5 Reasons Not to Pay Too Much Attention to Job Descriptions

July 27, 2017


Everyone has looked at countless job descriptions in their lifetime – let’s face it, even if you’re not even remotely considering a career move, you’re probably looking at job descriptions from time to time just to see what’s out there. On the flip side, recruiters looking to hire have to weed through mountains of resumes – the good, the bad and the totally unqualified. Resumes and job descriptions are the international currency of the talent business. But taking both at face value can spell trouble because of what’s left out.

Any successful first call between a qualified candidate and a Recruiter tends to end with the candidate wanting to see a job description before moving forward to a potential next step. And that’s certainly fair game. Why wouldn’t a candidate? want to see whether the nitty-gritty of a job is really of interest. But don’t let a written job description dissuade you from pursuing a potential role before you really understand the full story.

A really good (complete) job description is an extremely hard thing to write because it’s simply so difficult to capture the essence of what a role really encompasses and what kind of person would be ideal for a position. It’s important to recognize that written job descriptions are highly limited in terms of their ability to describe what jobs have to offer. As an analogy, think about how many show business stories there are about actors who come in to read for one role, only for the producers to end up writing an entirely different role for them because of what they offer. The professional world often works the same way (albeit a lot less glamorous).

Here are a few important things to keep in mind before you take a job description at face value (and heave it off the pier never to be seen again):

1. If you’re a valuable Senior Manager or Director-level candidate, you are at your best when you get to use your initiative to expand your role, strategise, coach and self-direct. Organizations are absolutely seeking this. As a senior candidate, you need to consider the potential of the broader organization you might join and your opportunities for growth within it instead of limiting yourself to a job description which might well have been written by someone who might not really understand the role.  More often than not, there is much more to a position than meet the eye.

2. Jobs change all the time. As a recruitment firm, it happens surprisingly often that we hear from our candidates returning from interviews giving us new information that originally did not exist on the job description. This allows a recruiter to fill in valuable detail in the midst of a search and in so doing fine-tune the requirement needs. Often we see a fluid hire that morphs as soon as the interviews get underway and the hiring manager sees the standard of talent in the process.

3. Hiring managers are busy, and writing job descriptions is the last thing they want to do and takes them off task and is time-consuming work. Some written job descriptions are often boilerplate, list format and out of date. They can be not particularly tailored for the specific job at hand as much as what the hiring manager actually has in mind for the role.

4. Employers sometimes write job descriptions to cover all their bases. This means they can end up including everything but the kitchen sink. They sometimes include every duty or responsibility that can conceivably come up in a job, instead of specifically what one will be doing day-to-day. This can make a job description onerous and ‘drudgery’ to read – and, let’s face it, a turn-off for the prospective candidate. It often obscures the true focus of a role in a way that only gets cleared up in a face-to-face or phone interview with the hiring manager.

5. If one takes a job description too literally, one can end up selling oneself short. Does this scenario sound familiar? You get a job description, and notice a “requirement” or “asset requirement” that you don’t have in your experience. You talk yourself out of being a good fit for the job, and decide to not pursue the role. But in truth, you might have been a better fit for the job than the person who gets hired. It’s a missed opportunity, all because you took the job description too literally instead of progressing to an interview stage which is where the investigative work is truly done. That’s where you can find out what a job is really about.

All in all, a job description is a necessary part of the hiring process – and companies have made some good strides in terms of providing lucid job descriptions that try to carve into the meat of a role rather than keeping all the fat. But they’re far from perfect documents. So the next time a recruiter reaches out to you with a job description, think about having a conversation instead of taking the written word as gospel.  


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