Crafting the recipe for what you need.
In another post I explain how to approach organisational design, so by this point we’re assuming that’s all done and this is a necessary hire. Now you need to create a job description (JD).
There are many schools of thought on this – I believe in making it as detailed as possible. A JD outlines what you expect of the employee. It’s often their first exposure to the company. Personally, I want their first impression to be “wow, they’ve really thought about this – it’s really clear what I need to do and deliver”.
Many argue that in a startup, responsibilities are never that defined, and people need to wear multiple hats and do multiple things. If you’re a team of five people in a basement, hashing out product-market fit, I’d agree. But at the point that you’re ready to scale, you absolutely need role definition. Correction – you need to have designed your organisation and operating model in such a way that it will achieve your long-term goals. Role definition is a product of that.
Your business will face an endless amount of challenges and changes. One of the constants needs to be that staff always know what they’re doing. Sports teams, armies, kitchen crews: they’re always tackling unpredictable situations, but what makes them successful is that every individual knows their part. At least one person in each team is responsible for making sure that’s the case.
The process of creating a JD will also help cement your organisation design. As you flesh it out you’ll be able to spot any potential operational issues e.g. are there two roles doing similar tasks? Are you expecting one person to do too much, or too little?
A good JD will take you about 1.5 hours to write. Just trust me on that.
I break a JD into the following sections:
- Job Purpose
- Key Metrics
- Core Skills
- Additional Skills
Let’s explore each of these sections.
This is literally one sentence that summarises the point of the role. I make that sound easy but weirdly I find this section the hardest. But I’m also someone who writes 8-part hiring guides.
This is your starting point, your “true north”. Everything else in the JD should collapse neatly into this sentence.
You might find it easier to write this part last. Once you’ve defined the metrics, responsibilities and requirements, you can sense-check the purpose against the rest of the JD.
This is simply a bullet point list of the metrics they’ll be responsible for improving.
Here are some examples across different roles:
- % of projects delivered to target margin. (Project Manager)
- No. of meetings booked per month. (Prospector)
- Cost of hire as a % of salary. (Talent Manager)
For each role, there should be at least one and no more than five.
NB: these metrics may not be your Key Performance Indicators (the top-line metrics that actually tell you if your business is doing well or not), but they’ll feed into them.
I organise responsibilities into categories because my OCD tendencies can’t bear to see an endless list of bullet points with no thematic grouping or sequential order. I’d also argue that most people like things to be clear.
Let’s take a Project Manager as an example. You might break your categories down as follows:
- Tracking & Reporting
You’d then break those categories into tasks. Let’s use Planning as an example.
- Produce project plans with input from internal teams.
- Identify and document any project risks or issues.
- Set up project folders and budget trackers.
- Collect and prepare project assets.
- Take the client and internal teams through the project plan and agreed ways of working.
What are the benefits of this?
As a manager, you’re starting to think about how things should be done and developing a process without even realising it.
You’re also shaping the kind of person you need: they have to know how to create project plans and how to work well with internal teams and clients.
Plus, it’s clear. Don’t ever underestimate how much people respect and admire clarity, decisiveness and structure. I’ve had candidates comment that they were attracted to a role simply because it was so clearly laid out and detailed. People don’t want ambiguity – it’s not cool, creative, fun or “startup”. Ambiguity is sometimes unavoidable but never something you should aspire to. Staff want to know what you need them to do, so they can focus on how to do it.
I like to keep this section as basic as possible. There’s a case for removing it altogether, because skills are arguably more important than experience – read How to Hire – Part 4 – Skills Interview to understand why.
That said, skills are gained from experience, so mapping them out helps to paint a picture of your candidate. Once you know what experience they’ll need in order to demonstrate certain skills, you can screen and cull candidate profiles more effectively.
Only list what’s absolutely essential, factoring in whether you can teach or train each key skill.
For example, for an entry-level sales position you could write:
Minimum one year track record of having worked to and achieved sales targets.
That might be all. Sure, you could specify e.g.what kind of client they’ve sold to, but as a manager you may decide that so long as they have demonstrated a desire to work in a sales role, you can teach them the nuances of your client profile.
Resist the temptation to add skills to this section. Using the same example, you may need them to be able to handle objections when they’re in the role.
Under Experience, you might be tempted to write:
Experience handling objections.
But objection-handling is a skill, usually gained from experience selling a new product to clients. Instead, write:
Experience selling a new and/or unknown product to businesses.
This paints a better picture of the type of candidate you are looking for, and will produce candidates with lots of the skills you need. In short: you can determine experience from a CV, you need to assess a skill first-hand.
Requirements: Core Skills
Often I’ve written the JDs for every role in a company, and found myself repeating a lot of the skills across each role. I believe that, just like your core values, there are some skills you need every employee to have, irrespective of the role they’re in (read my post on core skills for my take on what those are). In fact, for some entry-level positions, they may be the only skills needed.
This is the section where you list those out, and it should be consistent across all your JDs.
For example, you may need everyone in your company to be a confident communicator.
Don’t confuse core skills with values. Values are what you believe in; principles that guide your decisions or actions. You can highlight the importance of a value to someone, but you can’t train them to be better at it. A skill, on the other hand, is teachable and measurable. You may value being upfront and honest, but knowing how to confront someone and give constructive feedback is a skill (confident communication).
Requirements: Additional Skills
Here is where you close your eyes and think really hard about what you need from this hire. Don’t exceed five – keep it focused. You’ll be using this at interview stage.
For example, I’ve hired a lot of Project Managers and there are three additional skills I look for in this role:
- Planning – they have to know how to get something from A to B and how to map that path out in a way that considers dependencies, elapsed time, effort etc.
- Stakeholder management – they need to be able to influence and lead internal teams, clients, suppliers.
- Numerical – they need to be able to track budgets, calculate margin and understand how decisions affect these numbers.
There are lots of others I could add, and every organisation will have its own nuances, but these would be my focus.
How to Hire – Part 5 – Cultural Interview talks about values in depth. The only point to make here is that they should be listed consistently across all your JDs. Sure, the values are probably displayed on your careers page, on your wall, maybe even on mugs and T-shirts, but list them here too.
Adding cultural values to a job description makes it crystal clear that employees are measured against these as much as their skills. It makes your JD a complete list of what you’re looking for and what you need. And from a candidate’s perspective, it tells a nice and comprehensive story.
Creating the JD has probably taken you a few hours, but it’s not a frequent task and is the foundation for everything that happens next. Any good baker will tell you that you can’t make a cake without a recipe. They’ll also tell you it can take a Head Chef hours to develop a recipe that will yield perfect results. The JD is your recipe. What comes next is that much easier because of the time you’ve invested here.
One thing to note is that you may not publish the entire JD on your careers page. A job ad doesn’t necessarily have the same function as a job description. That said, I do if I can.
Top performers are attracted to strong managers who are likely to make them successful. Demonstrating how much thought and planning has gone into the creation of a role is a surefire way to prove that you’re a strong manager.
Finally, as a reward for reading over 1500 words on job descriptions, here’s a sample JD template to get you started.
Read on to Part 2 – Agent Briefing
Introduction, Part 1 – Job Description, Part 2 – Agent Briefing, Part 3 – Phone Screen, Part 4 – Skills Interview, Part 5 – Cultural Interview, Part 6 – Offer, Part 7 – References, Part 8 – Candidate Experience.