Balanced amounts of realistic and engaging information yield better candidates with a better chance of success in the job.

2. Add a mission statement that describes how the position supports or achieves strategic goals. This statement is essential because it clearly and succinctly communicates to applicants why this position is important to the company. All other decisions can remain oriented with this North Star in mind.

3. Add a filtered list of critical tasks or outcomes. The essential objective is to share the essential nature of the work, either through the tasks or through the results. Filter tasks by importance based on required skills.

4. Add critical skills as qualifications. This section should clearly state how the company will assess candidates for the position and what abilities are expected to be successful. Remember to make a thoughtful and precise distinction between required (or basic) and preferred qualifications. It is also imperative to consider inclusion in this section, knowing that talent from marginalized groups often self-select if they do not meet 100% of the criteria.

What about experience?

While experience is a quick and easy way to gauge a candidate’s skills and abilities, research has found that experience matters little in predicting job performance beyond the first one or two. years. While reducing or removing experience-related qualifications from the job description can take time, hiring managers need to think critically about how much experience is essential and how those experiences reflect the skills essential.

Well-crafted, evidence-based job descriptions are still important in today’s hiring environment, where diversity, equity and inclusion are paramount and candidates make decisions that are strongly influenced by their perception of an organization’s culture and values. Like your organizational goals, job descriptions should be strategic, dynamic and reviewed regularly.

By using an evidence-based, data-driven approach to job descriptions, HR leaders can support their organization’s current and future goals.


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