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by Donna Cornell, Cornell Career Center | March 10, 2009


Ah, the job description-that piece of paper that outlines responsibilities, qualifications, and experience. Or, simply put, what you need someone to do and what they need to do it right.

When making an employment decision, companies often tend to look too closely at the paper and not enough at the person. True, when it comes to judging abilities, a person's printed list of experience and education can provide vital information. But I'd like you to think "around the corner" on this one because it's equally important to stop and examine the motivation behind the hiring criteria you've laid out.

Often, we react rather than respond when drafting a job description. We often lay out stringent criteria because "we've always done it this way." As hiring managers, "we've always done it this way" can make our jobs more difficult than they have to be.

When writing the job description, ask yourself the following:

  • Why must the candidate have a certain number of years' experience?
  • Does that college degree you're asking for make a measurable difference in the ability to perform the job functions? (Or is it, for you, representative of accomplishment? Do you believe it somehow predetermines successful performance?)
  • If the position does not require extensive interaction with clients, is an "outgoing personality" that important? (If not, whether someone's outgoing in your interview with them may not truly matter.)
  • Examine the reasoning behind narrow-spectrum educational requirements or industry knowledge levels. (Many job requirements or skill sets are transferable from other industries -- or can be gained through on-the-job training or technical/vocational training such as BOCES.)
  • Does every employee within your company have to be promotable?
  • Bottom line: can the candidate do (or learn to do) the job you need done?
There is no single set of answers-they will vary according to the company you're with and the position you're seeking to fill.~

One of the best "magic wands" you'll find is transferable skills. Learn to wield these with an expert eye and you'll find yourself with a much larger candidate pool. Things to look for include: achievement patterns throughout a candidate's career, and skill-sets that transfer from past jobs to your firm's job. One good example is a customer service representative. Their skills are highly transferable whether they come from environments similar to your firm's or if their background is in a field with heavy public interaction such as health care, hospitality, or retail.

And then there are the intangibles; those things that can't be quantified as easily as "X" number of years in a career, or "X" number of degrees framed on the wall.

To locate the intangibles, look for these qualities:

  • Do they have a positive attitude?
  • Are they willing to learn?
  • Do they have the 3 E's: eagerness, enthusiasm, and energy?
  • Do you see the "eye of the tiger" - that burning desire to learn, improve their knowledge, and the drive to succeed?
These are qualities derived from life experience, outlook, and personality.

~Many interviewers learn to spot these intangibles, but if you need some assistance there are many assessment tools on the market: personality indices, behavioral-based interviewing approaches, targeted selection tests and more. Be aware, however, that in most instances such tools are more appropriate for use at the senior executive level.

A more simplified approach requires no money, but it does take some concentrated time and thought. Take a look around your organization. Identify the personality characteristics of the successful employees, particularly those who have successfully performed the position you are looking to fill. Then, seek to hire people with similar attributes.

When surveying your surroundings, avoid the 'paper trap.' Don't get stuck in the mindset of relentlessly matching a resume against your job description. Think about what qualities you really need from a new employee. Make sure that your interview questions cover more than just job history and past duties. In short: hire the person, not the resume, to get more than a 'paper tiger.'


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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