The Smoke and Mirrors of Job Descriptions

I recently came across a job posting for an organization that was looking for a human resources business partner. It was intriguing so I clicked on to see what it was all about. As I continued to read on and review the minimum requirements, I saw requirement after requirement reeks of recruiter. I read on further with the intention to find something in this job description that had the makings of a human resources business partner and still more recruitment duties.

Don’t get me wrong: every organization has their own internal titles that define what people do in an organization. However, there was nothing in this job description that screamed human resources business partner except for a one-liner asking for someone who has a generalist background. This posting got me thinking about all of the negative feedback I have received over the years not only from candidates, but in conversations with other practitioners about the poor manner in which job descriptions are put together and then broadcasted to the masses.

Companies shouldn’t arbitrarily choose a title for a position. There needs to be some logical link between the internal title and the real-world title as most people in that industry know it. In this case, calling the position an HR Business Partner says to a job seeker that the job is indeed an HRBP position. When they click to read on, that person will likely be looking for typical HRBP duties. When they read on and see that they are really looking for a recruiter, it is first off disappointing and automatically disengages a potential candidate from looking any further at your positions.

The other thing is the operational definition for job duties should more or less match what it is that an HRBP generally does in the industry. Again, there will be some differences due to differences in industry, culture, and needs within the organization. I’m speaking about the “bricks and mortar” of the job description, better known as the essential duties. Your essential duties should seem reasonable for the job classification you are trying to fill. It is not so much of an issue if you assign recruitment duties to an HRBP, but in addition to those recruitment duties, what are some of those specific generalist-oriented duties? Will this person be involved in succession planning, will they be managing other key staff, or will they be handling employee relations? This is a small list, but some of the questions that an active or passive job seeker would have in reading this posting.

Your need to fill a job is basic. However, your ability to attract the right people to your organization is heavily dependent on how well you write your job description. Having your title say one thing and having the actual description asking for another is what I call smoke and mirrors.

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Make sure your message is consistently conveying what you are recruiting for; what this person must be willing to do; the minimum knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform said job; and of course if there are preferred duties, that is fine too. If jobseekers don’t understand what your need is, they are automatically disengaged and turned off. Here are three things that are certain to occur if you post an ill-conceived job posting:

  1. It may paint your organization as not having a full understanding of what you want.
  2. It makes your organization appear as if it is unaware of the industry and what a particular practitioner actually does.
  3. The right people won’t apply, so the right people won’t be screened or interviewed, and the wrong people will be hired leading to turnover and job mismatches.

Spend the necessary time looking at your job descriptions on a regular basis. Train and hold your recruiters, compensation practitioners, and hiring managers accountable for making sure that duties and titles have real-world flair so you can recruit the right people from the start.

Janine N. Truitt is a human resources professional as well as an HR blogger/founder of “The Aristocracy of HR” blog. Follow her blog "The Aristocracy of HR" at . Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her tweets on Twitter @CzarinaofHR. The opinions shared in her articles are her own and are in no way a reflection of the views of her employer.


21 Comments on “The Smoke and Mirrors of Job Descriptions

  1. Janine: This is an age old problem….or at least a problem that arose when the internet did. I always ask my prospects and clients how they view recruiting and HR. If they see it as the same function (which they often do) we begin the education process about what each of these functions does. Clearly, the job description you refer to was written by a company who thinks recruiting and HR are the same. You may find this article I wrote in 2010 of interest:

  2. If you as the employer don’t understand the bricks & mortar of the position, you will not understand what profile to look for when filling the position and you are almost certain to hire someone who falls short through no fault of their own.

    Give a great deal of thought to requirements of the position. Then take it to the next step to identify what traits and skills are needed to succeed in the position based on those requirements. If you follow these two steps, an effective third step would be to utilize a validated and normed personality assessment to determine which individual(s) best matches the desired profile.

  3. This is so true! I especially agree with your third point about what will occur if you create a poorly written job post: “The right people won’t apply, so the right people won’t be screened or interviewed, and the wrong people will be hired leading to turnover and job mismatches.”.

    The number top two complaints from recruiters are that they have too many resumes to screen for their jobs, and not enough qualified talent. So many don’t realize it’s their own fault! If they were straightforward in the responsibilities, title, must have skills vs nice to have skills, etc, they would find that unqualified job seekers will self-select out and top talent would have an easier time time finding their positions.

    I just did a webinar on this topic yesterday, check it out:

    Jen Picard
    Marketing, Bright

  4. Carol,

    Thank you for your comment and sharing your article. I agree 150% with the points you made regarding what was omitted in the “mock” job description you provided.

