The Advancing Leadership Blog

Hiring Right the First Time: The Art of the Job Description

This is a guest post by job hiring expert Dick Burke at Dick Burke Consulting.

Hiring Right the First Time: The Art of the Job Description

You don’t know how to write a job description, and it shows.

High turnover. Lack of employee confidence. Ambiguous performance reviews that leave people confused and aimless.

In my experience as a hiring consultant at Dick Burke Consulting, I’ve noticed that these problems aren’t only preventable—they can be avoided by making some simple changes to the way you start hiring in the first place.

Allow me to introduce you to the Performance-Based Job Description, or PBJD, one of the most powerful tools for getting your hires right the first time around.

Creating the PBJD is All about Defining the Job

Employers spend too much time in their job descriptions focusing on what they want out of the candidate. They ask for education history, experience history, and references.

But is that really all you need to know?

Over the years, as I’ve taught businesses effective hiring principles, I’ve identified four key principles to a good PBJD:

  • Identifying specific and key performance criteria. Instead of hiring an “IT guy,” which is vague, hire someone for an IT job with a goal of cutting Internet downtime to below x% and reducing server costs by y%.
  • Setting goal accomplishments, not tasks for their own sake. Don’t tell them how to do their job, but rather tell them what kind of results you’d like to see.
  • Creating reviewable and accountable criteria. Can you use your job description in six months to gauge their performance? If not, it’s not a good job description.
  • Removing ambiguity about what’s expected of their job performance. No employee should ever think “what am I doing here? What am I contributing?”

Let’s go through some specific examples to shore up your own job descriptions.

The PBJD Workshop: Good and Bad Job Descriptions

With the four above principles in mind, it’s time to troubleshoot your own job descriptions. Let’s look at some common mistakes and how to change them into strengths.

Mistake #1: Ambiguity when there should be clarity.

  • Ambiguous: “Grow sales in your territory.”
  • Clear: “Grow the territory by 15% on an annual basis, lose no clients, and sell specifically identified products in your territory.”

You should look to identify specific objectives, using numbers whenever possible. “Lead your team” or “direct operations” is vague. What do you want accomplished?

Mistake #2: Asking for prerequisites instead of defining performance.

  • Prerequisites: “Must have three years’ experience in sales and a college degree.”
  • Performance: “Must be able to demonstrate sales growth at previous position.”

Rather than asking them about variables like how long they spent at their previous job, ask them what they did. Do they have some experience in achieving similar goals or were they simply spinning their wheels?

Mistake #3: Compromise vs. Sticking to your Guns

  • Bad: Relaxing the standards in your job description simply to get a hiring done, all the time ignoring the key factors you’ve defined.
  • Good: Sticking to your guns!

Few good hires come as the result of compromise. Instead, ask clear questions and don’t make a hire until you have the clear answers.

In time, you can use these job descriptions to serve as job reviews. In six months, you can ask your new hire “did you accomplish what we agreed you would accomplish by now? If not, what are your plans?” This reduces ambiguity, confusion, and, ultimately, turnover.

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