By: Ed Muzio
Ask around in any sizeable organization and you’ll find that written job descriptions can quickly become obsolete. Whether it takes a few weeks, a few months, or a whole year, new hires quickly find themselves in a job notably different from what their written job description implied.
As a consultant who provides staffing services, this should concern you. For you, a job description is a performance specification; it drives your process and defines your success. How can you possibly be expected to deliver a “perfect fit” to a specification that’s nebulous, temporary, and inaccurate?
Ask the Right Questions
Your main solution, perhaps, is to press for specifics. You encourage hiring managers to write a job description that is accurate and specific -- to help your staffing services deliver the same result. When in doubt, you push the manager for more details.
If that’s your strategy, be warned: length and detail do not guarantee accuracy. A hiring manager may not know what the future holds, no matter how hard you press.
Avoid chasing the holy grail of the perfect job description -- instead, dig deeper and dig differently. Investigate five questions that go beyond what the job description says and you may find your definition of success gets clearer even though your job description doesn’t change.
Test the strictness of standard or pro forma criteria. Are experience, education, and/or GPA requirements hard and fast? Sometimes they are -- doctors need medical degrees and delivery drivers need licenses.
Other times, seemingly iron-clad criteria exist only to fill in a blank, or to serve as an elimination tool when sorting through resumes. What if the data entry clerk didn’t have three years’ experience using the client’s software package, but had ten years experience using a competitive product? Would it matter?
Ask: “If I delivered a candidate who could do the job, but didn’t meet this requirement, would you care?” If the answer leads away from requirements toward what it means to “do the job,” that’s information you can use.
Learn what the job really is. Sometimes, hiring managers don’t know. If possible, talk to peers or direct reports informally. If not, an informal coffee (not a formal “meeting”) with the manager may suffice. Either way, don’t start with the job description -- the manager will only defend it; the peers and reports will only nod robotically. Begin instead with blank paper and a genuine desire to learn more.
Ask: “What do people in this job usually succeed at?”, “What do they usually struggle with?” and, “What do they tend to like and to complain about?” The insights you glean will help paint a fuller picture of the job than any written description could.
Dig beyond platitudes. All jobs require things like “working in teams” and “adapting to change.” What does it mean for the job you’re sourcing? Does that mean working with the same five people for the next three years, or, does it mean a workgroup whose membership will turn over every six months? You need to know what the generalities mean.
Ask: “Why do you list ‘good team player’ (for example) as a requirement?” and, “In what situations is this requirement necessary?” The more you know about what’s really going on, the more effective you can be at recommending candidates -- and recommending the job to candidates. Your goal as a staffing service, after all, is to provide a good fit for the first two weeks and for the next three years.
Learn the company culture. As you interact with manager, peers, and direct reports, attend to clues about the company culture. Is it a work group of analytical thinkers, or is it a “shoot now and ask questions later” crowd that values fast action? Do they prefer dissent, agreement, or silence? Are workaholics rewarded, ignored, or chastised? Paint your own picture of what the new hire’s experience will really be.
Ask: “When was the last time someone didn’t fit in well with the group?”, “Why not?”, and, “How would you describe the culture here?” The job description may change over time, but the environment probably won’t.
Consider career advancement. Most jobs promise career advancement opportunities, at least in the abstract. Remember that “where someone can go from here” and “where people usually go from here” may differ. The typical career paths of past employees can provide a wealth of information, both about the job itself, and about what types of hires work best.
Ask: “What happened to the previous job holder?”, “Did he or she move up, move over, or move out?”, and, “What’s the best case and worst case career ladder from here?” You’ll learn about ideal hires; you’ll also glean specific nuggets about advancement opportunities that you can use to woo potential candidates.
All of this, of course, is not to deny the value of a well-written job description. A good one certainly makes life easier. But start by envisioning a number, written in bold red marker, at the top of every job description.
That number is “estimated accuracy,” a percentage value to remind you that, no matter how detailed the text sounds, it’s far from perfect. The number could be 25%, 50%, or even 90%, but it’s always less than 100%. The investigation suggested here -- indeed, your job as a staffing consultant -- is to make up for the difference.
Edward G. Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics, is the author of the award-winning books Make Work Great: Supercharge Your Team, Reinvent the Culture, and Gain Influence One Person at a Time and Four Secrets to Liking Your Work: You May Not Need to Quit to Get the Job You Want. An expert in workplace improvement and its relationship to individual enjoyment, Muzio has been featured on Fox Business Network, CBS, and other national media. For more information visit Make Work Great and follow the author on Facebook.