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“Job Descriptions” Are a Waste of Paper

By July 29, 20107 Comments

I was kindly forwarded an interesting article by a client this week and there is a part of it I feel compelled to comment upon.  The article was published in the Computerworld New Zealand magazine on 19th July and was titled “ITCRA clarifies questions raised by online comments”.

For those of you who don’t know, ITCRA stands for “Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association”, who are a body to which most kiwi IT recruitment firms appear to belong.  It also appears to be where the recently departed RCSA Commandant Julie Mills skipped across to.  Anyway, the article came about in response to a previous piece where John Wyatt was interviewed for the magazine, and it begins like this:

“Last month, Computerworld published an interview with Recruit IT Director John Wyatt, which discussed whether IT firms were specific enough when writing job descriptions for roles they seek to fill.

Many of the positions Recruit IT is asked to fill don’t have formal job descriptions attached, Wyatt said.  He added that the IT industry could benefit if job vacancies assigned to recruitment firms contained more precise details of what the candidate is expected to do.”


Julie Mills then goes on to respond to the 47 comments that were left on this previous article, many of which followed the usual boring patterns around low barriers to entry in recruitment, whether recruiters actually use their databases, why salaries are left off job advertising etc, etc, ad nauseum

But I want to make a comment on John Wyatt’s original assertion that the IT industry would benefit from giving recruiters clearer job descriptions:

Really?  I mean really?

You see I’m not so sure about that, and the reason for that is that job descriptions are a complete load of arse – a waste of paper – a pointless invention by under-worked HR departments seeking to attach a process and a label to everything.

Job descriptions may well describe a job, but they certainly won’t describe the ideal person for the role, nor will they describe the lucky person who eventually wins the job.  The reason for this is that any hiring manager, or recruiter for that matter, worth their salt, will hire on attitude first, and teach skills later.  Now I will concede that there are certain jobs where a certain level of technically definable skillsets are justified, IT being one of them, but why don’t you just put together a brief list of those technical skills and not waste time fluffing it up with all the pointless warm and fuzzy stuff?

The same logic applies here to the recruitment doomsday merchants who keep asserting that technology is going to render the recruitment industry impotent.  First it was e-mails (recruiters used the technology to their advantage).  Next it was the internet (recruiters learnt to harness it to market services and seek out candidates).  Then it was job boards (agencies now provide at least 80% of job board revenues).  The next wave is smart job boards that will be able to seek out candidates from online posted CVs who match certain criteria for a job, removing the job of the recruiter.  Of course, this will also fail to remove the recruitment industry.  The reason for this is that recruitment is not a science, it is an art, and the only machine capable of determining a match, a fit, is the human brain.

Job descriptions fall into the same category as this – you simply cannot accurately describe the perfect person for the role by listing a range of character traits, experiences and achievements.  Yes you can require a Degree in Chemical Engineering for a Process Engineer in an Oil Refinery but leave it at that.  That’s about as far as it goes.

As for John Wyatt’s belief that the IT industry would benefit, I assume he means that more placements would be made, of more candidates who more accurately fit the mould.  Come off it.  A good recruiter will find the right fit for a company by meeting the client, spending time in their business, really getting to know the workings and the culture of the firm, the social aspects, the balance of personalities.

A job description is a crutch for recruiters – to help them craft a half-decent sounding job advert – and to send to their candidate to make it appear like they understand the role they want to put them forward to.  Rip it up.

Now if there is one industry where it is totally impossible to contrive a straight-faced and useful job description, it has to be the agency recruitment industry itself.  But of course there are firms who have tried to put down the job of a recruitment consultant into a formal HR document, and I would like to share with you some of the best JD bits I have come across in my time recruiting for recruiters:

“Being ‘straight up’ with clients and candidates alike”

Should this really need to be in the job description?  Shouldn’t this kind of go without saying?  I suppose it says a lot about our industry.

“Having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously”

This is great.  I’ve worked with people in recruitment before who definitely don’t adhere to this one.  I’d have loved to have been able to wheel out the JD every time the sour face came on.

“Instigate appropriate number of sales cycles to generate and maintain a constant business pipeline.”

Pound the phone.  Just write it.  Pound.  The.  Phone.  Stop with all the flowery nonsense.

“Be literate and numerate”

Is this line really worth the effort of typing it into the JD?  This is like saying “breathe regularly”.  The funniest thing is that the next one was in the same JD…

“Present candidates all candidates honestly to clients”

Is it a grammatical error?  Or did the author write “candidates” before pausing to have a think, and then deciding to make it clear that they meant “all candidates” and not just the ones that might actually be worth putting forward.

“Ensuring our offices present a tidy and professional image always, and to encourage clients to visit them”

I can just imagine the new rookie recruiter, in his/her second month, starting to get some confidence going and referring back to the JD in their training manual or employment contract, and having a client turning up in the back office one Monday morning.  The desks of recruiters are generally not worthy of the inspection of your clients!  Of course, inviting them to your polished marble reception areas before interviewing your shortlist in the chromed, coffee’d and fresh-flowered boardroom is a different matter.

Just a bit of fun.  But seriously, get out there and get to know your clients better.  Don’t rely on a JD from HR and, even better, rip it up and make the placement anyway.

