Want Better Job Candidates? Write Better Job Specs

Spend More Time Hiring the Right People and Less Time Interviewing the Wrong Ones

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Paul S. Gumbinner
Paul S. Gumbinner
The interviewing process is all too often hit or miss. The culprit is job specs that rarely provide complete information. More often than not, the agencies that hire us, whether on a contingent basis or fee-paid retainer, assume that because we are advertising recruiters all they have to do is tell us the job title and the name of the account. Online postings do the same -- they merely list titles and accounts with some accompanying platitudes. Rarely are there tight, well-written and complete job specifications. Most, unfortunately, are idealized and superficial, with descriptions that don't deal with the issues of the job.

The result? A process that takes far too long. Inarticulate job specs result in too many unqualified candidates being interviewed and leaves those rejected not knowing why they were passed over. The process often becomes one of trial and error.

Properly written job specs should simplify the process and make screening more efficient by providing direction for the search. Simply put, a job specification is a thorough description of everything having to do with the job and the proper candidate. Everything. If a candidate is interviewed and rejected for a reason not listed in that spec, then the description is incomplete -- for example, if an interviewed candidate's personality is wrong, check the spec; if the desired character traits are not listed, then rewrite the specification.

Here are some tips to help reduce the time it takes to find the right candidates:

1. Job specs should contain a complete description of the duties, responsibilities and nature of the job.
A proper job spec should list exactly what the job is and spell out specific accomplishments, successes and other experiences necessary to accomplish it and solve whatever problems may need to be resolved, along with the reasons why these skills are necessary.

2. A good spec should contain the reason for the job opening.
Why is this position open? Is this a new position? If so, what circumstances created the need to hire? If this is a replacement, what circumstances led to the need for change? Is the replacement an upgrade or a more junior position? What was lacking in the previous hire? All this information gives context to the search and helps to sell the position.

3. Job specs must contain the requirements necessary to do the job.
There's a difference between whether a candidate can do the job and whether they will do the job. On a final interview, a candidate who did not have a driver's license discovered she was expected to drive weekly to the client in New Jersey. The driver's license was never part of the job spec, yet was essential for the job. A newlywed who was hired to work on a heavy TV production account determined six weeks after starting that her job required travel of up to 25 days a month. She would not do the job and resigned. Travel requirements, work hours -- all should be articulated in advance.

4. Most important, job specs should detail the pros, cons and issues of the job.
There is always a problem to solve (at every level), and it must be articulated. Don't hide bad news. All issues a candidate will face -- the client situation, client personality and internal issues -- should be listed. Everyone in the interviewing loop, including internal and external recruiters, HR and others, should be aware of these issues so that candidates can be screened accordingly. A holding company once gave us an assignment to find a CEO and neglected to tell us that the entire executive staff of the agency was vehemently against the hire. We changed the job requirements to look for candidates who had experience dealing with a recalcitrant staff.

5. Listing a candidate's likely career path as well as complete reporting structure is essential.
Likely growth and career path is important. Visibility, management exposure and the relevance of the job within the company is useful information. Reporting structure, both up and down, is relevant information. Candidates need to know the backgrounds of those to whom they'll be reporting and who will be reporting to them. Knowing where and how they will fit within the organization is helpful.

6. Explanation of performance evaluation should be included.
Part of the job spec should be how performance will be measured and evaluated. This is particularly true if bonus payments are involved and are dependent on achieving those goals.

7. Everyone should be in agreement with the job specs.
Ever get someone completely through the interview process only to have the candidate rejected on a final interview? Don't waste that time. Make sure everyone -- including the final interviewer -- is in agreement with the specs.

Paul S. Gumbinner is president of the Gumbinner Co., New York. Before starting his executive-search firm in 1985, he spent 20 years in advertising, as an account person in categories including package goods, cosmetics, broadcasting, financial services, publishing, retail and fast food.

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