Human Resources News & Insights

Why you should ditch job descriptions … or maybe not

Could one of these radically different approaches to fixing job descriptions be right for your company?

Replace ’em

Lou Adler, writing for TLNT, has some not-so-nice words to say about traditional job descriptions: “They’re anti-talent and anti-diversity, aside from being terrible predictors of future success.”

Harsh words, for sure, but he doesn’t stop there, adding that:

  1. The “amount” written on job descriptions is far from scientific. Instead, most things like “years of experience necessary” are arbitrarily chosen and, in Adler’s opinion, can be misleading, and
  2. Job descriptions filter out people with different career paths. Not only might you automatically turn away high-potential candidates who are just short of your requirements, but you could also turn away otherwise-qualified people like returning military veterans.

Adler doesn’t go so far as to advocate for completely eliminating job descriptions.

Instead, he suggests moving to a performance-based job description, also known as a performance profile.

A performance-based job description, in Adler’s words, “describes the work that a person needs to successfully accomplish during the first year on the job. Most jobs can be fully described in six to eight performance objectives.”

What that looks like: Gone would be things like, “Must have five-plus years of logistics and supply chain management experience in high-volume consumer durables, plus three years of supervisory experience.”

Instead, that’d be replaced with, “complete the detailed project plan for the new automated warehouse in 120 days.”

Make ’em better

Mary Wright from Blogging4Jobs dials back the “sky is falling” mentality on job descriptions. Traditional job descriptions, she says, are so important that “you can’t have a truly good hire without a good job description.”

In Wright’s mind, the best job descriptions:

  • meet the needs of each person involved in the hiring process
  • point out and describe the essential functions of a particular job, and
  • lay out what education, experience and skills are necessary.

How do you get there? Ask a lot of questions.

Wright says good traditional job descriptions need to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the duties of the position that needs filling?
    1. What are the essential functions of the vacant position?
    2. What are the physical requirements that must be met to perform the essential functions?
    3. What is the reporting structure?
      1. To whom does the employee report?
      2. Who reports to the employee?
      3. What is the nature of the relationship?
        1. Is the individual to be hired as an employee? And if so, are they exempt or non-exempt?
        2. Is the individual to be hired as an independent contractor?
        3. What are the required hours?
          1. How many hours per week are required? Is the employee full- or part-time?
          2. What shift does the position work?

Which approach is better?

So which approach is best for your company?

The answer will vary by company, but what can be said is both writers find some form of job descriptions valuable and crucial for HR operations.

In the same way that many management experts have argued for the elimination of performance reviews, HR pros might look at the call for vastly different job descriptions as a catalyst for auditing your own descriptions to see what could be improved.

For more tips on writing job descriptions, check out five tips for search-friendly job descriptions, eight words to leave out of job descriptions and why getting help from employees could be crucial in writing new job descriptions.

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