There are both advantages and disadvantages of job descriptions. Many companies use them to hire talent, relying on a list of responsibilities to back themselves up if anything goes wrong. Faced with an underperforming executive or high turnover amongst leadership teams, CEOs and boards may pull out the job description to assure themselves that their performance expectations are realistic. “See? It’s right here in the job description.” Only then will they ask: Have we been clear about the outcomes we expect? 

There is a better way to successfully hire the people you need and position them for success. Even, or maybe especially, when there are hundreds of applicants for key roles, it can be challenging to find the right fit for your company. It’s time to reevaluate the effectiveness of job descriptions.

Writing Job Descriptions 

Here is what most companies include in their job descriptions, regardless of the role they are hiring for:

  • Job title.
  • Location.
  • Summary of the job.
  • Reporting structure.
  • Job duties.
  • Skills and qualifications.
  • Salary range and benefits.

This isn’t a best practice… it’s just a practice. Many also provide information regarding the company, its mission and, perhaps, a little blurb about the culture, which may look like: 

What’s it like to work at Acme Company? We promote a nurturing and supportive environment where employees are encouraged to bring their whole selves to the job every day.

There are, of course, shortcuts that allow you to create a job description in record time. Need a CFO? There may not be an app for that, but you can easily find a common description online for all of your C-suite positions and more. Google, copy, paste, edit and you’re done.

Building Effective Job Descriptions

Of course, a well-crafted job description requires a bit more effort. Its purpose should be to help management think critically about what the company wants and needs, setting clear expectations and guidelines for the position. A great job description can help attract good candidates and prevent placing unqualified people in ill-fitting roles. The reader of the description should be able to understand immediately the purpose of the position and how it aligns with the organization’s mission, objectives and structure. 

Job descriptions can be an essential tool to:

  • Help managers create development plans, career paths and succession strategies.
  • Resolve disputes during disciplinary actions and reduce the risk of costly litigation.
  • Measure performance. 
  • Ensure that critical business activities are covered.
  • Provide continuity during adverse circumstances such as turnover, illness or death. 
  • Inspire employees to take control of their own progression within the company. 

The best job descriptions avoid overused cliches and hackneyed buzzwords. Poor word choices may unintentionally mislead candidates with language that is more reflective of internal navel-gazing than actual reality. 

When describing company culture, for example, live descriptions work best. What is it about the environment that propels people to want to come to work every day? What makes everyone don the same blue polo logo shirt every Friday? How does your office layout drive collaboration? Why is everyone always smiling? 

The Limitations of Job Descriptions

If you follow best practices in writing your job description, they can have a place in your organization. So why would you want to do something different? We’re hurtling toward an increasingly challenging economy that will require a new, more rigorous way of thinking about who we hire and how we succeed in the marketplace. As your company evolves, even the best job descriptions may fall short.

Is a Job Description the Right Tool?

Even with customization, your job description may read much like those of your closest competitors. When you use a generic description, or even worse, a template, you forgo the opportunity to differentiate your company and its culture from every other company seeking warm bodies to occupy seats. You didn’t find your operating model online. The key roles at your company deserve at least as much thought, and arguably more.

When a job description is too general, it is useless for both hiring purposes and to help management make critical decisions. Creative titles, which we love today, such as Director of Storytelling, Chief Disruption Officer and Thinker in Residence, may signal a fun-loving culture, but they can also hinder your company’s ability to connect with the right candidates. On the other hand, if a job description is too rigid and complex, it can be time-consuming to create, particularly for the value it may provide. Further, job descriptions can easily accommodate the author’s personal biases. These biases do little to facilitate complementary hiring or guide success within the role itself.  

What is the alternative to job descriptions?

Role Visioning: A Better Way To Find the Leaders You Need

When companies hire the wrong person, it’s generally not due to a lack of skills. Rather, it has to do with the intangible parts of leadership that are difficult to capture in a simple job description. There is greater complexity in our businesses today. It’s no longer sufficient to match resumes with a wish list of qualifications. For the most progressive companies, talent is your business strategy. You need to ensure that your leaders have the expertise to deliver on the role, as well as match the company’s values and purpose. 

At Y Scouts, we put job candidates through a rigorous process to ensure the proper alignment with your company. We’ve replaced the typical job description with what we call Role Visioning, which lays the foundation for our entire process, which is teased below:

  • Role Visioning: How we align people with your company’s mission and vision.
  • Covert Search: How we discretely authenticate the person behind the resume.
  • Y Scout’s Proprietary Leadership Model: How we differentiate good candidates from exemplary leaders. 

These processes work to deliver the highly qualified candidate you’re seeking. Role Visioning, in particular, is a powerful replacement for obsolete job descriptions. It isn’t just a rose by any other name. Rather, it is a process that can transform how you find your next great leader.  

First, we help our clients use critical thinking skills to define how success looks in their world. We focus on the things that matter, doing the heavy lifting to distill stakeholder inputs down to a critical few. This makes all the difference in designing a robust process, custom-made for your company and its culture. While job descriptions may have a continued role in your organization, there is a better way to hire executives. Our 3 Uniques process is as rewarding for the candidate and the stakeholders as it is outcome-driven. Contact Y Scouts to learn more.