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Why Your Job Description Is Where Dreams Go To Die

The way we promote jobs is all wrong. We should be drawing people in, beating the company drum, and showing candidates what’s waiting on the inside. We should be differentiating our companies, shaping candidate expectations, and doing a better job at explaining why our jobs are worth having.

But we don’t do that. We push out job descriptions like they are a list of demands – or a list of years added to a prison sentence. We should be activating hearts and souls but instead, we depress the whole body. And this is how we say “hello, come and join our company”?

The job description should sell our jobs and our dreams. But it doesn’t. Instead, it’s where dreams go to die.

Sure, we need to use the moment to include some details, necessary skills, and the kind of experience required to succeed in the job. But, what does it matter whether someone has seven years or nine years experience with a specific skill? You can either do the job or you can’t. (Maybe I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but seriously – can’t most do a job in five? After all, that’s a half a decade!)

I think it’s ridiculous that we use our job description to say we need 7+ years required for THIS skill and 9+ years for THAT skill.

Occasionally, I run across a really good job description that sells the company and the dream – and frames the job to appeal to the right people. But they are few and far between. Honestly, when was the last time you were excited about a job (exactly because of) the job description?

Imagine you are a “5 Ball Juggler”

What if the only way to promote our open circus job was to stand on the street corner and yell the following:

“I have ordinary juggler work! Willing to pay what everyone else pays. Looking for someone who can juggle 5 balls. Don’t approach me unless you have been juggling 5 balls for 7+ years and have 8+ years experience working in a similar circus environment. Carney folk (and recruiters) stay away!”

Can you imagine looking across the street and hearing another circus manager yell “Want the best place to work, grow and thrive? I run a 60 person circus and need a great “5 ball juggler” with enough experience to add real value to our team. We get to travel around the globe, work hard building our craft and play hard too. Let’s work together to make the whole world smile.”

Putting salary aside, which one do you think would be noticed more by unemployed jugglers – and happily employed jugglers – walking down the street? I think most would agree that the second option would be more attractive.

This unlikely example above gets to one of the central problems I have with most job descriptions. We would never knowingly create a sign that is average and doesn’t stand out. But we do this every day with our job descriptions. We place the emphasis on the wrong stuff.

Let’s bring the job description out of the Dark Ages

Maybe its because of the way we are forced to enter job requisition data on the admin side of our ATS. Or maybe, because we like to think of ourselves as “hunters”, we believe posting jobs is “farming” and therefore don’t care about writing compelling content. Or maybe it’s because it’s just too damn hard to craft compelling content that sells the job and the company. But I believe the real issue has more to do with belief and hope.

See also: Elements of a Good Job Description

Too many of us have gotten too comfortable with the idea that job descriptions don’t work. We don’t believe in them anymore. And since we don’t believe in them, we don’t try to fix them. All we do is go around saying “they don’t work” to anyone who will listen.

Hope will only get us so far

But the truth is, job descriptions could work if more of us were willing to make them into something that actually worked. We are caught up in a false belief and that keeps us from really trying to fix them.

Our hope keeps us pushing them out like the spam they are. We’ve even invented sayings like “post and pray” to reinforce this notion. Hope keeps us pushing them out, but we need to believe again to change them for the better.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein

Most good candidates want a job they can enjoy and be good at and sink their teeth into. They want the benefits and an answer to “Why” and even some important specifics, but we offer a few weak features and generalities, or a list of banal, self-important demands.

Instead, we write about how our companies offer “competitive salaries” and “comprehensive benefits”. What does that even mean? To me, it means the company offers average salaries and benefits like everyone else. Otherwise, the company would actually come out and say something great like “We are proud to offer some of the highest salaries and best benefits in the market.”

The sad truth is we can only do so much to pretty up a pig. But even our ugliest pig has it’s great selling points. (think bacon, love and friendship, garbage disposal and fertilizer, or an answer to loneliness etc.)

Here’s the real important stuff…

We need to go back to basics and ask ourselves “What is it about our company that is unique and special”. We need to ask ourselves whether we really need someone with 7+ years of this skill or 9+ years of that skill. We need to be more specific about what we have to offer to people who are going to invest their time, effort, and treasure in our companies.

What makes our particular company unique? Why would anyone want to work here? What is unique about our culture that keeps people fully engaged and committed and willing to stay? Why should someone be willing to invest a chunk of their career life in our company? What will they get in return for it? (Hint: It’s got to be more than a pay check). What will their time with us set them up to do and be in the future?

And here’s why people want to work for you…

Our most healthy, qualified candidates care deeply about improving skills, abilities and performance. Sure, they might need the money and the job, but what they also want is an experience that improves their life in some meaningful way. They want to work for a company that embraces growth and helps them become better for their time in the company – not worse off.

People want to understand, even agree with, the heart and soul of our business. Most want some degree of independence – and a fair amount of trust with a rather low level of control. They want to work on teams where they can take on responsibility and have real accountability. I could go on. It’s a rather long list so I won’t.

We can all do better…

We need to stop promoting our jobs in such a horrible fashion. We need to focus on more than our list of unreasonable qualifiers and limiters. We need to stop being so lazy and use the job description space more wisely. We need to use the opportunity to sell our jobs and our dreams too. Because, what we are doing now is not helping us, or anyone else.

I don’t know about you, but if I was a “5 ball juggler” with the required 7 and 9 years experience, I would be all over the job where I get to “make the whole world smile”. Most people would choose the same. And this should scare the hell out of employers everywhere that rely on the same old “prison-sentence” style job descriptions.