Have a great weekend.

Jonathan Rice

Director of New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice & Co, co-founder of freelance recruiter platform JOYN, and people-centric technology firm superHUMAN Software. Recruitment innovator, agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Unless you start with what the job actually is to DO how can you realistically start looking for a person to fill that role?

    Sounds like the recipe for a I’ll-know-them-when-I-interview-then-type approach to recruiting. Needle in a haystack type stuff and a complete waste of a recruiter’s time.

  • I understand what you’re trying to say here although i’m not sure your message has come across the way you intended.

    There are a few realities that need to be realised here. One reality is that recruiters need a place to start, particularly in the more technical spaces. When a client has a requirement for a contract resource within say a crucial project on tight deadlines and milestones, the technical requirement may be more important than the cultural fit.

    You are right in that recruiters could benefit more from undertsanding their clients’ technical and cultural envrionment as much as possible (or allowed by the client – as we all know, some dont always give us the time ot insight we’d like)

    Another reality is that to build a “partnership” with a client, we need to tailor our approach to their requirements and how they want to work. The days of agencies or individual consultants “how its going to be” are well and truly over. I have sat in on client meetings with multiple chest beater type recruiters and they either completely fold or maintain their attitude of knowing best and ultimatley dont dothemselves or their credibility any favours.

    In this job credibility is everything as far as I am concerned. A few simple rules that I follow are to fully understand the clients cultural requirement and technical need ( I havent met a hiring manager yet that is happy to trawl through countless mismatched candidate resumes), be honest if you dont have any suitable matches right now (it may transpire that your client will look at an as near as possible – if they trustyour judgement), again i have never met a hiring manager who doesnt appreciate honesty as it allows them to make better decisions. I tell all my clients that if i dont have anyone today that may not be true tomorrow – life happens, people still come back from maternity leave, decide they have had enough of contrating and want to look at perm roles, decide they have been with their employer for long enough and are getting stale, get passed over for promotion and countless other scenarios every day. Which in turn means that every day offers new oppotunities to find the right person for them.

    How consultants engage and develop clients is an ongoing process and as with recruitment in general is open to endless debate.

    Given your apparent disdain for recruiters, even if it is just a bit of fun, I was surprised to read on your bio that you are a rec to rec “consultant”.

    Have a great weekend and good luck in the future.

    • nzrecruiter says:

      Great comments Simon. Certainly no disdain for recruiters on my part though – I am proud and passionate about our industry – just reckon that good recruiters can get better insights and understandings about a job by getting under the skin of the client – something a simple JD can’t provide.

  • I think the best (worst?) I have seen in 21+ years in recruiting was the PD for a CFO where the last item was Answer the telephone as necessary.

    I would have thought that a $200k plus CFO would have perhaps maybe sort of done that sort of stuff instinctively!

  • Daniel James says:

    Hi Jonothan,

    Great, fun blog and I totally agree with you. If you know your clients and actaully meet and speak to them about what they do and what they are after, a few details on specifics for a certain role are all you need. This is my opinion and how I generally operate anyway.

    Do recruiters that rely on JDs even meet or speak to their clients and candidates? Or do they just match CVs up to JDs by looking for similar words through out both documents?!?

    Have a good weekend

  • All good comments, I think the key and what we are all saying in one way or another is a recognition that doing a keyword search, asking how much they want and when they are available, then e-mailing a resume and rolling out the “have I got a great candidate for you?” line, isn’t actually recruitment.
    The industry is sometimes it’s own worst enemy, by only measuring success in revenue – not client satisfaction. A client may have a high spend with your agency but still not actually like the way you do things.

    Perception is everything, how are you and your business percieved?

  • Jonathan,

    Oh how true your comments are. I heard recently some comments about a high profile CEO who doesn’t have JD’s for his direct reports. His view is that his Finance Director should know what he’s doing and doesn’t need to be told. And there’s even an argument to say that you don’t even need to spell out the qualifications and skills needed because we all know that some of the best people are QBE’s.

    I get very frustrated when I see adverts that are essentially copies of the JD and do nothing to “sell the opportunity”. I’ve often written adverts that say “If you’re a Financial Controller, you’ll know what you’re there to do, so no point elaborating on the obvious”, but so often recruitment adverts simply promote the “feel good” of the company, and do nothing to target the person they are after. Or they assume that everyone wants to work in a certain place for the same “lifestyle” reason (a lot of people don’t give a toss about diving and fishing – they’d prefer to buy it at the supermarket!). It’s the same with career sites that are buried in the sales pitch for the customers companies are seeking, rather than the “pitch” for the best employees they may be seeking. It’s a completely different proposition. If you’re a low cost seller but want quality staff, that’s a real juxtaposition isn’t it? I think The Warehouse do quite a reasonable job on this front, but few do, including the public sector.

    Anyhow, back to JD’s. I’m sure every employee, every morning, grabs out their JD and reads through what they should be doing that day. In the end, a person is there to fulfill a need in a company and being the continuous change environment we now live in, the static JD is a hindrance and should be ditched.

    And I agree. As an industry, we’ll always be there, because nothing replaces good old-fashioned “I know he/she is right for them”.