The Value of a Job Description

job descriptionHow many times have you hired someone without having a job description? How many times have you interviewed someone without paying attention to the job description? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen over the years and given the difficulty of hiring successfully this seems like a counter-intuitive move, to say the least.

Just think if we would have had a job description for President of the United States – would either candidate have qualified? When voting for your local congressional representatives, are you aware of their job descriptions? I would posit that one of the reasons we are so unhappy with their performance in general is that we completely ignore what they are actually supposed to be doing. Experience in diplomacy, legislating, public service, government affairs or public sector governance would all be things we would want to evaluate when “electing” an official in charge of these things. It’s one thing to say they represent us but “how” they actually do this is another thing entirely. I think we are all seeing the fallacy of putting a supposedly successful business person in charge of the government. The two are not the same nor does success in one mean success in the other, it’s apples and oranges. Would you hire a contractor to be a surgeon or vice versa? Not likely.

Too often we hire someone because “we like them” or worse “get a good vibe” about them. Neither of these are predictors of success. The job description is the only way to even semi-accurately predict whether someone has the capability to do the job. You can test for skills and interview for behavior but unless you’re looking specifically for someone who can or has done the things in the job description – that you yourself have defined as success – how can you accurately judge that person? It’s not fair to them or to you to later say they are not doing well if you never checked out their qualifications against the job description in the first place.

I recommend a simple one-page job description. A brief paragraph of the responsibilities and what success in the position looks like, then a list of required characteristics, skills, education and experience and then a list of desired characteristics, skills, education and experience. Whatever you do, don’t make exceptions because “you like someone.” This will get you into hot water every time. After you have a job description that makes sense keep the process simple and don’t interview candidates unless they meet the requirements. The interview should consist of a couple of behavioral values-based questions to see if they are a fit for the culture then similar questions regarding their experience. You don’t care if they think they can do it, you want evidence that they have done something similar in the past and how they think about it. Research shows the cost of a bad hire is 3 times their annual salary. Ignoring the job description can be a very costly mistake.

When interviewing, go back to business basics and be like Joe Friday on Dragnet, “just the facts ma’am.” If a candidate doesn’t meet the requirements of the job description and doesn’t “wow you” with some of the additionally desired requirements, it’s time to move on.