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Crafting Clarity

Crafting Clarity

From The Zweig Letter

By Jeremy Clarke, Director of Executive Search & Recruitment, Zweig Group

Job descriptions need radical simplification for authenticity, brevity, and impact in attracting top talent.

The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is certainly true, but I’d like to offer an additional dimension to that old line for the purpose of this article: “Familiarity breeds complacency.” Which is to say, what is familiar to us breeds laziness into us.

I don’t mind telling you, I think we as human beings prefer familiarity for that very reason. We seem content doing what is familiar to us with mindless repetition no matter how unfruitful it may be because that is far more palatable to us than the hard work of really thinking through something critically, of really innovating, and of exploring something new and exciting and edgy. If that’s your vibe, so be it – but it goes without saying that complacency, laziness, and mindless repetition are the secret ingredients that will lead you straight to failure.

I’ll give you an example: Present day job descriptions remain virtually unchanged from the job descriptions used 30 years ago. Then, as now, they resemble a lengthy and complicated thesaurus explosion. It’s as if organizations have believed that the more complex and cryptic the job description, the more prestigious the position will appear. And here we are today still tipping our hat to that same nonsense. We’re still plaguing our “Careers” pages with a forest of complexity and vague, numerous responsibilities because that’s the way it’s always been, because it makes us look like we know what the hell we’re doing, and because doing something different and innovative takes too much time and effort.

Your firm’s art of crafting job descriptions is a crucial step in attracting top talent and effectively promoting your brand. A job description is a sales pitch, folks, and in our current labor environment you have about 10 seconds for your pitch. That’s it. Use the time wisely with a simple but savvy narrative that aptly accomplishes four critical objectives:

  1.  Attract. Limit your job description to three-quarters of a page at most. I’m not joking. Believe me, anything more is a turn-off, and nobody is reading through half the complicated excess you’re typically putting in your postings anyway. Save the more detailed job description to cite during the actual interview.
    Give them a compelling but authentic headline. Flourish it a bit, just don’t make it sound cheap and overdone. Instead of just listing “Project Manager” as the headline you could try something like, “Seasoned Civil Engineer for Iconic Projects.” Don’t use headlines like, “Seeking World-Class, One-of-a-Kind Project Manager.” That just sounds cheap and overdone. People will smell that a mile away. Follow up the headline with a brief, easy to read summary of the position.
  2.  Entice. Begin the first narrative with a personable and compelling introduction to your firm and limit it to one brief paragraph (yes, just one!). This section serves as a virtual handshake to a candidate, so get rid of all the cold, prescriptive language. It should grab the reader by the shirt collar, captivate him or her, and make it plain to them why they would be an idiot not to want to work here.
    Let them know at the outset that you’re an extremely selective firm and that in an effort to preserve your highly potent team the majority of candidates won’t qualify. Marginal candidates will be warded off and the best candidates will see it as an enticement to compete.
  3.  Inform. Present a clear but succinct picture of the position, remembering that at every turn you’re trying to create something compelling for the reader. The job details don’t need to be an HR-esque Magna Carta with endless bullets regarding responsibilities, qualifications, and expectations! Good candidates will already know key tenets of the position and bad candidates can easily be weeded out with knockout questions inside your online application process. The most potent job descriptions adopt a balanced marketing-oriented tone aiming to excite while informing potential candidates.
  4.  Direct. This is the final segment of the job posting where you give instructions for applying. But don’t lose the opportunity here to a create a compelling climate of achievement for him or her (and simultaneously ward off irrelevant candidates). Something to the effect of: “Exceptional candidates are encouraged to apply via this link. Note candidates not having licensure and a minimum of five years relevant and progressive project management experience in a civil infrastructure context will not be considered and need not apply.” It’s direct but necessary.

Please, gather and burn all your current job descriptions (unless of course you’re the “I prefer familiarity over the hard work of innovating” type). Let’s imagine an industry together where candidates can explore positions without needing a decoder ring. A world where employers can express their needs without resorting to thesaurus-induced headaches. The call for radical simplicity in job descriptions is a call for compelling authenticity, a recognition that the heart of a role can often be captured in a few well-chosen words.

P.S. Check out this link to see a sample suggested job posting format. 

Jeremy Clarke is the director of executive search and recruiting at Zweig Group and the CEO of Emissary Recruiting Solutions. Contact him at jclarke@zweiggroup.com.AEC Small Business & Entrepreneurship Forum This new event gathers leaders of small AEC firms to discuss the unique issues of managing and growing a small business today. The one-day event includes keynotes, panel discussions, roundtables, and breakout sessions, all focused on the emerging trends and needs of small businesses. Join us May 21 in Atlanta, Georgia. Click here to learn more!