By: Ron Fry
Is your organization having difficulty retaining employees in a particular position? If so, it’s entirely possible that the job description is poorly defined or that the job requirements are totally incongruous. (Another possibility, of course, is that you have no written job description for employees to use as a starting point, in which case you should expect continued personnel headaches.)
One entrepreneur I know told me of a job description she once tried to fill whose job requirements included the following:
- Conducting regular meetings with key vendors.
- Evaluating quotes and references from new vendors.
- Making critical marketing strategy recommendations.
- Managing the inventory in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse.
- Composing initial drafts of flyer and catalog copy.
- Analyzing cash-flow predictions.
- Filling in for telemarketing staff when absences arose.
Do you see a problem here? Six different hires in an equal number of months certainly did. The longest lasted two months; the shortest (smartest?) two days.
The various elements of the job were so wildly out of balance (and required such varied skills and training) that no one person could have ever reasonably been expected to fulfill all of them. As a result, no matter how accomplished a new hire, he or she quickly felt overwhelmed, overworked, and underpaid.
Define the Job’s Requirements
One of the initial keys to hiring qualified candidates for the job is to make sure it is a job, not a series of disparate tasks that would tax Michelangelo’s spectrum of skills.
There are undoubtedly times when a dynamic company needs to ask employees to “pinch hit” in areas outside their daily routine. But there has to be a daily routine from which to deviate! Before you try to find the “perfect person” for your “perfect job,” take a long, hard look at exactly what that job will mean to the person who will spend the majority of his or her waking hours performing it.
If your job description offers no defining, consistent sense of purpose, you will find it very difficult to attract top talent who will perform it well over an extended period of time. Remember: “Revolving door” positions cost your company money!
In most workplaces, asking the company “Renaissance person” to sweep up or punch endless reams of figures into a computer system is an expensive mistake that will inevitably leave someone (probably you) in permanent “search mode.”
Remember: They are Not You
Here’s an important reminder for entrepreneurs and others who have personal stakes in their organizations: You may well be willing to wake up early, stay late, and do anything -- repeat, anything --to ensure the attainment of your company’s goals. You may have to scrub toilets and crunch numbers and pack shipments and make sales calls and…and…. But you chose the bed -- you have to make it, sleep in it, and pay for it.
As a fellow entrepreneur, I applaud your dedication, zeal, and crazy (probably completely unsupported) belief that you will, of course, defy all odds and actually succeed.
At the same time, you should be aware that many candidates will not share your willingness to “go the extra mile” day in and day out.
If you want an accountant, create a job description that focuses on accounting work. If you want a salesperson, the job description should focus on sales work. If, however, you want someone who will pay any price as an accountant, bear any burden as a salesperson, and share your personal willingness to peel dried chewing gum from beneath tables at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, you’re going to have a problem. You’re not looking for an employee; you’re looking for a kindred spirit.
You may have to wait a while before you find one. And, when you do, you may well have to give up a piece of your company to compensate him or her for the overweening dedication you expect.
Some companies develop seemingly cogent job descriptions that include an innocent-sounding catch phrase: “other duties as required.” Then the poor new hire comes to realize that 85 percent of his day consists of tasks that fall into that “other” category. Save yourself -- and your employees -- some aggravation. Make sure the “miscellaneous” category in the job description does not camouflage something an otherwise qualified person would reasonably resent doing.
Identify irrelevant components of the job description. Then be honest about what should stay in the job description and what should be reassigned to someone else. Share your conclusions with others in the organization and get their input. Don’t stop tinkering until you’ve developed a workable job description that’s both coherent and well-organized around a central theme.
Remember: The fact that you yourself are (or would be) willing to perform any given task in the description will not be persuasive to an employee who ends up feeling pulled in 16 different directions. Make it your goal to avoid hiring applicants who (secretly) plan to stay with you only until a better opportunity arises.
Next, do a little brainstorming about the background, experience, and skills your ideal candidate should bring to the table. Try using the following questions as a starting point:
- What kind of educational background is required?
- What level of computer experience is required?
- What specific software tools are required?
- What other technical skills are required?
- What business background should the applicant have?
- What communication skills are required to fulfill the tasks associated with this position?
- How important are problem-solving skills in this position?
- What kinds of day-to-day challenges will the successful employee need to routinely overcome?
Pay particular attention to the specificity of each of the job duties listed.
Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from Ask the Right Questions, Hire the Best People, Third Edition © 2010 Ron Fry. Published by Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved.
Ron Fry has written more than 40 books, including the best-selling 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions and 101 Smart Questions to Ask on your Interview. He is a frequent speaker and seminar leader on a variety of job-search and hiring topics and the founder and president of Career Press. He lives in New Jersey with his family.