Job descriptions are the building blocks or foundation for managing work in any organization. Well written job descriptions provide a basis for identifying the specific responsibilities of a job, working conditions, necessary knowledge and skills, tools and equipment, and interaction with others. Well written descriptions serve as the:
- linkage between an employee’s assigned tasks and the mission of the organization;
- guide for managers in assigning work, prescribing training, and creating employee goals;
- method for seeing expected results and basis for performance evaluations;
- inventory of legal limitations to the role and activities of the position;
- summary of what the organization is looking for when it hires; and
- overview of how work is organized and resources are allocated within the organization.
Most of us would agree that writing and updating job descriptions is not the most exciting process, yet a critical one for the success as well as protection of our organization. Managers, as part of their expanded role as the recipient of numerous decentralized human resource processes are now becoming more involved in the development and updating of job descriptions. This is especially true at the initiation of the hiring process. The reasoning is that managers are much more knowledgeable of what and who they need and by including this information that recruitment process can be improved. Although it is easy to see the pros, what are the cons to this change in responsibility?
A very simple example of a pro that becomes a con relates to specificity. As a manager, I can easily imagine the ideal candidate for my team’s open position. I can go into considerable detail about the attributes, skills, and behaviors that my “perfect” team member will exhibit as well as visualize how the team will operate after the key addition. In other words, I know what I want. Moreover, with a weak economy I can easily assume that what I want is out there and looking for work.
To make sure that I get only the candidate that I want, I create a job description that will only attract those that are a perfect match. In reality, this move to greater specificity limits the pool of applicants that I have to review during the hiring process and can result in very few, if any applicants meeting my requirements.
How pronounced is this phenomenon? The 2011 ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Survey estimates that about one third of global employers have a hard time finding potential candidates that meet their actual criteria for employment. Almost 75 percent of those with hiring challenges identified a lack of experience, skills, or knowledge among applicants as the primary difficulty. Put simply, they could not find a suitable candidate. Although it might be argued that really good candidates have jobs even in an economic downturn, a complementary explanation is that added specificity caused talented alternatives not to apply, be filtered out, or drop out of the process.
How do we counteract this impact of too much specificity?
- Make managers aware of the danger of being too specific in the duties and requirements.
- Move away from tasks and duties and include more skills, behaviors, and competencies.
- Review postings before they are advertised to make sure that a sufficient number of desired candidates will apply.