Looking for new talent to help at your organization? Whether you’re seeking an employee that’ll stick with you for the long-haul or an interim consultant to help with an immediate challenge, you want someone special. Someone with the skills to do the job, a personality that gels with your team, and learning agility to handle the unexpected.
Unfortunately, you can’t just put a sign in the window that says “Wanted: Corporate rock star.”
One of the most critical—and often overlooked—parts of finding great talent is clearly defining the work to be done. It may sound obvious, but writing a good job profile is a deceptively hard task. However, when you’re crystal clear on what you need done, it’s easier to market the role, attract qualified talent, and get the person you need.
Here are our top 5 tips for what to include on a job description (and a handy worksheet) to help you get started.
1. Focus on responsibilities (not requirements)
Start by listing everything the new person will be responsible for. And, don’t make the list in a vacuum. Ask others in your organization to weigh in. If it’s a new role, talk to the people who will interface with the new person most often—be sure you know their expectations and needs. If it’s an existing role, ask someone who’s done the job before to break down what the tasks are and how much time is spent on each task. Roles change over time. Just because there’s a job description for a position on file doesn’t mean it matches the day-to-day reality of the work.
Job posts that highlight “responsibilities” instead of “requirements” get more applications per view.1
2. Prioritize the work
Now that you have a running list of the responsibilities, it’s time to prioritize them. Identifying the top five (or so) responsibilities will help you zero in on what skills and experiences are most critical to look for in your job candidate. To make things even more real, think about the amount of working time the person spends on each priority responsibility. Assign each top responsibility a percentage of the overall available working time.
For example, if the role was a director of HR, it might look like:
- Priority 1 (25%): Leads HR team of 13 people (hiring, training, managing daily workflow, etc.)
- Priority 2 (20%): Works with senior leadership to create recruiting and staffing strategy
- Priority 3 (15%): Oversees the administration of HR programs, such as compensation, benefits, talent management, morale, etc.
- Priority 4 (15%): Conducts research and analysis, including review of data from HRIS and other sources
- Priority 5 (10%): Monitors organizational compliance with federal, state, and local employment laws
The top five responsibilities take up 85% of the time. That means all lower responsibilities (together) get 15% of the time. If you’re having trouble fitting in all of the responsibilities, your new employee or consultant will, too.
3. Identify skills and competencies
Because each responsibility requires a level of expertise and experience, it’s easy to come up with a long laundry list of skills and competencies you want. Again, you’ll need to prioritize which ones are most important. However, this is one area where thinking about the future is helpful. As we mentioned earlier, roles change quickly in today’s world. Learning agility is key. Looking for candidates who love to learn and have skills that can evolve the role in a positive way.
So, think about these three categories:
- Skills: A proficiency earned through training or experience (e.g., using Excel)
- Competencies: A broad collection of skills and knowledge (e.g., managing a team)
- Adjacent skills: Helpful skills—not necessarily required—that help organizations increase flexibility and innovation (e.g., a financial strategist may also have data analytics skill expertise).
4. Define success metrics
We all know it’s important—for people and organizations—to measure work success. Depending on the work you’re hiring for, you might have success metrics around quality of work, revenue and profits, time-to-completion, skills acquisition, or employee growth. There are dozens of options. Knowing the success metrics in advance will help you, and the prospective worker, to know if there’s a good fit.
5. Go light on the requirements
At the top of the article, we talked about finding a rock star for your job. For many people, “rock star creds” are about prestigious degrees and Fortune 500 jobs. While fancy degrees and early jobs at high-status firms are nice, there are other ways to be just as competent—for example, working at a startup or military training. So, when possible, instead of “requiring” people to have specific qualifications, focus on finding candidates who have experience in the kinds of responsibilities and skills you’ve outlined above. Not only does this lead to better-qualified candidates; it also helps eliminate bias in your candidate pool. The best candidates often come from unexpected places.
Finally, it’s unlikely that a candidate is going to have every skill, competency, and experience you list on your profile. Going line-by-line comparing resumes to the job description isn’t productive. Instead, look for people who have experience in several of your top-priorities needs and interesting adjacent skills and experiences. You might get someone with skills that are even more advantageous than the ones you outlined.