Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Keeping job descriptions and qualifications relevant

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on January 2, 2011

I have noted in this blog that job descriptions tend to be of mixed quality and value. The immediate reasons to hire now and the tasks that have to be taken care of by a new hire now are generally known and thought through with a measure of care and thoroughness. Both new employee and supervisor can find themselves facing surprises in this, but this part of the job description probably makes sense. But the fuller set of tasks and responsibilities that a new hire would do to round out their job description can be a lot vaguer, and can lack a clear sense of priorities or relative importance. Qualifications can be even vaguer still.

A requirement that an acceptable candidate must have certain specific professional certifications or licenses may be straightforward and thought out. But some of the details may be all but arbitrary at times. A professional in functional area X may have ten years of experience, but if this is a candidate who has been working in a business slow to upgrade their systems they may have limited experience with the newer technology you need. A candidate with four years of intensive experience working with this newer technology may be much more qualified. But if one of the qualifications details is that a candidate must have five years of experience working in X, the ten year candidate will pass that requirement and be considered while the four year candidate will be screened out.

This type of filtering problem occurs when candidate search and selection is carried out entirely in-house and certainly when initial screening is being carried out by less experienced lower level HR generalists. They see four years and ten years and the requirements list they have in front of them says five or more, so four gets discarded without further thought or review. And the people who would know the real priorities in this search will probably never know that the wizard at this new technology with four years of experience was even available.

When a company gets candidates through a recruiter, this type of filtering without regard to priorities or relative importance is an automatic given. Job descriptions that recruiters see almost never convey any qualifying or clarifying information that a reviewer could use to know what details have to be adhered to precisely and which ones may be more open to discussion or reconsideration.

So far I have written this entirely in terms of the new hire, but similar disconnects happen in-house and where internal promotions take place. Similar disconnects can happen where job requirements for a given current position change and evolve, and this can impact on both the people holding these positions and on the teams they work with and the business as a whole. What ongoing training do current employees need as their job tasks and responsibilities change out from under them? What are their real required qualifications? This affects both job performance and employee retention, and it can do so badly for both.

I have worked at businesses where no one working there was actually doing the things that their official job description would list, at least as their high priority responsibilities and where in fact no one actually had a real job description anymore who had worked there any significant period of time. That does not help the organization or its HR department, or any of its functional services meet their goals and priorities as they do not quite know what human resources and skills they have or need.

Effective job descriptions with qualifications guidelines are needed for managing the hiring and onboarding process. But this set of requirements only starts offering value there. It is important throughout the organization and for all employees. This is crucial if an organization is going to have the flexibility and capacity to adapt and change to meet the needs of a changing marketplace. This is vital that the senior management of an organization know where it stands now, if it is to identify and respond to new and emerging challenges and opportunities. This is needed to identify and remediate gaps in capability. And this type of understanding tends to slowly but steadily drift out of synch with reality – until a significant problem has developed. And the immediate response is usually to look to bringing in a new hire, or bemoan the fact that the current economy and market pressures do not allow for that.

I am not speaking out against new hires here, but rather in support of current staff and in meeting needs in-house where possible and expanding headcount where that actually makes sense. And a lot of that depends on knowing who you have in-house and on-staff, and what their actual jobs and job requirements are.

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