• Scott McInnes

#22 | Poor Job Specs (and how Communications thinking can help).

Writing job specs is a job for HR right? So what does that have to do with communications and engagement?

Now, I'm no HR expert but, when it comes to job specs I've seen a few and, on the whole they've not been great. That got me thinking about how you might bring more of a communications and engagement slant to writing job specs?

This is the first step in a new employee's journey with you, so you've got to make it a positive one.

What does the 'poor spec' hiring journey look like?

It doesn't look great - probably something like:

  1. You write a poor job spec.

  2. Perhaps send it to a recruiter (who has to rewrite it, wasting their time and delaying your hire). Or worse, they don't rewrite it, and just go to market!. Eeek!

  3. Potential hires have to review four or five pages (because longer is better right?!) trying to fathom out what the role ACTUALLY is and what the company does - the candidates you want probably give up.

  4. You waste time reviewing and interviewing the wrong candidates because you couldn’t effectively articulate the gap they have.

  5. Eventually the penny drops 'this isn't what I signed up for', and your new hire leaves.

There's a significant cost to getting it wrong

In 2015 Hay Group spoke to 253 managers and above who have HR roles and responsibilities in companies of all sizes (excluding sole traders) in the UK. The results of the study showed that:

  • 51% managers believe that poorly worded and unclear job descriptions create false expectations on incoming staff that then find themselves a poor fit for the position (so they leave)

  • 68% state that badly thought out job descriptions result in a pool of candidates that don't really fit the role. (increasing the chance of a cultural mismatch)

  • As a result, 60% say this results in a waste of time for HR and the hiring manager (and a financial cost to boot)

In addition to financial cost there's the wasted cost of on-boarding and training and when the person leaves, an impact on team morale end engagement levels. And, of course, there's the ground you would have made in that period if you'd hired the right person in the first place!

So how do you ensure you write a GREAT spec? Firstly, make sure people who write the specs can write! Everyone thinks they can but, in my experience, they can't - it's not a skill most of us are born with, it's learned. And a skill that, like a butcher's knife, requires constant honing remain sharp.

Here are a few headlines to think about when writing a really good job spec:

Be Informative - Put the really important stuff up front - not buried on page five! Tell candidates what they need to know - no more and no less. Make it relevant - don't copy and paste the kitchen sink.

Be Brief - Blaise Pascal once wrote, 'I'm sorry I wrote such a long letter - I didn't have time to write a short one'. Being brief and concise is time consuming and tricky to do. It's much easier to copy and paste the previous spec and add in a few paragraphs copied from the website isn't it? But it means the candidate has to wade through your copy to get to the crux of what you want - not ideal.

Be Clear - Use words that people understand and don't use jargon or business buzzwords - if you're hiring a handyman, they probably don't care about 'A-round funding' or 'exponential growth in user adoption'- if you're hiring a Head of Strategy they will. Use short sentences and structure your spec in a way that makes it easy to read - use punctuation, bullets, lists and diagrams where possible to break up swathes of copy.

Be Human - Think about the type of person you want to hire (you aren't hiring a robot!) and write in a way that appeals to that person? If you were them what would excite you about this role, what would you want to know and what, ultimately, would make you hit the 'apply' button?

Be Engaging - Use stories and examples to bring the role to life. Or quotes from staff or customers that can put some colour into your description. Talk about 'you' and 'us' or 'our' - make it personal. Write as if you're speaking - like you're answering someone who just asked 'whats this job all about then?'.

Be Creative - Up the impact by doing something totally different. What about a video of someone talking about the role and what they do day-to-day, good and bad! You don't need to be Spielberg - just use a phone. Or what about using illustration or even creating a comic strip to bring the role and company culture to life? It won't work for every role but it might work for some.

In summary, to write a great spec, you need to think and write like a communicator. A job spec is just another communication like an email, a newsletter or an intranet article.

In many ways it’s an advert for your company - ‘HERE’S WHY YOU SHOULD JOIN US’.

So it's really important to get it right.


March Masterclass

I’ll be running another masterclass on ‘Creating a Culture of Change’ on 21st March in the Irish Aviation Authority in Dublin. You can find out more and book tickets by clicking here

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