Adding “years of experience” is just one illustration of the problem I see with too many job descriptions: They’re lazy.
Time — the simple act of the Earth revolving around the sun — doesn’t make someone more or less qualified for a job. What matters is that candidate’s competency, growth and ability to deliver in the workplace environment. For some people, demonstrating those qualities might take six months; for others, years; or it may not happen at all.
In a climate where we’re pushing the reset button on practically everything, I believe it’s time to rethink job descriptions. They need to attract the best candidates whose skills fit the role — not exclude great talent based on often-arbitrary requirements. When we write job descriptions that truly meet our needs, we can better hire at scale and with greater diversity, all while kick-starting the employee experience in a positive way.
Ready to wake up those lazy job descriptions and put them to work? Here are my best practices for writing job descriptions that succeed.
Put potentially lazy job descriptions to the test
A lazy job description leans too heavily on arbitrary requirements. It doesn’t reflect the necessary skills, experience and characteristics of people who would be most likely to succeed in the role. A lazy job description excludes worthy candidates instead of attracting them.
To determine how lazy or effective your job descriptions are, put them to the test. Ask top performers on the relevant team to submit their resumes as if they were applying. Then, omit names and other identifying information and give their resumes to recruiters and screeners for review. If your own team members’ resumes aren’t considered a strong match for the job, then you’ve got a lazy job description.
I also recommend running your job descriptions through Textio, an online tool that performs semantic analyses to help you identify problems with text, such as exclusionary language. You can see an example of this on Textio’s home page. I highly encourage my team to use Textio on every external communications — especially job descriptions.
Focus on skills, qualities and accomplishments, not years of experience
The passage of time doesn’t necessarily imply engagement, growth or planning from a candidate — nor does it equate to skill, performance or talent. That’s why I would argue that “years of experience” is a pretty meaningless qualification for employment. The quantity of time spent on something isn’t important; the quality of what was accomplished during that time is what matters.
Worse, “years of experience” requirements often create an unnecessary barrier. They may cause you to miss some great candidates who have the skills you need but not the quantitative requirements you’ve asked for. What’s more, by excluding a lot of potentially worthwhile candidates, you’re limiting hiring at scale.
Research shows, for example, that women are more likely than men not to apply for a job if they don’t meet its quantitative requirements. A 2014 Harvard Business Review survey found 21.6% of women didn’t apply for a job because they felt they didn’t meet all the qualifications, compared to just 12.7% of men.
This “years of experience” requirement also makes it harder to hire younger candidates who can help grow your company's future. Additionally, that quantitative focus can exclude diverse candidates — those with more unconventional backgrounds and less access to opportunities — and hamper your organization’s efforts at inclusive hiring.
A best practice for writing job descriptions, then, is to skip “years of experience.” Instead, identify the specific skills, qualities and accomplishments you want candidates to have and list these as your requirements. Use language such as “candidate has a demonstrated history of delivering” whatever you need the person in that role to deliver.
Is a four-year college degree really required?
Here’s another job description best practice: Think carefully about requiring a four-year college degree.
In some industries, such as health care and law, certain degrees and training programs are required to do the job. But in many professions, four-year college degrees aren't the only way to gain the required experience and knowledge needed for the role, and acknowledging that is important. As with “years of experience,” this requirement could cause you to arbitrarily exclude worthy candidates — particularly those from underrepresented communities who didn’t have the same educational opportunities as others.
Taking it a step further, determine if education requirements reveal an inherent bias in your hiring; if so, address this head-on. The recent Black Lives Matter movement and related protests have shown how important it is to challenge bias in the workplace (and elsewhere) by adopting new diversity and inclusion hiring strategies.
Instead of making a college degree a requirement for roles, consider measurable methods, such as administering online assessments or giving a task to complete, to determine whether job candidates have the skills and experience needed to excel.
The importance of soft skills
Are you including specific, concrete examples of tasks the person you hire will regularly need to accomplish? If not, take a broader look at what is required to complete those tasks successfully — and make sure these are reflected in your job descriptions, too.
For example, to succeed in roles such as an accountant in an open office or a showrunner on a busy set, candidates must demonstrate focus, attention to detail and the ability to concentrate on highly repetitive tasks in distracting environments where accuracy is crucial.
These characteristics are known as “soft skills”: the qualitative attributes that are hard to capture on resumes or through quantitative requirements. Along with weaving them into your job description, there are many other ways to assess soft skills throughout the hiring process, such as conducting behavior-based interviews.
Before the job description is written, meeting with your entire hiring team to create a list of the important tasks, characteristics and soft skills needed for the job is key to success. When everyone in the hiring chain aligns on the requirements, your job descriptions will be more specific, accurate and realistic — and less needlessly restrictive.
A positive employee experience starts with a strong job description
We’ve all been through a lot this year. Many employers, candidates and workers have had to quickly make big changes.
Now it’s time to think long-term and act strategically — which includes focusing on the employee experience. That experience begins with the job description. When we wake up lazy job descriptions and really put them to work, we can more effectively hire the right people for the role. We can build more diverse teams by removing job requirements that exclude large numbers of potentially great candidates. And from there, we can create a strong foundation for our organizations for years to come.
Scott Bonneau is VP of Global Talent Attraction at Indeed.