The Job Description is Broken
written by
David Berk & Ana Petropavlovsky
written by
David Berk & Ana Petropavlovsky
September 14, 2020

You’re swamped at work and you’ve finally won the battle with Finance to get that headcount you have been advocating for the last two quarters.


… now what?

If your next step is to Google the title of the role you have in mind, and start copying and pasting the best elements of each position description you read, you’re not alone. This is the Frankenstein job description, and while it may sound extreme, it is shocking just how common this practice is among companies, big and small.

We believe there is no substitute for a thoughtful and design-driven approach that provides a framework for communicating a role internally and externally. 

Perhaps you’ve taken steps to address biased, exclusionary, and jargon language; while these are a hot topic in HR at the moment (and rightfully so!), much of the HR tech solutions that have emerged to address this issue tend to lose the forest for the trees. A neutrally-written job description may achieve a more underrepresented pool of applicants, but how can candidates be screened consistently and objectively if the interviewing team lacks a clear understanding of the skills, behaviors, and outcomes that need to be assessed? What does a “guru”, “rockstar”, or “ninja” look like, anyway? 

A cobbled-together job description, however clearly-written, may still reveal room for improvement. Here are some of the issues we see with this approach:

  1. Maybe your job description didn’t set the right expectations. Half a year into the role, your employee leaves, and you are back to square one. Instead of updating your job description, you post the same one hoping that the outcome is different.
  1. Did you write it and forget about it? You’re treating the job description as only a mechanism to hire. However, how are you tracking their performance? Did they complete the set of things you had in mind?
  1. The outcomes of the role were unclear to you AND the candidate. Without clear outcomes, how can an employee, or anyone in an organization, visualize the employee’s longer-term role and impact?

Let’s think about the biggest problems in your organization today. Missed sales and marketing targets last quarter? Didn’t push that new feature on time? Lost a key partner? Site was down for twelve hours?

We contend that the biggest problems at organizations almost always start as recruiting problems. Most founders cite hiring top talent as the #1 thing that keeps them up at night. Yet, there is a consistent gap between the perceived problem and the level of intentionality that executives and hiring managers place on developing effective recruiting and talent programs. Nowhere is this gap more apparent than in the job description. 

Amna Pervez, former Head of People Operations at Trusted Health says, 

In my experience, the biggest mistakes I see are descriptions that are too vague, or too broad. Understanding the scope of the prospective employee’s expected impact and accomplishment in the short and long term is important. I think defining what success looks like in the role is the first step. From there you can figure out what technical and non-technical skills/traits are required to accomplish that.

Here at Beacon, we engage the help of a scorecard in our Outcomes-Based Hiring methodology to address some of the difficulty in crafting a job description. Creating job descriptions based on outcomes isn’t new. A quick search will send you to this 2016 Appcast article that discusses the benefits of including outcomes in your job description. 

What do we mean by a scorecard? The Beacon scorecard address three critical aspects of a role: 

  1. The mission of the role or why this role exists.
  2. The desired outcomes, what the role must get done by what time frame to achieve top performance.
  3. The set of behaviors and skills (collectively known as competencies) by which you can systematically assess a candidate’s suitability for the role. 

You may be thinking: what is a scorecard, and what does it have to do with a job description? If the job description is the destination, then the scorecard is the map. Whether starting from scratch or using an existing job description, you can break the role down into its necessary parts. In crafting a job description, here’s one way of structuring the content:

  • About Us: This will tell the candidate a little about your organization.
  • What We’re Looking For: This is the mission of the role -- why the role exists.
  • How You’ll Work at Our Organization: This is your chance to highlight things you are proud of at your company.
  • Who Are You?: This section outlines the skills and competencies of your ideal candidate.
  • What Success Looks Like: Now, here are your outcomes ...

Using a scorecard that your team aligns on means you’ve already outlined the role’s mission, competencies, and outcomes -- you are more than halfway to a complete job description!

By implementing a structured and consistent process that aligns candidates to the desired outcomes, you not only ensure that you set expectations early internally, but you have a repeatable method that evaluates candidates based on the scorecard as opposed to each other. 

How can a scorecard solve for some of your Frankenstein job description issues? 

  1. Your description sets the right expectations! The overall mission of the role should have little room for interpretation. When defining the role, you should be able to articulate with confidence the highest order outcome that you would like this person to achieve in their first turn in the organization. By making the mission as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) as possible, there should be little confusion for you, your team, and your new hire!
  1. You’ve connected the job description to performance. The great thing about a well-thought-out scorecard is that it serves as a living document, not filed away after you make your hire. When measuring performance and defining future outcomes, your scorecard serves as your guiding light. Did they meet the outcomes outlined? Yes? Great! No? Why not? Maybe these were not the correct set of outcomes, or perhaps priorities shifted; either way, the scorecard gives you something to course-correct against.
  1. The outcomes of the role were clear. It is easier to build a Frankenstein job description because drafting clear outcomes for a role also means drafting the plan for the role within the organization. Like your mission, the outcomes for a role should be SMART and well defined.

Overall, your job description tells a story; it should not only engage its reader, but it should also be informative. The reader is someone who may ultimately have a high impact on your organization; they should know what it’d be like to work with you!

Pervez adds, “the best careers pages tell a story. They help prospective candidates have an idea of what life would be like for them at the company. Simply listing values and featuring available jobs is not enough. You have to approach building a career page through a marketing lens and illustrate a narrative to your audience. Photos, metrics and a section on how employees help move the mission of the company forward can be powerful.

You might be thinking, do I have to chuck my old job description entirely? Not at all! Instead, try this exercise and parse an existing job description to build its scorecard. Highlight what you believe to be the outcomes, skills, and behaviors listed.

Are you on the mark?

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