And Other Duties as Assigned

Screenshot 2014-12-08 07.12.35Job descriptions are on equal turf with performance evaluations as tools that are operating below their potential. Most organizations take a “one and done” approach to job descriptions and only dust them off when the position is posted on a job board. We figure that as long as we include the notorious “and other duties as assigned” disclaimer at the end of job descriptions we really don’t have to take them seriously. But when done right, the job (or position) description can be a key piece of the performance puzzle.

I’ve written a lot of job descriptions throughout my career. I’ve found that it’s both an art and a science – using best practices from a career field or industry is a good place to start, but putting the unique organizational spin on a description ensures I’m hiring people that fit with my company.

Using competency modeling helps create a job description that not only reflects the technical requirements of the role, but captures the cultural nuances necessary for success in my particular setting.

Korn/Ferry, a leader in the field of workplace competencies, defines competencies as the skills, behaviors, and attitudes that lead to high performance. (Lombardo, 2009) Defining what makes a person competent in a specific role has impact on both an organizational and individual performance level.

Trying to find a well-rounded person with a cross-section of competencies may not be best for your success. Hiring an accountant who can also sell may sound like a great “two for one” deal, but you might end up with a mediocre accountant or a frustrated salesperson.

Defining competencies for a specific job takes some skill, but there are resources available to help you identify what competencies will lead to the best performance from the individuals in your organization.

Follow these steps to identify the job competencies for each position in your organization:

  1. Make several copies of the table of competencies here. Get 2-4 colleagues together (including anyone already doing the job) and have each person circle the top 10 competencies they believe are necessary to be successful in that job.
  2. Identify the ones you agree on, then narrow the list down to 5-6 by discussing any of those that you differ on. Get to the most critical competencies. 
Use the definitions from the web site, and discuss what the term means to you and your organization. It’s important that everyone has the same understanding of the term.
  3. If you have a job description already, review it to see if what you circled matches with what the job description reflects. If they 
do not match, what is different? Make any adjustments based on your review.
  4. Use the list of competencies to clarify the job description and job posting templates.

Additional Helps

Note: As you consider which of the competencies are required for a particular position in your organization, think about how you define the item. For instance, “negotiating” may mean something very specific to you, but something very different to your colleagues. Come to agreement on how you define each competency. You may also identify competencies not listed on the web site table. This list is just to get you started.

A Google search of particular competencies will likely lead to some definitions that already exist. You may also want to check out the Lominger (Korn/Ferry) book, FYI: For Your Improvement, which provides greater detail on competencies and how to use them. Their competency card decks are pricy, but an excellent tool if you’ve got several positions to evaluate.

Once the job description is complete, it’s important to use it as both as a mirror and a compass. As a mirror, each incumbent in the role should reflect the image of what the position exists for. Not that every individual should look identical, but each should have the core knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies required for the role. As a compass, the job description identifies performance management and training focus to ensure continued alignment and skill development.

Regular review of job descriptions should be built in to the audit cycle of the organization. Annual position description audits might be too much for some company’s, but every couple of years makes sense. Any time there is a change in organizational design, or whenever new technology is introduced that has a significant impact on the role, the position should be evaluated and the description updated.

Maybe we don’t hate job descriptions as much as we do performance reviews, but we need to stop blaming the tool for failure. Operations and human resources leaders need to figure out how to build the right tools for their organization, and work together to get them to function for the organization and its human capital, not against. Maybe then people won’t be so cynical when they read “and other duties as assigned!”


Message to Recruiters: Get a Grip on Candidate Experience

dance-couples-silhouettes--vectorGame or Dance?

There are many metaphors for the hiring process. It can be a game, where candidate and recruiter square off and move strategically across a game board to see who is still standing at the end. Probably the least combative metaphor is of recruiting as a dance, with each side going through their well-rehearsed moves to finish the choreography in synch. In this scenario the goal that both parties want is a beautifully danced number that leads to a job offer (and a position filled from the perspective of the recruiter).

Recruiting Past, Present & Future

Back in the day recruiting (now called talent acquisition) was a manageable process. Companies would post a position in the Sunday paper and on Monday applicants would type up cover letters and resumes on their trusty typewriter, place these items into a manila envelope, and mail them to the address in the add. Or for lower level positions, applicants would begin showing up Monday morning to fill out paper applications (and later electronic applications on PCs in the HR office).