    The truth of the matter is things are purposely omitted (and I’m sure you know this)for the purposes of either trying to hide skeletons of the business or out of fear that the company may scare people away with certain bits of information. It is unfortunate that businesses haven’t realized that they are dealing with adults that are fully capable of handling the truth and making an informed decision regarding their careers based on facts.

    This is why I titled this piece the “smoke and mirrors” of job descriptions.

    I appreciate your feedback and great post by the way.

    Best Regards,


  5. John,

    Thank you for your comment. I want to examine a piece of what you said about employers not “understanding the bricks and mortar of their positions.” I think the reason for this is that few employers do any real ongoing analysis or assessment of jobs anymore. Furthermore, managers are not even aware of their direct reports day-to-day duties and how “stuff” gets done. This lack of fundamental oversight is a huge contributing factor to the less than desirable job descriptions and postings I am discussing.

    If people followed your steps and mine separately or collectively they would be better off.

    I appreciate you reading.

    Best Regards,


  6. Jen,

    Thanks for chiming in. Yes, recruiters complain about too many resumes and not enough qualified talent (both are valid in a sense). In my opinion, there are two types of recruiters. There are ones that do what they are told- post and pray etc. Then there are those that challenge the thinking of their hiring managers and superiors. Hiring managers want one thing and that is to fill a vacant position like yesterday with a qualified person. While they have technical expertise into the job they are looking to fill it is the job of the recruiter to help them fine tune the responsibilities and then the job description for optimal results. Like anything else it is how you pitch these things, but I think recruitment as a profession has gotten a little lazy in this department.

    Thanks for reading and sharing the article on Twitter.

    Best Regards,


  7. Great article tackling a pretty important topic in the hiring space. The job description is the foundation for hiring great candidates. If your company is putting out a description which is at odds with the kind of person you’re looking for, there will only be more hiring problems from there. The people you see in interviews, whether in person or through online video, will likely not fit some part of the criteria you’ve put out. This means you’ll end up hiring the wrong person and possibly even finding yourself rehiring again soon. This is why companies should take some time to focus on the job description in order to improve hiring.

  8. Josh,

    Thank you for reading and your comment. It is such a crucial piece of the hiring process. You are absolutely right about the dangers posed by a bad job description. The real travesty is when you put a posting out there and no one responds leading to zero hires-who wins in that scenario?

    Thanks for chiming in!

    Best Regards,


  9. Janine, I have seen this mishap a great deal over the last few weeks in my job search and spend more time reading through job descriptions that are not Generalist or HRBP than I am successfully investing time in applying for the correct positions. While, I understand many organizations are becoming lean and adding more responsibilities to these roles in many cases they are just the opposite or lean more towards recruiting or compensation requiring the accompanying certifications, such as CCP or CEBS.

    Ironically, I went on what I thought was an Operational Supervisor interview this week and found out the company was looking for an Administrative Customer Service Supervisor. My background is in Operational Management (Customer Service/Transporation) as well as Labor Relations with Generalist responsibilities. The company is looking for someone to standarize its business processes and improving on its Customer Service delivery and then transition to a future site Generalist role which I am equipped to do coupled with my MBA (concentration in HR). But, that is not listed anywhere in the job description for a supply chain management organization that appeared to be looking for a manufacturing/operational supervisor.

    In my case, it was a chance of luck that I had the exact experience and education to fill the true role that exist. Referring back to the point of your article, this would probably explain why the position has been posted for close to 3 months. I am grateful I have a diverse background that enables me to list transferable skills across various industries placing me in front of a dream position that I would have otherwise missed out on had I not had the Operational Supervisor skills to begin with.

  10. Gina,

    Thank you for reading. I am glad that you were able to land your dream job despite some inconsistencies in the job description. You are a success story, but I would venture to say there many more people that have been negatively affected by this sort of oversight and that is unfortunate.

    Good luck in your new position!

    Best Regards,


  11. I totally agree. If my background was totally in Customer Service, I would have never reviewed the job description and missed out.

  12. Thanks, Janine. A really good idea that someone (I think here) came up with: after carefully reviewing a JD for its accuracy, completeness, comprehensibility (and lack of jargon & BS)- send it over to marketing to make it interesting.


  13. Hi Keith,

    You’re welcome and thanks for reading. That is a novel idea. Let the recruiter deal with the compliance and contextual pieces of the JD and let marketing do what they do by attracting the masses. I like!

    Best Regards,


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