How to recruit staff: write a good job description

Before you do anything – STOP! It’s vital that before you start you know exactly what you’re looking for and that all the stakeholders involved are on the same page.

So quite simply, the first thing to do is to invest some quality time upfront on defining an accurate job description and a clear “skills profile” for the person you’re looking to recruit. It may sound like the most obvious thing in the world, but it’s absolutely vital to allow you to look and find the right qualities in your candidates, and importantly for the candidates know exactly what they’re applying for.

Spending a little longer on a job description and “skills profile” will save you hours sifting through unqualified applications, interviewing the wrong type of candidates and disagreeing with other interviewers on who best fits a loose, hastily thrown together job description.

So what is the key to a clear, meaningful job specification and what should you cover?

Job title
This may seem like stating the obvious, but avoid in-house terminology.  If you have “client development managers” in your business, but the rest of the world calls them “account managers”, then for the purposes of attracting candidates, use the terminology that’s most recognised.

Location
Remember where a role is based and where the candidate will be working can be completely different – be absolutely clear, in so far as you can, as to what the split of a candidate’s time will be across locations.

Reports and line managers
Get this nailed down, as this will also define who the key stakeholders are in the interview process. Ultimately this will also define who should be given most counsel in the final recruitment decision.

Role summary
There is a temptation here to over expand what the role is.  The vacancies that attract the best candidates are those that are the easiest to communicate.  It is quite a challenge, aim to keep this to one crisp sentence, as a maximum no more than two.

Key responsibilities
This is the most important part of the job description, not only for the candidate, but also for everyone involved in the interview process. Remember that there’s is no point re-inventing the wheel though, so if you already have standard job descriptions for common organisation roles don’t stray too far from these.  

If you’re starting from scratch, then go through the following process:

  1. Brainstorm just about every aspect of the job you can think of, and consider any and all of the following (and remember that this is an indicative, not an exhaustive list): inputs/outputs, staff, qualifications, territories, processes, planning, managing material and financial resources, 360-degree communication, people management, product knowledge, premises, equipment, who they are engaging with internally and externally, deliverables, time.
  2. Now group these up into key responsibilities. Realistically, unless it’s a senior role, you should end up with no more than eight bullet points.
  3. Now rate and rank these in order of importance. Again, it’s key that all the right stakeholders within your business are in agreement here.
  4. Importantly, if you have someone who is already performing a similar role, get them to take time out to “review and red pen” the role for you.
  5. Finally, draw one more breath and review what you have. Is everything on the list that should be? Don’t clutter or puff it out with things that are not genuinely important to the role. Also ask yourself the question, “is the role set out achievable?”
With more senior roles, its worth breaking the key responsibilities into functional areas (eg: operations, management, organisational, etc.). That said, even with the more senior roles, try to keep this to no more than 12-15 bullet points.

Finally, remember that if you’re going to include targets, then be very specific – a target is simply an output of everything else you have put in the job description. Remember the job description must stand on its own merits to describe the activities required to ensure that the target will be hit!

To restate, time spent upfront getting this first step right will repay you fourfold further down the line. Even more importantly, it will help sharpen your ability to spot the right candidate when they walk through the door – you will have an objective and practical yardstick to compare people by and without fail even the unsuccessful candidates will respect you and your company for that.

This is the first in a series of “common sense” recruitment tips.  Next time we’ll be looking at where to place the vacancy advert to attract the best candidate traffic for your vacancy. Chris Smith is the founder of recruitment marketplace yourpeoplemarket.com. Before this, Chris was joint founder of ecrmpeople, which he grew into a £12m company over seven years.

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