This process naturally meant you had to get the paper on Sunday and spend time combing through the job ads, circling ones you felt qualified for, then going through the very manual process of typing a formal cover letter. Because this was such a cumbersome process, which I don’t think any of us want to go back to, and tended to limit applicants to locals, the flow of applications was manageable.

There was a polite and structured process that people understood. Rejection letters, although often curt and unhelpful even then, were sent out in a timely manner. Waiting for news from a company has always been a painfully slow process, but in the pre-digital age, there was an understanding of how long it should take.

During this era there weren’t many phone interviews, so a series of face-to-face interviews were part of the screening and selection process. Since the rhythm of business was in synch with the technology of the day, a cadence for the hiring process was maintained and communication was simpler. With fewer applicants to manage, employers could maintain a cordial and open communication with an applicant, who typically knew within a couple of days whether they would move on to the next step in the process.

Things are dramatically different today. Almost no one sends a paper resume and cover letter, and if they do, they are asked to go back through the online applicant portal so that they’re “in the system.” The system, then, is where hundreds of possible candidates for a single position upload their credentials into an online database that recruiters can search to find the best matches.

Technology allows recruiters to search through countless online resumes for key words to find individuals who have used those particular key words in their resume. Then it’s a process of elimination, where the recruiter begins de-selecting candidates by taking about 30 seconds to evaluate on computer screens, narrowing it down to under a dozen manageable candidates that they want to screen more formally.

Today’s Talent Acquisition Game

And this is where the game begins. The recruiter makes contact with the candidate, usually by phone, but increasingly by email, and starts the series of moves that will either get the applicant closer to a job offer or trigger a rejection letter (another email).

For most companies, especially larger ones with a well-oiled recruiting process, the steps and applicant typically goes through include 1) Some type of online questionnaire or behavioral/personality assessment; 2) A structured phone interview; 3) A face-to-face interview with the recruiter; 4) A face-to-face interview with the hiring manager and/or group of stakeholders; and, if successful 5) A job offer.

There are variances in this process, of course, depending on the level of the position and the rigor of the company. At any point along the way, the candidate can be eliminated from further consideration.

Some companies do a fairly good job of communicating with candidates throughout the process. The candidate experience is a proactive consideration for these employers who understand that how they treat applicants, especially as they get further in the screening process, impacts their brand image. If a company really wants to control their brand image they will take the candidate experience seriously.

From the candidate experience perspective, these five things make the process painful:

  1. Cumbersome process. I suppose, if the desire is to see who can survive to the end, a cumbersome process brings to the surface those candidates who are most resilient, patient, or desperate! But when our process is needlessly burdensome to the candidate, we really need to rethink what we’re doing and if it adds value to getting the right person into the job. A regular review from the applicants point of view may bring to light unnecessary steps or screening tools that are ineffective.
  2. Slow response times. Recruiters are busy. They have multiple positions to fill and dozens of applicants to screen. It’s understandable that it’s hard to keep applicants in the loop. But that’s when technology is our friend, reminding us how long someone has gone without feedback, or being scheduled for the next appointment, or sent a rejection letter. I know sometimes those delays occur because the recruiter is waiting for a decision from a hiring manager, or waiting for a background check report, or someone is out of the office for the week. The recruiter needs to be an advocate for the candidates, though, reminding everyone in the process that real people are waiting for them to decide or act. Send rejection letters promptly!
  3. Poor communication. We have so many communication tools available today, yet it doesn’t mean our communication has improved! For the person waiting for the phone call or email that determines the future trajectory of their career, lack of communication can mean days (sometimes weeks) on an emotional rollercoaster, wondering if the signs of encouragement from earlier conversations were delusional or empty promises. The key for recruiters is to give realistic timelines, track the time so that you don’t miss the promised deadline, and communicate proactively if something is delaying the process.
  4. Misleading or mixed messages. Sometimes recruiters give hope where there is no hope. They don’t want to let someone down, so they make it sound like things will progress to the next step in the hiring process when, in reality, they probably won’t. I realize there are times when a candidate is good, but maybe not great, and you may decide to take another look at them. The important thing is to see things from the candidate’s perspective and be honest with them. It’s OK to let them know you have other candidates who may be a better fit, but you will let them know within X days/weeks if you will continue to pursue them. And don’t be afraid to cut an interview short and say, You know what, I don’t think this is a good fit. Then at least you can see if any additional credentials or qualifications surface while the person is still in front of you. When you decide to pass on someone, give them 2-3 bullet points to either help them improve or encourage them in some way.
  5. Shoe-horned process. Often our processes are outdated and no longer fit the realities of today’s workplace, or pace. When we have assessments that have nothing to do with the job responsibilities, steps in the process that take more time than the value they create, or were added by an advocate who is no longer with the company, then the candidate experience will suffer and your organization’s brand will be tarnished. Whether a person is hired or not is only part of the issue. For every person hired there are dozens who started the process but were eliminated. How does your organization come across to these would-be employees? What will they say of their experience to future applicants, suppliers, or customers?

