Writing a Job Advertisement That Somebody Actually Qualifies For

A candidate is interviewed at a job interview.I was talking with a recruiter recently who was telling me about a job they had posted. They wanted to recruit someone with five years of experience with software that had only been around for 12 years, and someone with advanced knowledge in half a dozen different things. I told him that he would never be able to find somebody that met the requirements they had written.

His process for coming up with a job description wasn’t unreasonable. He’d gone out to job posting sites like Monster and Indeed to see how other people were advertising. The problem is that pretty much every job description out there on a recruiting site is unreasonable, or so it seems.

You hear about this frequently from people working in the tech industry. Jobs that want 5 years of experience in software that’s only been out for a year, or are offering entry-level pay and benefits while requiring multiple years of experience and a college degree. I pointed out to one client, with whom I’d been working for over a year, that I didn’t meet their requirement for a JIRA administrator, despite the fact that I had built their system and helped write the certification exam for being a JIRA administrator.

So how can you avoid this trap and write a job description that will get you qualified applicants? It is admittedly difficult, and when I talk with people to help with their recruiting, I advise them to focus on foundational skills and knowledge combined with two distinct personality traits. Your job posting should focus on the skills, and your interview on confirming those skills and learning about the person’s personality.

What those skills are will vary from job to job, but I’m typically looking for skills related to the task that would be done, which can then be built on. Learning new things is like building a house: getting the foundation down can take forever, but once you have it right, putting up the walls can go pretty fast. Once all the walls and doors are in place, adding a hook to a wall that you can hang something new on will take even less time.

So ask yourself, “What will this person need to do?” What they need to do isn’t have 5 years of experience. Our hope is simply that 5 years of experience will mean that they know what they need, but really, years don’t prove that. Instead, write a posting that includes concrete actions that need to be performed, and then state that, if a person can do those things, they’re qualified to apply. That doesn’t mean that time periods should be avoided altogether in your posting; if there is a specific technology that you need this person to work with, then it’s not sufficient for them to simply know the name, or have installed it once or twice. But someone could have been system administrator for five years and never worked with the thing you need, while another person with only one year of experience might have spent the entire year doing the exact tasks you are interested in.

The two personality traits that I look for are:

  1. Not afraid to try new things and fail.
  2. Always interested in learning.

People learn a whole lot faster if they’re comfortable with failure. You want to make sure they know how to fail safely, and in a way that won’t disrupt business, but someone who is willing to get their hands dirty and try different things, and then learn from those experiences, will become proficient a lot faster.

If your applicant has demonstrated that they are working to improve their knowledge, go out and learn new things, and are generally teachable, then they are going to be able to build on the foundation that they have established and learn the specific work that you need done.

So in your job posting, write what you need this person to do, and a bit about the type of person you are looking for. I personally don’t worry about background or education a whole lot; note that I am an IT consultant and JIRA expert with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies. Then, once someone gets through the application process, ask them about their failures. What was their biggest professional failure? What was a project that failed? What did they learn from that, and what changes have they made since then? If a person can talk about failure, and how they learned from it, and what they’re doing differently now, that’s a pretty good sign that you found a contender.

My last piece of advice is to recruit more and review less. As you can imagine, this type of job posting lacks the easy filtering and gateways that job postings with things like “requires five years of experience” have. This means you’ll need to do one of two things. You’ll either have to spend a whole lot more time reviewing applications to discard the ones that don’t meet your qualifications, or you need to focus less time on application review and more time on recruitment.

When you know what you need someone to do, it makes it easier to target your search, and go out and find people with the right skills. You can take the requirements you have developed, and go find someone who is qualified, instead of waiting for them to come to you.

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