Jedi Office Hours: Recruiting with a 3-sentence job description

Image Credit: National Library of Ireland (1971)
Image Credit: National Library of Ireland (1971)

Dear Let S de G:

We need to hire a new administrative assistant. My boss wants me to recruit with a position description that contains three sentences and four bullet points to describe what this person does. This would be the fifth admin in two years. 

I have asked him numerous times to please sit down with me to write down exactly what the job requires so that we don’t keep spending money (and my time) replacing this position, but he says that he has nothing to add to what is already on the document.

I feel this is a waste of time. How do you suggest I approach this conversation with him? At some point, it will appear as if I am not doing my job correctly.

A Reader

Dear Reader,

You are right that you will appear to not be doing your job, but that’s not because you keep working with the same position description.

It’s because you are in management and you keep working with the same position description.

At some point, once we are in a leadership position (and really long before that) we need to take the bull by the horns and apply a fix when it is needed. This is especially true when it is in our line of expertise and the nature of our job demands we identify the problem and take steps to resolve it.

If the last few employees did not work out, there must be a reason. Hopefully those reasons were documented in an exit interview. If the reasons were related to skill set deficiencies that were not included in the original position description, then start there.

Do you need someone who has worked with Microsoft Excel or do you specifically need someone who understands Pivot tables, data and charts?

Do you need someone who has put together monthly birthday parties or do you need someone who has organized an annual meeting for 200 people?

Do you need someone who can work past 5pm or do you need someone who is constantly on-call?

Yes, you can wait for your boss to figure out that the problem is the position description or you can step up into your title as a manager and manage this process for him, asking the right questions and identifying the gaps.

Clearly he doesn’t want more work on his desk and the idea of putting together a position description in his mind is not important enough for him to work on. He doesn’t believe it is a priority in his job. It is also clear it is impacting your ability to do yours.

So, here’s my recommendation. You can either:

a) Polish your sales pitch skills to persuade him that investing time in updating this position description will save the company resources or,

b) Propose that you will write the position description and then proceed to knock his socks off.

Then proceed to complete the position description with the elements you will need to find the right person. These usually include a title, a summary of their role, their key responsibilities beginning with what will absorb most of their time or in order of importance, the character traits that are required for the role and the minimum requirements they must satisfy in order to be considered eligible to apply.

Skill set deficiencies aside, your issue may be that the hiring manager is difficult to work with and that’s why you have high attrition in that role. If the problem is a personality conflict with that hiring manager, then it is important to conduct behavioral interviews to ensure the candidate has worked with that personality type in the past and for extended periods of time.

References become very important then. Especially from the boss they considered “difficult”.

If you have that chat with your boss and he acknowledges the position description needs help, you may also want to consider reviewing all of  the position descriptions in your organization while you are at it. (You can hate me now.) Chances are that your position description issue is pervasive throughout your organization.

What has worked for me in the past is contacting hiring managers one on one to discuss the positions in their department. If you want to turn it into a team building opportunity, you can also organize a workshop to review all position descriptions in each department.

I know. Sounds like a lot of work, but your efforts would be useful for many purposes such as benchmarking, compensation structure adjustments and succession planning. And the cost of not reviewing your position descriptions is actually pretty high. In that case, you are not writing the position description – they are. But you all work together as a team to make the descriptions uniform and relevant to the current business.

I am not advocating you do someone’s job for them in every instance, but sometimes you do have to step up and bite the bullet for the sake of progress. We can’t do our job as recruiters if we don’t have the right tools so make life easier for yourself. Start with this position description and then build your case for having the proper tools at all times to attract, source and retain talent for your organization. You’ll be surprised how much of an impact your efforts will have on the business. And that’s always a win-win for HR.

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