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Job Description – you get what you describe

Job Description: Just Do It

Job Descriptions, the good, bad and the ugly

The job description will come in all shapes and sizes but make no mistake, the job description will set the culture of the company. A lot of folks think that the culture of the company or the department is shaped by the leadership and I absolutely agree. But leadership is only part of the equation. I believe that the culture of the company “CAN” start with the job description. I say this for a couple of reasons. I can write two different job descriptions for the same job and depending on the way we write that description, depending on what we emphasize, and what we describe, we can attract different candidates. Write an outgoing, hipster job description, mention beer Fridays and you will attract some candidates and you WILL weed out others. Write the conservative job description that lacks personality and our hipster will probably pass. I am not saying one is right or wrong. That will depend on the culture you are trying to hire for and if you are hiring for a creative agency, this may be a consideration. The description will affect your candidate funnel. You get what you measure and you will hire who you attract. The job description is the “top of the funnel” and we can absolutely influence the top of the funnel and stack the odds in our favor to hire and create the company culture we want.

I was reminded of this was when I was asked to review a Head of HR job description and a few of the bullets points read as follows:

  • Ability to add and subtract two digit numbers and to multiply and divide with 10’s and 100’s.
  • Shows respect and sensitivity for cultural differences; educates others on the value of diversity; promotes a harassment-free environment; Builds a diverse workforce.

Seriously?  This is the job description for the Head of HR position? Two thoughts:

  • You can’t make this shit up.
  • How do you interview for these skill sets without sounding like a dumb ass?
Does the interview proceed as follows?
  • “Here is my first question. What is 23 plus 42?”
  • “Question number 2. Can you as an HR professional give me an example of a time where you showed cultural sensitivity in the workplace?”

First, we need to ask ourselves “Who is responding to this job posting”. If I were being “tested/interviewed” for these skill sets, I would be asking myself “WTF is this?” I either have my work cut out for me, or I going to be reporting to a dumb ass. Either way, I am not getting excited about the opportunity. HR is setting the tone for a specific company culture when we attract and then pass to the hiring manager candidates that respond to this “bait”. What candidates will become excited during an interview that asks for basic arithmetic? 

Some job descriptions will sometimes have a lot of detail. This extra detail can be used as a reference in a few situations:  

  • Assessing skill sets against compensation bands
  • Or when a couple of managers pour over each bullet trying to figure out if an employee is fulfilling the job requirements or not. In other words, they are trying to figure out if they can fire the employee.

I have a hard time imagining a situation where a manager would exclaim:

“Johnny can add two-digit numbers, check the job description on file, we may need to give him a raise!”

In my opinion, the bullet points I listed at the beginning of the post are a little too specific. I think Nike got it right with the following and I wish I could use this as the first bullet for our job descriptions:


Another version could read something like this:

Job Description

This is your new job description

With the HR job description I mentioned earlier, I was handed a job description filled with minutia and bullets points, most of which I thought should be ripped out of the document. All total, there were 5 bullets under the Benefits section including these condensed snippets:

  • Maintains and controls under lock and key, all confidential employee benefit files.
  • Assists employees with benefits during the decision-making process.

OMG! Really? There were also sections with minutia listed under the categories of Strategic HR, Recruiting, Employee Relations, etc. . . . Ok, you get the point.  I won’t bore you anymore.

Yes, it might be easier to fire an employee when we have a checklist of details we can compare behavior too. “Check the job description. Johnny is doing X, but he isn’t doing Y or Z.  We can let him go.”

I believe that this managerial mentality will result in a defensive employee mentality. A typical response may be: “Hey, you wanted me to add 2 digit numbers, you didn’t say anything about subtracting two digit numbers. That isn’t part of my job description.” The guy with this answer is killing the company culture.

My suggestion for the Benefits section was the simplify to the following: “Responsible for all facets of the benefits program including but not limited to health benefits, 401K, and the HRIS.” After the edits, we took a 2-½ page job description down to less than 1 page. This may seem like a vague job description to some, but everyone wants to be treated with respect. Spelling every detail out is what we do for children. Treat employees like adults, you can expect adult behavior. (You may not get it, but you set the expectation for it). Treat employees like children and you will be rewarded with childlike behavior.  Consequently, the company culture follows. 

The job description will attract what you advertise for!

I get that this may not be right for every company. I also get that we need to train up on skill sets specific to the company or the industry. What I want to avoid with job descriptions is getting too specific and describe what should be “a given” for any individual position. 

Some folks feel that since this is the top of the funnel, we want to attract AS MANY applicants as we can. This mentality makes the job description look like it is working. My personal philosophy is that I would rather create a specific ad for a specific personality and skill set. I may receive fewer resumes, but these will be targeted candidates that are a much closer fit. I can weed specific candidate mentalities OUT of the application process and more importantly, we can attract specific mentalities with creative job descriptions. 

At a prior company, I was asked to hire 3 different Executive Assistants.  All of the execs we were hiring for had very different personalities and different requirements. My goal was to hire a specific personality and skill set for each executive and consequently, we wrote up 3 different job descriptions. I am confident that each EA we brought in would ONLY be successful interviewing and working with their specific Exec. Swap the candidates around and the Exec would question my competence. 

Next time you are looking to hire for a specific culture, personality or skill set, move away from the generic corporate job descriptions. Get creative with your job descriptions and you may be pleasantly surprised with who you attract!

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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