July 22, 2018

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Why I Ditched the Job Description

My recruiting strategy is pretty simple: First, I need to understand the nature of the problem the hiring manager is trying to solve. Second, I need to build an accurate profile so I can locate people with the skills and experience needed to solve the problem. And third, I need to attract candidates with a compelling message.

Unfortunately, a typical job description fails to satisfy any of these objectives. And if a company’s job description or job posting is my only source of information, it can seriously undermine my efforts. Here’s why:

  • Unclear priorities. Job descriptions rarely make a distinction between the most urgent requirements and those that are irrelevant. If my target is blurry, how can I hit the bull’s eye?

  • Too much clutter. The majority of information is useless or distracting; and the wish list is too long or unrealistic.

  • No context or color. Job descriptions tend to be written in abstract, monochromatic language, with no connection between the urgency of the work and how it solves the organization’s immediate problems or long-term objectives. Without context or color, I’ve got no story to tell.

My advice to recruiters: Whenever possible, ditch the job description. While you’re busy wandering around for talent, your competitors may have already arrived at their destination. And if you make a superficial or colorless presentation paraphrasing a bunch of bullet points and keywords, you may very well turn off an otherwise interested candidate.

A Better Set of Tools

When I accept a search assignment, I’ll read the company’s job description. But only as a courtesy. Then I’ll ignore it completely and use my own methods to develop a profile and construct my script.

My approach is to interview the employer and anyone else involved in the hiring decision. As a backup strategy, I’ll email the decision makers a brief questionnaire, which I call an Executive Search Navigator. I’ve found that if people are asked to commit their thoughts to writing, they’ll be more clear as to what they’re looking for. If I need more fidelity after examining the filled-out Navigators, I’ll initiate a discussion to help sharpen my focus. Plus, I’ll have a written reference point if the mission begins to drift in a different direction.

As a final check, I’ll run a “benchmark” candidate or a set of attributes by the employer, just to make sure we’re on the same page. A benchmark is a type of “trial close,” in that it verifies commitment and takes most of the guesswork out what happens when you present your candidates.

Weaning Them Off the Job Description

I’m often asked by candidates if I can send them the job description. No chance. The last thing I want is to confuse the candidate with information that’s probably at odds with my understanding of the job. So, here are some of the scripts I use to sidestep their request:

“I’m pretty familiar with what the employer is looking for. Can I answer any questions?”

(or) “The reason I was hired to fill this position is because the company relied too much on a generic job description and not enough on pinpointing their needs.”

(or) “Is there a particular aspect of the job, the company or the technology that’s most important or needs explanation?”

(or) “Sorry, I don’t have a job description, but I took a lot of extremely detailed notes. Would you like me to go over them with you?”

As you might have guessed, my “notes” are taken from what the employer wrote in the Navigator. But that’s not something the candidate needs to know.

Of course, I want to be totally sure I’ve done a good job. So, as a quality-control measure, I always ask my candidates this question following their first interview:

“Tell me: Did I accurately describe the job, the hiring manager and the company’s situation? If not, please let me know what I missed.”

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I nailed it. And if not, I’ll learn something I didn’t already know.

- Bill Radin

Bill Radin is one of the most popular and highly regarded trainers in the recruiting industry, and has trained many of the largest independent and franchised recruiting organizations, including Management Recruiters, Dunhill, Sanford Rose, Snelling and Fortune Personnel. His speaking engagements include the NAPS national conference, the annual Kennedy Conference, and dozens of state association meetings and network conventions, including Top Echelon and