Good Job Descriptions Equal Good Hires

So often managers cannot clearly explain what kind of person they need to fill a position. They call up the recruiter with a new position but with very little in the way of competencies or specific job duties. The typical phone call goes something like this: “I want to open up a req for a webmaster,” says the manager. “Okay,” says the recruiter. “Can you tell me what this person will be doing?” “They’ll be working on the corporate web page ? you know, revising the code, updating the look, and that kind of stuff.” “What specific skills should they have?” the recruiter asks. “Oh, I don’t know. Probably should already be a webmaster somewhere. They should have at least three years experience and a degree in computer science.” And so forth… Unfortunately, not very helpful. Kind of like telling the used car salesman that you want a big red car with low mileage. As a recruiter, you have to have a process for getting the information you need from the manager. Here are a handful of suggestions about how to construct a better job description than you usually get. But be warned: none of these are easy and all will require you to invest some time and energy into understanding your managers and your company better.

  1. Spend the time it takes to know your company’s technology, products and services. Use these slower days to learn more about your company. Firms that have a stable base of recruiters who have taken the time to become well versed in the language and technology are much more effective. Get the basics down by taking a tour, chatting with selected experts, maybe even “shadowing” one of your hiring managers for a day or two. Really good recruiting teams train themselves by offering brown bag lunches and inviting key employees to talk about what they do. Focus on the business needs more than recruiting techniques like data mining and site flipping. While these may be useful at times, it is far more useful to know exactly who you are looking for.
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  3. Interview current incumbents. Take the time to find someone in your firm you does the same job you are recruiting for or a similar one. Ask them about their background, skills, education, and interests and how they got hired. Do this with enough people and you will have a pretty good profile of what kinds of skills are needed and where these people can be found. Really good agency recruiters have been putting together profiles like this for years. A free lunch can be a great way to get an inside track on a hard-to-find candidate. If there are no incumbents, network. Find some similar people in another company and offer them a lunch or dinner in return for suffering through your questions. This activity alone can be all you need to become much more effective. Investing a few hours in investigation and detective work can pay off in being able to find the right people a lot faster when the time comes.
  4. Develop a good interview to get the information you need from the hiring manager. Put together a few recruiters and develop a set of questions that would give you the specifics you need to start looking for a person for a specific position. Take the hiring manager to lunch, or set up a 30-minute meeting, and use that time to conduct your interview. Make sure it has questions about why a particular skill or trait or educational level is needed. Probe deeply, and ask the manager to point out some really good performers currently working for her and then go interview those people to find out what their profile is like. If you find that the profile you develop is way off base from the hiring manager’s perception, be sure to sit down and go through the discrepancies step-by-step. Work out why the manager’s perception is so far off from want you found and try to get the manager to accept ? even on a trial basis ? a new set of criteria. This is one of the most common issues recruiters face, but to be successful you have to be able to negotiate and sell to the hiring manager.
  5. Educate the management team about the market and the limited availability of skilled people. While this can be looked upon as an excuse, a well-structured presentation focused on facts can also be taken in a positive way. It can show that you are on top of things, understand the market, and have a strategy in place to deal with the issues as long as you have their cooperation. CFOs make the market situation clear to the CEO and the rest of the management and also have suggestions for dealing with whatever market situation exists. You have to do the same. The biggest mistake I see is, though, is that this education is often perceived as whining, because many recruiters offers no suggestions on how to deal with it. Even with the economic slowdown, the best people are hard to find. Many are even more leery of leaving one employer for another than they were a few months ago. Make sure you explain to managers that their ability to convince the candidate will depend on how clearly they can explain the job and the exact duties the person will be expected to perform.
  6. Do not accept a shallow and useless job description. By accepting the shallow set of requirements we often get from the hiring managers, we reinforce that it’s okay. We have to reasonably push back using some of the techniques I have described. But if you accept these poorly thought out criteria you will waste time and be accused of not being able to find the right people. This will only work against you in the end. Recruiting is a partnership between you and the hiring manager and it is, perhaps unfortunately but truly, your responsibility to change it. Use a service such as that provided by to help you create the job description and to write up the interview questions for both the hiring manager and the candidate.

The ability to analyze a position and then match candidates against the requirements accurately and quickly is one area where you can add a great deal of value and be perceived as an important asset by the hiring manager.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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