We’ve been hearing about the Great Resignation for a while now, so we want to focus on topics relating to why people quit, how to keep them, and how to hire great people when you do have to replace folks. We’re collecting them on our Attracting, Hiring, and Keeping Great People resources page.
June 28, 2022
Ever since the early 20th century, the classic way to hire is to write a job description and then post it on your website. That’s how you get great candidates in the door, right? They’re better than what came before, which was nothing. Job titles alone certainly don’t tell you much, but most job descriptions these days are generic. They’re boring, and they’re uninspiring. You can get them free from the internet.
The way they are written today, job descriptions are intended to be generic. Either they’re focused on the experience level of the candidate you hope to hire, or they cover “core competencies”—skills made generic enough to cover a wide variety of places where people could have learned them. Here are some typical examples that you will see in most job descriptions:
Job descriptions don’t work as job ads because they don’t tell you what you’ll be doing, and they especially don’t tell you why it matters or what it’s like to work for the company. If you pull up job descriptions from five different companies, you’ll find them close enough to be mind-numbing. They get written, they get looked at by people who aren’t really sure what purpose they serve, the people who were looking at them fall asleep, and eventually, they get approved. Candidates who find them on the internet yawn while reading them. They try to imagine what the job might possibly be from the two sentences that introduce the list of requirements and have more insight than the job description itself. Then they go find a friend who’s worked there to ask, “Hey, what’s it like there?” because the description is not helping them with what they actually care about.
What do they care about? Job seekers want to know what work they’ll be doing, why it matters, and what the company is like. Meanwhile, people who participate in hiring want to know what to look for when they’re screening and interviewing. And HR wants to know that people are fairly evaluated against a consistent set of criteria when it comes time to do performance reviews. Job descriptions do a bad job because they’re trying to serve three different use cases for three different kinds of people.
A list of outcomes
Businesses are moving from a process focus to an outcomes focus. So ideally, we’d consider our processes in terms of the outcomes we care about. One outcome we want is that great candidates apply because they have found a place they want to work. Another is that interviewers are aligned and deeply understand what they’re looking for in a candidate, so they can identify when they interview someone who will succeed in the role.
Before we can succeed at either of these, we need to know why we’re hiring them, and a job description does a poor job of answering that question. We’re not hiring them because they have the skills or experiences that we’ve listed in the job description. We’re generally hiring someone because we want particular outcomes. Great candidates will connect with the outcomes we’re trying to achieve, and interviewers who understand those outcomes can look for the ability to achieve them.
That gets us to the job scorecard because that’s all a scorecard is. It’s a list of the outcomes we want the successful candidate to achieve. To make it possible to write, a scorecard is generally limited to the outcomes that will be accomplished in a certain period—say a year—, enough time that the candidate has onboarded but not so far out that it’s past our point of being able to plan well.
A year out, what will this person have brought to the organization? What will they have achieved that makes you want to hire them? You’re not hiring them to spend money or because somebody handed you a job req—at least, I hope that’s not all you’re hiring for. You’re hiring them because you have a problem you want to solve. Take this opportunity to write that down as best you understand it. Writing it down forces you to get clear on what problems you’re hoping they’ll solve, the shape of the work that you need them to do.
We start at a year out and work backwards. It’s tempting to think about what they’ll do in the first few months because you probably have a problem right in front of you that you want to hand off. But people take time to onboard and come up to speed, and the best hires do more than just solve a single problem—they have a big and lasting impact on the organization they’re hired into. They bring what they’ve seen work and warn about what they’ve seen fail and care enough to identify as many problems and ideas about how to solve them as you identify for them. So think about what a great candidate in this role will achieve in a year—at least, your best imagining of it—and work backwards to what they’ll do in the first few months.
Looking for a signal
Between thinking about what they will do over the year and considering onboarding time, working backwards allows you to recognize that what you’re looking for in those first few months is a signal. A signal that you’ve hired the right person, that they will onboard well and mature into the person you were hoping for. A signal that they’re heading in the right direction. A signal doesn’t always equal immediately solving problems—sometimes a signal looks like asking great questions, and sometimes it looks like jumping into the hardest problem and solving it.
If you really don’t care about a year out, and all you have in front of you is a single problem you want solved right now, you’ve learned something. You’ve learned you should hire a contractor or agency. Sometimes an employee is more overhead than you want. An employee is more than just someone who does work. They’re someone who, through relationships with colleagues and customers through strategic understanding and engagement in the day-to-day, creates your organization.
The signal you’re looking for and the outcomes it heads toward are your job scorecard. They tell you what you’re looking for in your interview process. Or they will, once you’ve gotten other smart people in your organization to look at the scorecard and agree that this is why you’re hiring. Sometimes you’ll find that you’ve misunderstood what other people need, or they’ve misunderstood you.
There’s another person in this interaction who often misunderstands a job description: the candidate. Many companies simply post job descriptions as job ads. But candidates don’t find that job descriptions tell them a lot about what they care most about: what work they’ll be doing and what it’s like to work at your company. And the best candidates have options, so they can skip the companies that aren’t even bothering to think through what the candidate might want. The predictable result: a mediocre candidate pool.
You get a better candidate pool by thinking about what the candidate wants and giving it to them. Job scorecards can help—they tell you what you want the person to do, which you can then turn into the marketing language of a good job ad to help the candidate imagine themselves at your company and see why they want to be there. Talented people often have many ways they can shape their careers. And they’re often most motivated by challenges that will have an impact. A great job ad helps candidates envision how they could take challenges and transform them into wins. When you’re clear about what you need with a job scorecard, you paint that picture for them.
Job descriptions are so familiar and tell us so little that we just skim them. If set in the proper context, a job scorecard or a job ad can start a conversation.
But scorecards are helpful beyond job posting. They can facilitate the interview and onboarding process and become a development plan for the newly hired. In these resources, we talk about how to create these documents, leverage them during an interview, and use the information gathered to help people onboard and succeed: