3 Simple Techniques for Writing a Winning Job Description


(The following techniques are cited in my book Hack Your Hiring: The Tactical Playbook To Find, Evaluate, and Hire A+ Talent, which gives you 75 PROVEN Strategies, Techniques, and Best Practices to solve any Hiring problem you might have… anything from defining an open position, to attracting & screening Applicants, to beating out other competing offers and closing the Candidate of your dreams.)


 

When it comes time to hire a new position, one of the first challenges you face as a leader is also one of the toughest: How do you describe what you need in this role? The responsibilities, skills, expertise you’re looking for in your perfect candidate?

A lot of bigger corporations will literally purchase Job Descriptions from other companies. While this may be ok for them, for small-to-medium sized businesses, your needs probably are more unique & specific, so a generic off-the-shelf JD is probably not going to cut it.

Use these three simple & straightforward techniques to produce a clear Job Description guaranteed to attract the right people.

SOURCE STRENGTHS & SKILLS FROM COLLEAGUES

 

Reach out to current teammates who you’d consider an A-Player with experience in a position similar to your open role.

Ask each teammate plainly about

  • What Outputs and Outcomes he’s most proud of contributing to or creating
  • What Obstacles he’s faced in his career
  • What they believe contributed to his success in Overcoming those obstacles, from when he first started to his ability to grow and flourish in the role.

Every Job and every Candidate is going to be unique in some fashion. However, no Job is so unique that it’s without ample comparative examples. By compiling a list of obstacles, strengths, and skills from the experience of others you trust, you start building a sort of composite avatar of your ideal Candidate.

GRADE EXPERTISE IN USEFUL TERMS

 

For each technical skill and intangible strength, grade the level of expertise using a method that clearly describes the ideal candidate’s level of competency & expertise.

Useful Frameworks to reference include:

The conventional method of conveying desired levels of expertise was born from the requirement of formal education (2-year / 4-year degree), and in most cases it has outlived its usefulness.

As an increasing percentage of the workforce becomes knowledge workers, the search for expertise hinges on the ability to find candidates who have actually grown and developed a level of expertise or mastery in various skills.

Unfortunately, spending years exercising a particular skill in no way guarantees that a worker increased her expertise in that skill.

Isn’t it true that someone who’s been driving a car for 10 years could still be a poor driver? Or that someone with a good teacher + some natural talent could be an excellent driver in her first few years behind the wheel?

Here’s a personal example: At the time I’m writing this, I am 37 years old. I have been using MS Excel and other spreadsheet software since the age of 10. The claim could be made, then, that I have 27 years of Excel experience, yet I will be the first person to admit that I am far from a Excel/Spreadsheet Expert.

Using a commonly-understand and explicit grading scale to describe levels of expertise is the best way to communicate — both internally and externally — what levels of proficiency are required to succeed in a particular role.

FORCE-RANK DESIRED SKILLS

 

In addition to more clearly defining desired levels of Expertise for a role, classify the importance of a candidate exhibiting each skill to the desired level of Expertise. This can be as simple as classifying a skill as “Must-Have” / “Should-Have” / “Nice-to-Have”, or you could use a more complex ordering mechanism.

There is no position on earth where every desired competency is equally critical to achieving success in the role. Yet, Job Descriptions nearly always provide a list of skills that appear to be of equal importance (and are usually all required).

This can deter many otherwise-qualified job-seekers, while also inviting applications from unqualified candidates who don’t have a clear sense of which areas truly require a level of expertise vs those where familiarity or basic competence are acceptable.

It’s also important to recognize that an Applicant’s expertise in a particular area is constantly changing and would continue to change if they came to work for you. The Résumé they submit is a mere snapshot of a moment in time. If there are skills where “Expert” would be nice but “Intermediate” is Critical, it’s important to call this out.

A Hiring Manager who struggles to fill urgent roles almost always struggles precisely because he’s not explicitly clear — with himself and with others — which skills and skill-levels are critical, important, desirable, or simply a nice bonus.