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Why job descriptions are like Mary Berry’s technical challenge

On the Great British Bake Off

When a vacancy arises, our first move is usually to reach for the job description we have on file. The one we used the last time we advertised for the position.

Because it’s the same job, right? Well, maybe not.

Job descriptions can become out of date very quickly as the role in question adapts to the changing internal and external world. Technology is developed that provides a different way of doing the job. Or the political, legal or social backdrop creates new challenges or opportunities for the business.

But these out-of-date job descriptions tend to hang around like a bad smell. Which means you could end up recruiting to a role that doesn’t look like that anymore.

Even an up-to-date job description can be very unrevealing. Often they can be just a bullet point list of the key features of the role. Like Mary Berry’s technical challenge on the Great British Bake-Off – a basic list of instructions without the necessary detail you need to actually bake a Sachertorte or cherry Danish.

A job description that’s fit for purpose needs to be like a recipe. All the key ingredients of the role should be there plus a clear step-by-step breakdown of the tasks, priorities and responsibilities of the role. Ultimately, it must give you a clear picture of the day-to-day reality of doing that job.

So how do you create a job description that matches the reality of the role?

By conducting a job analysis, that’s how.

Job analysis is a way to get under the skin of a role, to look at it from every angle so that you can be sure that your recruitment activity – from job description to advert to interview to assessment – matches the reality of doing that job on the ground.

A thorough job analysis will enable you to:

  • understand the job in detail – what it looks and feels like to someone doing the job right now
  • understand what the future holds for that role so you can future-proof the job description and other recruitment materials against changes in the business and the wider world
  • be clear about the sort of person you need to recruit to fulfil the role as it is now and will be over the next few years
  • design the competency framework, interview questions and other assessment tools to fully evaluate candidates against what the job requires
  • establish a rigorous audit trail in the event of any legal challenge to your recruitment process
  • improve attrition rates as successful hires find the job to be what they were expecting.

It’s like doing a 360 degree performance review, but on a job, not a person. By talking to senior level people in the business, line managers and the people on the frontline you can get a huge amount of insight into what that job actually entails, what its real challenges are and what changes are afoot internally and externally that might impact on the people performing this role.

For instance, when I did a job analysis for a client a little while ago we discovered that their doorstep sales role would be transformed by the new technology the company was about to introduce. Which meant the business needed sales people who were much more tech-savvy than their predecessors had had to be. This new information led to significant changes to the recruitment process.

More recently, I’ve been sharing the techniques involved in job analysis with a client’s HR team. They’ve been surprised by some of the things the exercise has revealed about jobs in their organisation they thought they knew back to front.

For example, a simple one liner on the job description for one role states that the candidate needs to ‘be able to deal with difficult people’; however when explored through job analysis this was brought to life as ‘being able to deal sensitively, empathically and non-judgmentally with difficult customers’.

The team are looking forward to reviewing more roles within the organisation using job analysis. This will ensure their job descriptions are up-to-date and help them design their recruitment activity and interview questions.

Do your job descriptions need work? Are there roles that have moved on since the last time you recruited? What could you do to ensure they’re up-to-date and bring the job to life? Let me know how you get on.

One Comment

  1. realtekh says:

    nice……….thank you for your sharing

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