What is it with Job Specifications being written in such a way as to confuse the hell out of everyone? Think the terms Team Player, Good Communicator and Passionate About (insert completely mundane task here)? Who writes this nonsense and why hasn’t anyone changed the way job specs are written to sound more…well…relevant to normality?
Who Writes the Job Specification?
Often HR or the Hiring Manager will write the job spec. But you get the impression that nobody has ever really been trained or given the opportunity to think for themselves or have freedom of expression when it comes to writing one. Why otherwise would you write that it is an essential skill to be Passionate about Fault Finding for example? Who is actually going to be passionate about fault finding? When I think of being passionate about something I think of a political activist or an inspirational leader rallying the troops. I don’t think of Jim the Maintenance Engineer looking under a conveyor belt to find why the mechanism has got stuck.
In the nicest way why is HR or say an internal recruiter writing a job spec? I do engineering recruitment but I’m not an engineer. Why would I have the conceit to think that I know what the Maintenance Manager with 20 years experience of doing the job will need? Surely the Maintenance Manager would be better positioned to put down what they want and what they need?
The Role Hierarchy Plays in the Job Specification
Companies are setup in such a way that certain people are responsible for certain tasks even if they aren’t best placed to fulfil them. Is this not counterintuitive? This is essentially creating a rigid system to make things easier for operational management to understand accountability, but which involves asking someone who isn’t best placed to do a job, to do the job. That is basically the gist isn’t it?
The dilemma is that in any company larger than a handful of people in a room, two problems persist; communication and accountability. Who is accountable for what and how best to communicate it to the person or persons who are in turn accountable for them doing their job(s) correctly? To keep things simple and efficient companies therefore designate certain job criterion into a person’s job specification. If therefore that person does not do the job properly then everyone is clear on who is accountable and for what.
This is fine. However, the problem is that pragmatically speaking the criteria that is designated doesn’t always make that much sense when you think about it. A HR Manager dictating what a Maintenance Engineer should be doing? What do they know about Maintenance? Or an internal recruiter writing a job spec for a PHP programmer when they don’t how to program in any language let alone PHP.
Aren’t Job Specs simple though?
Yes and No. You can make it simple, but the purpose of a job spec is to illustrate and inform the relevant duties of a specific position. It needs to have sufficient detail to be truly effective because otherwise, and most job specs are like this, it simply becomes a list of mainly generic tasks and requirements.
Padding out Job Specs for Paddings sake
The problem with someone who isn’t qualified to write them, but is never the less accountable for job specs, is that their knowledge of the role is at best 2nd hand and in most cases pretty basic. What then happens, and nobody will admit this willingly, is that to justify their accountability and to validate their ability to do the job, they’ll resort to padding out the job spec with what can best be described as generic gumpf.
Yet, what still baffles me is the lack of originality to this gumpf. For example, “the candidate must be comfortable with working alone and as part of a team”. Seriously? You couldn’t think of anything better than that? This is the equivalent of asking can you complete a basic task such as, I don’t know, eating a pizza independently or sharing it with your friends? Tough one, eh? They can have the Hawaiian, but Pepperoni or Meat Feast I think I’d struggle to share.
Understanding what is realistic to meet a Job Spec
Essentials and Desirables are a staple of a job spec. But who actually decides on what is realistic and what isn’t? As a Recruiter who is paid and specialises in the recruitment market place our customers are hiring in wouldn’t it make sense to consult with us on what is realistic and what isn’t? It would make sense to but the problem here is that Recruiters are trusted to give genuine advice and recommendations in the same way you’d trust a hungry Alligator with your new Puppy.
I find this sad, unconstructive and a frankly shameful reality that plagues our industry. To be honest, there are just too many cowboys out there in recruitment. It’s given an honourable and necessary profession a bad name.
You need to know what is realistic and what isn’t? Putting a bunch of wishful thinking essential skill requirements out there when you are paying market rate is pointless. You’re just wasting your time.
This leads on to the level of unrealistic expectations in the current technical recruitment market. At the present time the wise folk of the UK have decided that somehow it’s best to the leave the EU. The good old days of manufacturing mastery led by British Leyland’s world renowned reliability and 3 day weeks for electric because our utilities networks were screwed really appeals. I mean who wants people from abroad doing jobs in the UK anyway? It’s not as if we have chronic skills shortages already is it? And never mind that the UK has received more financial benefit from the EU during our membership per capita head than any other country in Europe. It’s all completely logical, right?
Ok. The truth is leaving the EU doesn’t make any sense to me. I think the countries gone mad, but hey, it is what it is.
But we do have chronic skills shortages. And whilst it’s a great period for candidates because they’re so in demand that they can move about frequently for pay rises and get them with relative ease the balance is way out. By leaving the EU we’re hugely straining an already depleted talent pond of people who do jobs that need to be done to keep the country running.
Where the issue arises of unrealistic expectations is that employers often haven’t seen the rate that this problem has escalated. Just 5 years ago it wasn’t really all that hard to find most technical roles in Engineering. Sure, recruiters would make out it was hard to justify fees but it really wasn’t that hard. Now there are a several placements this year that I can recall that have taken months to place. Placements that have yielded one viable candidate. These same placements 5 years ago I could have confidently told a client I’d find someone in the same week or possibly even as soon as 48 hours time. I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid in my confidence. That’s all changed. It’s really that bad. And we haven’t even left the EU at the time of writing this.
A client being under the impression that finding what they see as a routine skilled candidate will have a bit of a shock when it takes months to find someone. The other problem is that they’ll probably have to use several recruitment agencies. They will discover a stark contrast in the quality and results delivered. Add to this that trying to manage candidates by thinking you are in charge when they know they’re gold dust in the open market puts employers on the back foot.
The correct expectations should be that it is ridiculously hard to recruit technical talent. This problem will only get worse. Expect that many recruitment firms and recruiters who may call themselves senior consultants aren’t actually all that good. You therefore need to find a recruiter who knows what they are doing and is doing it for mutual benefit. Finally, stop hiring people on skills alone. Seriously. When hiring consider WHY they will want to work for you and WHY they are likely to stay long term.
Too many people know the game and that they are in demand and will jump ship, upset the apple cart and cause your business a world of pain. All the while you’ve passed up the chance on the 2nd or 3rd best skilled, but more importantly, the one who really…REALLY wanted the job and for the right reasons too. That’s who you hire. And when you do, for the love of all things good, look after them.
Job Specs take none of this into account. They consider skill requirements first and generic gumpf to fill in the bits about personality later. If you’ve ever read “Good to Great” – one of the greatest business books written of all time by people that knew what they were talking about because of a shed load of evidence, one lesson to take away is that you hire who first, then what. Who First, then What. Very important. Not, what they can do and then who they are as some afterthought.
Job Specs need a rethink and should be dictated by the hiring manager only. No HR, Talent Acquisition or Internal Recruiter should go anywhere near one. They hand it out, they don’t write it.
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