I think that if most professionals wrote reports, briefs, letters, plans or even email as incompetently as they write job descriptions, our knowledge-based economy would crumble and we would all be herding something that bleats. Which may or may not be different from what we do at work today, but would be infinitely sadder.

Visit any job board or any corporate website and pull out any job posting or job description, and you will see a disaster. You will see lists of duties that go on for pages, you will see requirements that no one person could ever fulfill in a lifetime, you will see preferences for this and demands for that and a chirpy little footer about how they value diversity but most certainly won’t call you. What you won’t see is any sense of priorities, opportunities to work on cool things or long-term possibilities for greatness. Are you still wondering why you have mediocre applicants?

There are two ways these ridiculous things come into being. The first is that they are automated. I once worked for a company where hiring managers were required (yes, required) to select from a set of standard job description templates before their role could be posted online. Can’t find one that matches your open role? Well just come as close as you can… They’re just a guideline.Screw Winter Bay and Wellington

The second way these come into being is Some Manager. Some Manager who has never seen a decent job description, and who has certainly received zero training about how to write one. If you are Some Manager, what can you do? HR is now strategic so don’t expect help there…

I know, why not go online, find something close and copy that? There’s the ticket! Now add in all the specific projects you want this person to tackle, list all the skills you and your team lack, demand a Nobel Prize in PhotoShop and make sure you ask for exceptional communication skills. Don’t worry, Bethany in HR will edit it and it’s just a guideline.

But here’s the problem: Bethany won’t edit that thing. It’s not in her job description. Bethany’s incompetent job description is all about keeping people out of the corporate East Gate by matching up their resume with your job description. Bethany doesn’t do guidelines, Bethany plays word search.

All of which assumes a resume even gets as far as Bethany. Chances are, the guard at the West Gate, ART, our automated recruiting technology, has turned your hideous list into a dataset that promptly rejected bunches of great applications because they didn’t match your stolen keywords. Algorithms don’t do guidelines either, it seems.

Welcome to the South Gate, the one your corporate city-state secures with incompetent job descriptions, guaranteed to impale even the most earnest applicant on the portcullis of your collective laziness and lack of imagination. It’s time, Lords and Ladies of the Spin Cycle, to teach ourselves a new skill: writing decent, professional job descriptions.

Your friends in the Productivity Prevention Department are probably pretty screwed on this one, but we’re marketers and we know how to sell things to people who don’t want them; we know how to write compelling copy; heck, we know how to define a value proposition for a soul-destroying market segmentation role.

It’s all about perspective. Bethany and ART and the other strategic sorts view job descriptions like screens. They’re there to keep the bugs out. As hiring managers, we need to think of them as spider webs: sticky enough to engage candidates, strong enough to hold them and capable of keeping them interested (or at least struggling) until it’s time to poison them and suck their insides out for lunch. Okay, this metaphor needs work. But if you’re still with me, you’ll agree that our job descriptions will look a lot better if we start from the point of view of selling something instead of preventing something.

On a day when you should be doing a budget or something tedious, try drafting a job description that:

  • Fits on one standard page
  • Does not include any of the following phrases: attends meetings, prepares reports, other duties as assigned (anyone who is surprised to find these things in the workplace probably won’t get too far in the interview process)
  • Has no more than six areas of responsibility (fewer is better)
  • Has five key skill requirements, and nothing stupid like proficiency with Outlook
  • Lists no education requirements (I’m fairly certain high school students won’t be applying anyway, and it’s Bethany’s problem if they do)
  • Lists no specific platforms and applications (you can train for those)
  • Does not demand industry experience (marketing is a transferable skill, people)
  • Does not say anything like this: “… works collaboratively with sales, IT, finance and shipping in a fast paced environment..” (First, it isn’t true and you know it, second, it isn’t interesting and third it doesn’t sell the job)
  • Resists the urge to demand anyone be “an enthusiastic self-starter who works well with others” (that’s a job description for a Golden Retriever)

Next week, we’ll look at the final gate, the one with the bug zapper.

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