Every time a dull job description is posted as a job advertisement, your hiring process is already headed down the wrong path. The language used in most job descriptions actually prevents candidates from understanding your job. This slows down your hiring process, wastes your time by interviewing the wrong people, and creates unmet expectations which can lead to high employee turnover.
There are 3 mistakes hiring managers make with job descriptions and postings:
1. Define the job too abstractly, without context.
As a job seeker, I read a plethora of ads…and yours stood out. Most postings are impersonal, cookie-cutter lists of “You need to do items A thru Q. Apply now.” Your ad projects the importance of the job and shows how my work would be meaningful. It was personal and appealing.
When trying to define a job’s requirements, employers often reduce the requirements into a set of attributes — mental abstractions like “strategic vision,” “global perspective,” or “adaptability.”
In the conference room, these abstract concepts seem clear enough. But they won’t survive contact with reality.
Outside the conference room, attributes are not firm, fixed, universal, or measurable — they vary by context. Every interviewer will evaluate every attribute differently, because everyone defines the world from their own context. (Most pre-employment personality testing only compounds the problem. Personality testing brings a false sense of precision to fundamentally imprecise abstractions.)
Consider those three attributes again (“strategic vision,” “global perspective,” and “adaptability”). Both a CEO and a nuclear arms negotiator would need all three. But a CEO and an arms negotiator would be interviewed and evaluated very differently. Outside of a bad Hollywood pitch meeting, no one would say they are interchangeable.
Most job advertisements are full of desired attributes, but devoid of the context of a position. What does that actually communicate to the candidate? With most job ads, you might as well be writing in Latin.
This is a common problem in all aspects of hiring: what is obvious is rarely important, and what is important is rarely obvious.
Defining desired attributes is an obvious task. But the far more important, yet far less obvious task is defining the context within which you are hiring.
2. Too much emphasis on education and years of experience.
Decades of research have proven that neither education nor years of experience are remotely effective at predicting future job performance. Yet most hiring managers still consider both.
Just as with defining attributes, the obvious task — counting years of experience — overlooks the far more important factor: the context of a candidate’s experience. How did the candidate achieve results in a different work environment from your own? Judging job performance without context can lead you to hiring the wrong person. People with experience thriving in one setting may not be prepared to thrive in a different setting.
Most ads have an experience requirement. But think about the people who stay in one job for 10 years, but don’t grow past their first year. That is a 9 year disparity between their actual experience and the number on their resume. And we’ve all met people who, like Forrest Gump, were passive witnesses while great things occurred around them.
3. Judging candidates for mirroring the same imprecise language in their resumes.
With all these abstractions, candidates have an even more difficult struggle. How can they distill their thousands of life experiences into a two page resume? How can they translate their best attributes into language suitable for any number of potential employers?
So candidates end up falling back on the same imprecise attributes used in job descriptions. These are a double-edged sword — both the most effective way to hit the keywords managers look for, and the least effective way to prove their unique qualifications.
Why don’t abstractions work? Ask a hiring manager if they believe the attributes candidates list on their resumes. They don’t — most managers think they are opinions or empty marketing claims.
Ultimately, very little of what is written in either the job description or the resume helps either party understand each other, or helps to predict who will be successful on the job. In this very first step of the hiring process — posting a job ad and reviewing resumes — there is already a frustrating breakdown in communication.
To learn how to write more effective job postings, read How to Write Job Descriptions that Attract Top Performers.
Disclaimer: This advice is primarily for professional hiring in a large metropolitan area. Our perspective is shaped by our work in a retained executive search firm, conducting searches for CEO and senior staff positions. We’ve completed over 600 searches for associations and other nonprofits in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Chicago, but not all of our advice will be relevant if you are interviewing for other types of positions in other job markets.