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Why unrealistic job descriptions are a recipe for disaster

Adele Wootton
Industry Insights

Wouldn’t it be great to hire a creative professional versed in all the latest and greatest technologies? And when I say ‘all’ I mean almost every single one.

There are many organizations that post job descriptions which make it seem like that really is their ultimate goal: finding a new employee who can do absolutely everything they may need now or years in the future. We’re often left to remind them that, while such a creative dynamo would be wonderful to employ, they simply don’t exist.

The problem is that many clients prepare wish lists of skills they may one day require, including the newest technologies, because they want to demonstrate expertise in each one—even if they don’t actually know what those cutting-edge tools do. When Adobe Flash was released, for example, we saw many clients seeking candidates with experience using that particular piece of software, even though most weren’t using it in-house at the time.

That tendency isn’t limited to technical abilities. We were once called upon to fill a communications manager role for an investment firm that expected viable candidates to demonstrate 5 to 10 years’ experience in the financial industry. But what their posting originally listed as essential skills weren’t what they got in the end. Over a six-month search that saw a clear evolution in their approach, we convinced management that some of those prerequisites were unnecessary, as was their insistence on a decade of industry experience. In the end, they wound up hiring a great communications manager with good client skills and less experience than their initial expectation, but who could help their organization grow in the years ahead.

The challenge for many organizations is that obtaining approval for a job description can be so onerous and time-consuming (and let’s not even mention the tough task of gaining permission to hire for a position in the first place), that managers will stand by their original recruitment criteria. Changing the terms of their search can turn into a logistical nightmare. As a result, many companies go to market with a job description that often lists extraneous skills and requires excessive levels of experience. This can lead their recruitment search astray and can even discourage otherwise qualified candidates from applying for the opportunity.

We’ve seen a similar scenario play out in these situations. Candidates get hired for a position, realize they’re over-qualified or become bored when the exciting work they were promised doesn’t materialize, only to quit within months. Forget the cost and time associated with onboarding a new hire who quits shortly into their tenure, but turnover of this nature can have a major negative impact on a workplace culture—and that’s before considering the potential damage to a company’s employer brand.

The better approach is to look for a new employee who can grow their skills to meet your needs and business requirements over time. Leading organizations—especially creative ones—need people who are innovative and creative enough to come up with solutions on an ongoing basis. If they lack a skill, it makes more sense to send them on a part-time training program to close those gaps in their expertise. A strong career-development program can also be a great employee engagement and retention tool that demonstrates a company’s commitment its workers.

My recommendation is to avoid trying to hire a jack-of-all-trades or someone with skills your company simply doesn’t need. Put simply, that approach is a recruitment recipe for disaster.

Adele Wootton, Director, Client Services