The candidate experience is, at best, an afterthought for many organizations. The churn-and-burn nature of talent acquisition leaves applicants feeling bewildered and frustrated, which can erode the brand of the companies they’ve applied to. I think most of us who apply for a position and never get contacted for an interview understand that there are so many competitors for a position that we don’t take it personally. But once a company invites us to the dance, we have expectations. If our toes get stepped on, or we get dumped for another partner, we are bruised.

Get a Grip!

Recruiters, get a grip on the candidate experience! Review the process regularly from the applicant’s point of view. You might even be brave enough to initiate a “voice of the candidate” survey! Listen to feedback and adjust the process to align your needs and objectives with the candidate’s. If your process is dehumanizing, reducing applicants to commodities to be sorted through, then you may be missing the boat when it comes to acquiring the best talent. Talent is not a commodity and the acquisition of talent is not a sport. It’s a way for humans to connect and determine whether one human can help another achieve goals while providing meaningful work. Recruiters need to keep this in mind to optimize the candidate experience in our complex work systems.

Making the Pieces Fit: Right Person-Right Job-Right Organization

A couple of years ago, when I was managing a group of trainers for a large financial services firm, I needed to backfill a position when a trainer was promoted within the company. We lacked internal bench strength, so following the culture of promotion from within wasn’t a viable option. I would have to hire externally. Personally, I welcomed this opportunity because I felt we needed some “new blood” in our organization.

As I sorted through dozens of resumes and began narrowing down the candidates, there was one individual who stood out to me as unique. What he lacked in industry experience I was confident he could overcome with his ambitious, unconventional perspective. I wanted to shake up the rest of the trainers, and I was committed to hiring a diverse team to broaden the perspectives of the group and encourage them to learn from one another.

So I ignored the concerns of a couple of people I had invited to participate in the interview process and went with my gut. What I learned is that sometimes your gut needs to listen to the guts of others!

Jerry was probably the worst hire I have ever made! Almost from the beginning, when he was a participant in the training class, he began stirring things up, but not in the exciting, positive way I had envisioned. Over the next two years I coached and disciplined him until it was obvious we needed to sever the relationship altogether.

What I now know is that company fit is a two-way street. An article published in 2005 by researchers at the University of Iowa (Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson, Personnel Psychology, 2005) addresses Person-Environment fit. Fit can be considered from various angles, such as person-supervisor fit, person-organization fit, person-workgroup fit, and so on.

Recruiters and hiring managers may have some instinctive knowledge, and maybe even some formal training, in screening individuals for organizational fit. There is a desire to find out if someone will be a good fit for the culture as well as provide the necessary skills and experience to do the job. Often, though, organizations do what I did with Jerry – they fail to look at things from multiple perspectives, so they miss things that could become a problem down the road.

The most useful person-environment factors to consider are vocation fit, job fit, organization fit, and workgroup fit.

Vocation Fit

Remember the career interest inventory you took your senior year in high school? Your results showed a laundry list of possibly occupations based on what you selected as most and least desirable in the assessment. I think some of mine included funeral director, teacher, librarian and zookeeper. Often there is little personal counseling that goes along with these assessments so you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you might want to be when you grow up!

We assume that individuals have figured this out before they start applying for jobs, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked why someone wants a particular job and they respond with “I really like to help people.” That’s great! But why help people through this job? Why does it satisfy you? Why is this career of choice? I ask my college students what they plan to do after graduation and most of them say “get a job.” Minimal effort seems to be put into discovering strengths, passions, interests, and vocational fit.

Job Fit

Assuming the individual has made a thoughtful vocational choice, the next step is to consider job fit. My wife used to laugh at me early in our marriage when I would look through the want ads and circle jobs (yeah – remember the days when you had to get the Sunday paper to find out who was hiring?!) that I didn’t have the credentials for but was convinced I would be a perfect choice for! Or I would apply for jobs at companies that I would not enjoy working in.

