Change How Your Hiring Manager Uses Job Descriptions (and Get a Few Hugs)

February 26, 2014

In a recent LinkedIn Influencer post I suggested that hiring managers should give their recruiters a few hugs for helping them find and hire stronger people. If you didn’t get a hug in the last few weeks, either your managers didn’t read the post, or you didn’t convince them they should follow the plan suggested.

In that case, you might want to try the approach I am suggesting below for your next candidate search. The idea is to get the hiring manager to use a performance-based job description for assessing candidates, rather then relying on the more traditional approach of box-checking skills and experiences. If you get them to do that, then once they see amazing talent coming their way, I guarantee that the hugs will start flowing.

1. Get the hiring manager to put the traditional job description in the parking lot.

Here’s how to do this. Look at the job description, and then say something like, “This is not really a job description, it’s a person description. Can we put this aside for a few minutes and discuss the actual job?” This works since most job descriptions emphasize the required skills, experiences, academics and competencies a person taking the job must possess. Other than the list of responsibilities, this is a description of a person, not a job.

2. Ask, “What does the person need to do to be considered successful in this role?”

Every job can be summarized by 5-6 performance objectives. I call this a performance-based job description. For example, it’s better to say, “Complete the system design for the new robotic controller line within six months,” rather than, “Must have a BSEE in automated control theory from a top university and 5-8 years of direct industry design experience.”

3. Ask the hiring manager to benchmark the best people currently in the role to the average people.

For example, if your best engineers collaborate closely with product marketing before designing anything, add this to the performance-based job description.

4. Take the original job description out of the parking lot and convert the most important competencies into performance objectives.

Since factors like leadership and team skills are so subjective, they’re difficult to assess. To address this, ask the hiring manager, “What does (competency) look like on the job?” For example, if the common trait “Must have strong communication skills” converts into “Lead the presentation of monthly sales department performance results to the executive team,” you can obtain examples of where candidates have made comparable presentations to assess people more accurately for this competency.

5. Convert “having” to “doing” for technical skills to open up the pool to more candidates who can do the work, but have less direct experience.

This is a critical step. It starts by asking the hiring manager, “What will the person with X years of experience in (skill) be doing on the job, and how will you know if the person is doing it well?” Once you have the task, ask, “If I can find someone who can do (the task) extremely well, would you at least see the person, even if they don’t have the exact number of years?” If you get a yes, you’ve just helped the manager hire on potential and performance, not skills and experience.

6. Order the list of performance objectives in terms of priority.

Ask the manager and the hiring team to put the most important tasks at the top of the list. You’ll discover these cover about 60-70% of the requirements listed on the original job description. Better: they help clarify what really needs to get done. This helps everyone focus on what the job is really about.

7. Offer an A vs. B comparison test if the manager won’t compromise on the skills and experiences.

Suggest to the hiring manager that you’d like to present a few candidates who have the exact skills and experiences and a few who have accomplished things comparable to those listed on the performance-based job description. Then ask the manager to evaluate both groups of candidates on the basis of ability, performance and potential. If you’ve taken the assignment correctly and sourced/recruited passive candidates, there will be no question that the performers will win.

8. If the hiring manager or the HR person says this process is not in compliance, send them this white paper: Littler Review of Performance-based Hiring.

As you’ll discover, one of the top labor attorneys in the U.S. contends that a performance-based job description is not only objective and in full compliance with all U.S. labor law, it’s also more predictive.

If you pull this off, you deserve a super big hug. More important, you’ll help your hiring manager and your company hire a more diverse workforce of stronger people who are motivated and competent to do the work described. You’ll also discover that it’s what people DO with what they have that makes them successful, not what they have.

* image by RayMorris1

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