Ditching Your Current Job Descriptions May Help You Hire Better

Your existing job descriptions may be cutting you off from much-needed talent.
By: | January 29, 2019 • 4 min read

In the nearly 20 years I’ve been working in recruiting and HR, it’s hard to overstate the immense changes we’ve seen. Today we train employees via on-demand “snackable” video content, have video meetings with team members who live around the world, and accomplish as much in a day as we used to in a week with new technology at our disposable.

But there’s one pre-eminent HR tool that remains firmly rooted in the past—job descriptions. These arcane missives no longer reflect the needs of today’s agile workforce. Subsequently, they are failing to attract your ideal candidate—and the issue is becoming more acute. I predict that over the next five years, job descriptions—written statements of the responsibilities, duties, required qualifications and reporting relationships of a position—will become obsolete. What’s driving this change? The transformation of work.


Work has Fundamentally Changed

It’s no longer common for people to join a company for the long haul and sit in their office or cubicle for an eight-hour day. Work has shifted. Workforces are increasingly becoming more agile, and teams don’t look like they once did. In fact, we’re seeing a seismic shift in how work is done today. And that creates the need for an equally distinct paradigm shift in how we source talent.

As new trends from blockchain to AI arise, companies are challenged to find talent as skills become more specialized. Jobs are constantly reinvented, and new skill requirements and occupations are emerging as the half-life of skills continues to shrink. And this is increasing exponentially: 65 percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist, according to the “Future of Jobs” report by the World Economic Forum. By the time companies figure out what roles they need to fill, it’s often too late, and that means your company is being left behind.

To compete in this rapidly changing market, companies need to scrap the traditional method of trying to find talent for a specific job description or title, and instead focus on skills needed for specific projects.

Why Your Job Description is Killing Your Recruiting

There are few practices in HR and recruiting as common as creating the job description. And yet, this common-sense approach to recruiting and hiring may be the single biggest obstacle to ensuring you have the right talent for the job.

Why?  Job descriptions are inherently flawed. This is partially the fault of inadequate descriptions that are either so specific that no one candidate can possibly check all the boxes, or so vague that they don’t add context to how the role will contribute to strategic goals.

While job descriptions are unlikely to disappear overnight, companies are putting to rest the notion of recruitment as just the act of finding someone to fill a role. For example, by getting rid of “job titles,” HR service provider Gusto opened the door to an incredible pool of talent that may have never applied to the job as it had previously been described. When it comes to rethinking recruiting strategies, we need look no further than Netflix’s much-revered “Culture Deck,” which reinvented how Silicon Valley identified talent. Instead of focusing on specific jobs, it explained the company’s mission and values and provided context and clarity around how various roles would contribute to the business overall.

As companies evolve beyond the job description, we’ll see them give way to work profiles, which focus on more impact-based hiring

These work profiles avoid many of the deficiencies inherent in job descriptions, and more importantly, balance subjectivity and objectivity. This helps us in talent acquisition find the right talent at the right time and allows us to decrease the impact of unconscious bias by focusing on objective attributes.

Undoubtedly it will take time to acclimate to this paradigm shift. When a resource need is identified, your hiring managers will need to delve into how the role will contribute to the overall company mission for the next 18 to 36 months. But by moving to a goal-oriented summary and the discussions required will ultimately make your organization stronger.

The Benefits of the Work Profile

In the typical job description, hiring managers tend to list the duties of a previous employee or simply re-use an old job description instead of taking the time to think about how the position may have evolved. Instead, a good first step should be considering the impact the role should have. From there, re-categorize the factors that contribute to this impact will help you determine what’s needed for organizational success.

The other significant shortfall of using old job descriptions is the unconscious bias that inevitably happens. By using a work profile and removing cultural descriptions and unnecessary requirements like a college degree, you can attract more candidates. In addition, research shows that men will apply for a job in which they meet approximately 60 percent of the requirements, while women are more apt to look for jobs where they meet most or all the criteria. This impedes you from connecting with the full scope of relevant talent. The checklist mentality contributes to less-diverse workplaces, which is bad for the business overall.

Using a work profile also helps zero in on the skills that are the most important for a role. Instead of using hyperbole that may confuse an outside-the-box candidate or turn off the perfect candidate, you’re able to widen your search while still being extremely specific about what skills the company values.


Wake Up Your Recruiting Strategies

When you ditch job descriptions and hire for skill and scale, you’re less focused on the day-to-day, which allows you to evaluate business needs as well as options for how to maximize spend to achieve your goals. This also frees you up to start thinking of talent needs as a whole, rather than exclusively through the lens of a full-time employee. Teams can look at each project and identify whether it calls for a full-time hire or requires specific skill sets for a discrete project that a contractor can provide.

HR leaders are increasingly feeling a sense of urgency in today’s rapid-fire culture. As the race for talent increases, I believe that work profiles will become an asset in helping companies refocus hiring needs to achieve overall business objectives. As you assess your overall talent picture, consider the role they can play in helping prepare your teams, and thus your business for tomorrow.

Zoë Harte is senior vice president for human resources and talent innovation at Upwork