As job seekers we get into the desperation trap of “I just need a job – any job – and I’ll keep looking if its not the best one.” With bills piling up we quickly jettison the idea that we need a job where we can thrive – we’re just trying to survive. We become overly optimistic and let the dollars guide us.

The opposite happens with organizations and hiring managers. I’ve made desperate hiring decisions just to fill a position quickly, then regretted it later. In the call center world we called it “butts in seats.” In retail we had a similar approach – the “fog a mirror” test. The assumption is that its better to have someone…anyone…than no-one. Some industries just come to expect a certain amount of turnover.

But have you noticed the difference between the fast-food associate that is a good fit and the one who isn’t? They are in the right vocation – customer service – and in the right job. They smile, interact, and do their work with pride. In some ways its harder to measure this as people climb the ladder. They have the experience, skills, and credentials. But do they fit with your job?

Organization Fit

There are a few ways to look at organization fit. First, is there values alignment? Job seekers have to find out if what they believe about life and work meshes with what the company believes about life and work. Do they produce products and services that we think are harmful in some way? I once worked for a company that provided customer service for companies that sold adult videos, psychic readings, and online gambling sites. I didn’t know that until after I started working for the company, and it gave me some heartburn to be associated with such a company.

My first human resources job was for a century-old food manufacturing company that was hiring their first HR Manager in the company’s history. It took them at least two years to pull the trigger on posting the job. The average tenure of the executive team was about 20 years, so most of them started with the company right out of college and never left. As a young, ambitious, and out-of-the-box HR Manager, I was in for an awakening! I had a blast going in and setting up a new department, having the autonomy to create priorities and projects. But after about three years I had done all I could do because my desire for progressive programs did not fit the culture. They needed someone who would maintain what I had set in place.

As organizations become more active supporters of a variety of causes, from gay rights to immigration reform to global warming, job seekers have to do their homework to decide whether they fit with such an organization. It requires asking specific questions about values, priorities, and practices. Read articles about the company to see what may be below the surface of the company web site.

Workgroup Fit

At the workgroup level both the job seeker and the employer need to evaluate whether there is a good fit with a particular team. I’ve worked in large organizations that are a conglomeration of multiple sub-cultures. If the workgroup is in a location apart from corporate headquarters, how is the culture different? Is there dysfunction, infighting, or an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to working with other departments?

When I worked for a regional department store chain I was in one of the premier stores in a large mall in a large city. I would visit our stores in smaller cities and the culture within the store was completely different. There is a different talent pool, with smaller towns typically having less turnover. I’ve often found that the less turnover there is, the more likely the workgroup is receptive to change and new ideas. This isn’t always the case, but it’s important to check out.

Over a ten-year career in retail I worked in or managed virtually every department. As a 20-something male, I was assigned to manage a cosmetics department of 30 women for a couple of years. What an experience that was. Talk about a challenging workgroup fit!  Why my boss thought this was a good position for me, I don’t know. And why I accepted it shows that I didn’t give much thought to workgroup fit!

Evaluating Fit is Everyone’s Job

Job seekers and employers both have a responsibility to evaluate fit. At the highest organizational levels processes need to be in place to ensure values and priorities are clearly communicated at every level and location of the organization. Human resource policies and practices need to promote evaluation of fit, with hiring managers receiving training on how to screen at the four levels of fitness.

With high unemployment and fierce competition for jobs it will be difficult for job seekers to honestly evaluate fit, especially at the organization and workgroup levels. Individuals will accept positions out of desperation, blindly hoping that they can push through the discomfort they may have with the workplace. It won’t take long for things to surface and productivity will likely suffer. Co-workers will be affected and HR will be called in to help fix the situation.

We will continue to see tension within our workplaces from a failure to consider fit from employer and employee angles. Misalignment of skills, values, personalities and priorities cause friction and misunderstanding. As an HR Manager I frequently had discussions with hiring managers over whether it was better to keep a position open longer, taking a risk with productivity, or to keep searching for the right person. It’s difficult in the moment, because there are lines of customers waiting to be helped, or projects put on hold, or machines running at less-than-capacity. But in the end, the productivity and positive ripple effects for the workgroup and organization when the right person is in the job typically outweigh the less-than-stellar outcomes of a poor fit.

Suggested Resources

Who: The A Method for Hiring

Order Who: The A Method for Hiring from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!

Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time

Order Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time from the Minding the Gap Bookstore

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

Order What Color is Your Parachute? 2012 from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!

Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type

Order Do What You Are from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!