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6 minute read - Linkedin Essays Recruitment Career Advice

Recruit People, Don't Fulfil Roles

Nov 14, 2017

Are you recruiting people, or are you recruiting to fulfil a role?

Too many companies seem to want to fulfil a role and bring in a candidate who ticks the right boxes in theory; instead of hiring individuals who can do most of what you want now, learn how to do the rest, and can offer you more than you thought you needed and take you to a level you never imagined.

When you recruit to fulfil a role you might: assess against a checklist, objectively weight points against specific attributes, and when you employ, you then squeeze someone into a rigid set of responsibilities.

When you recruit people, you gain access to their full range of experience and potential, and allow them to overspill the role and benefit your team in ways you didn’t anticipate.

Start with the Job Description

Anyone who has written a job description before knows that it is hard. It is a painful and bureaucratic activity.

How tempting then, to simply re-use one that you’ve written before, changing a few words here and there, or having a standard template for your company/department/team and then fill in the blanks and expand a little.

If you are recruiting to fulfil a role then re-using a previous description or a template is a good way to start. After all, you don’t really want to attract someone flexible that can add value in ways you don’t expect, you want them to conform to the role description.

A job description I saw this morning fit this model perfectly.

  • The Job Title was “Test Manager”, but the job description was a copy and paste from a previous role because the first line of the description read “Test Analyst …”.

There was repetition of this throughout the job description. Clearly not much thought had gone into the writing of this spec, after all when fulfilling a role, you don’t need to attract the best person, you just need someone who matches the listed criteria.

  • Description mandated “at least 4 years in…”.

When recruiting for a role having the ability to reject people based on years of working in a previously titled role makes it easy to evaluate. Very easy to review CVs and reject them based on objective criteria without having to consider what people learned over those years in the role.

  • When asking for good communication skills, ensure that your job description communicates well. Having frequent spelling mistakes and poor grammar does not set a good standard of the communication skills that you expect. e.g. “Excellent communication ability, analytic and report to the manager” does not set a high standard.

The Job description is the first, and possibly only, view that the candidate has into your organisation. If it communicates poorly then the candidate can rightly assume that you communicate poorly, and do not value good communication, or that you have incredibly low standards.

Unfortunately I could go on and pull apart a specific job description, but there is little point. It is more important that we fix the description to recruit the best people.

Fix your Job Description

If you do want to recruit people then remember that your Job Description is not simply a statement of what you want, it is also a filter. People read the description and then choose to apply, or reject it. If you don’t put care and attention into the job spec, people who do care will reject it and you have created a filter that draws in people who care less.

The number of years is less important than the lessons learned, the skills gained and the experience built up. If you can specify what experience you want to bring into your team and workplace then that will serve you better than years worked. This also opens up more interesting and valuable conversations in the interview. “What did you learn…”, “Given your experience, how would you approach it differently…?” rather than “How many years in…?”

The Job Description is your chance to reveal your culture and values to the candidate, if they do not shine through then you run the risk of attracting someone who works better in a different organisational culture. If you communicate your culture poorly then someone who values that, will filter themselves out of the process.

You know what gaps you have on your team, or in your department:

  • skill set gaps
  • experience gaps
  • interpersonal communication gaps
  • whatever

In the job description, describe the problems that you think having those gaps has led to - phrasing them as solutions.

  • “You will help us automate the execution of a web application using Java to add acceptance condition validation during the build process.”

For a more detailed example, compare the following two statements:

  • “We are trying to move from waterfall to Agile and need people with previous experience of Agile who can work on teams to help improve the way we work.”
  • “Experience working with waterfall and agile methodologies.”

If your job description simply states what you want, rather than why you want it, then the candidate has no ability to infer a context from your statement e.g. How should someone interpret the second statement “Experience working with waterfall and agile methodologies.”

  • Do you do both?
  • Are you transitioning?
  • Do you actually know what these words mean?
  • Do you have a hybrid process?
  • How do you expect me to apply my experience?
  • What is the lack of experience leading to?

The first statement “We are trying to …” provides a context and implies that you need to have experienced waterfall, and agile methodologies, and know how to transition them. It also provides an indication of the challenges the role involves and is more of an attract statement rather than a filtering out statement.

Attract the Best

To fulfill a role, make statements that can be answered “Y/N” and are easy to filter CVs through. This will not attract the best people to your role because they need to see that you understand why you are recruiting and can appreciate the value that they can bring to your organisation.

To recruit people, write your job description as a sales pitch which describes your environment, the challenges you face, and the gaps that you need help with.

To write job descriptions like this you need to more fully understand why you are recruiting someone in the first place.

I don’t recruit just to meet numbers of staff, I recruit because there are specific aspects of the work that I need to improve. And to do that, I need to understand my team, teams, or department well.

As a consultant, part of my work is helping managers understand what the gaps are, and how they can best fill those gaps. Also helping them shape the recruitment process to enable them to recruit the staff they need.

You want to attract the best, not have them reject you because your job description fails the test.

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