Your Job Descriptions Are Terrible


The Strategic Web - Terrible Job DescriptionIt doesn’t really matter whether you’re a small startup or a large established company; your job descriptions are probably terrible. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Businesses and prospects both hate job descriptions
Trying to figure out what a job is like by reading through a job description is like reading the outline for a jr. high student’s term paper. It’s a poorly organized, rambling collections of ideas that only give an impression of the thesis. Developing a job description can feel feel like nothing more than an administrative task solidly in the realm of Sustaining activities. Documenting the tasks and responsibilities assumed to be associated with a job shouldn’t be mistaken for what the job is.

Don’t focus on tasks
Job descriptions should not be tactical documents. I know this seems counterintuitive. An employee does tasks right? True, but that’s just what they do for the company, not who they are for the company. If it’s a new job, then the tasks haven’t even been fully determined yet, so don’t bother trying to guess too many of them. A successful candidate will end up creating many of the tasks that may have never been considered by the job description writer anyway. Plus, tasks always give an incomplete and usually skewed picture of the job. It might be necessary to list some duties associated with the job as a pre-qualifier. But, don’t let such a list become the focus of the job description.

Don’t ask for mythical creatures
Another problem with the collection-of-tasks approach to job descriptions is that they become wish lists. As each stakeholder in the company gets to chime in, the job description morphs into an impossible-to-find chimera of a candidate. A mythical beast that is great at administrative tasks and at graphic design. They need to be a designer/developer who is also a great writer, or a people-oriented, team-player who is comfortable working alone with a lot of autonomy. This “catch-all” approach causes too much tension between the Sustaining and Originating needs of your organization. People usually excel at one or the other; attempting to mix them too much sets them (and you) up for struggle.

Stop searching for the Golden Child
I’ve had both clients and colleagues over the years lament their troubles with finding good candidates. Many times after I’ve read their position posting it becomes clear they’re looking for a rare and exceptional talent for a regular job. The posting doesn’t only describe an uncommon set of skills but also asks for exceptional quality of both experience and character. Inevitably my colleagues ask if I know anyone like that. My answer is usually something like, “Yes, and they run their own agency already.” I get it; you want awesome people to work with you. That’s fair. What’s not fair is expecting to find that person for a mid-level, non-titled producer position. Both employees and businesses benefit from jobs that allow people to grow. Having a position description that details what they’ll do as well as what they could learn attract those who are accomplished but driven to improve. If there’s little room to improve, there’s little reason to stay.

Also, one of the worst things that could happen to you is finding and hiring that exceptional person for an unexceptional role. They’re likely to get bored quickly, insist upon their own methods and strategies rather than yours (they’re already successful, remember?), and not take direction well.

Do focus on goals and opportunities
Job description should really be strategic documents connected to the core activities of your business. When focusing on goals the business must determine how the position helps achieve these foundational goals rather than just a set of tasks. Require the candidate to offer how they would achieve those goals without the cheat sheet of tasks laid out for them. The interviewer can determine if they have the needed industry knowledge and skills based on the methods they describe and solutions they propose. The candidate should tell you the tasks, not the other way around. Your job opening is a set of opportunities and goals rather than tasks and responsibilities.

Using the act of writing a job description as an originating, strategic act means the job itself will be more closely aligned with your strategic position and will set up candidates to connect with that strategy. Plus, you’re likely to create a better, more focused role for your organization that will be filled by a better qualified candidate.

Hiring and job descriptions are just one of the aspects that a Strategic Positioning Audit can help you improve.


The Strategic Web is an independent consultancy focused on innovation strategy. I help businesses and organizations develop strategies to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and progress out of static practices.

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Scott Hutcheson