Time to change the approach to job descriptions

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The battle for top talent is hotting up, and in a competitive labour market, employers must be clever and creative in their recruitment processes to ensure they attract the best candidates. Unemployment is at its lowest level since the mid-1970s[1], while the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit means companies are having to work even harder to both attract and retain top talent. So, are HR professionals putting themselves in the best possible position to hire?

Our research shows that this might not be the case, and job application processes could be putting off potential candidates. In fact, over a third of British workers surveyed (36 per cent) revealed they have held back from applying for a new job because they didn’t understand which skills were required for the role.

The survey revealed the extent of the confusion experienced by workers when it comes to knowing how to perform in job applications and interviews. Almost half (46 per cent) of respondents stated they find it hard to know which skills to focus on, or talk about, in job applications and during interviews while almost one in 10 (eight per cent) wouldn’t check, or wouldn’t know how to check, which skills were required for a job role.

This knowledge gap around skills has resulted in a lack of confidence amongst job seekers. According to the research, more than a third of workers (36 per cent) don’t think they would stand out in an interview based on the skills they have, while almost half (46 per cent) have actually left an interview worried about how they performed.

With such a chasm between what employers, HR professionals and recruiters are seeking and what applicants are presenting, the time is ripe to reconsider the way we approach job descriptions.

Michael Page analysed the frequency of occurrence of almost 500 skills from UK job adverts, evaluating the most common skills requested for the most frequently recruited roles, to inform its Skills Checker tool, an online tool which allows both employers and potential employees to search job roles and find out which skills are required. Advising on mandatory qualifications, technical competencies and personality attributes, the Skills Checker aims to remove some of the confusion around desirable skills.

In doing so, it noted that 56 per cent of skills listed in adverts are ‘soft’ skills – anything from time management to negotiation skills and being customer service oriented. This rises to 63 per cent when excluding digital and senior finance roles.

More traditional ‘soft’ skills such as being motivated, a self-starter and paying attention to detail were also commonly listed. However, in an age where applicants are increasingly looking to stand out, do such commonplace traits get brushed under the carpet in favour of flashier, more unexpected skills? And if so, how can employers ensure that the value of these skills shine through from the outset in the hiring process?

For me, it comes down to clarity and consistency. A clear, detailed and precise job description will be far more valuable than a standard run of the mill exercise – for both candidates and employers.

As it stands, employers are potentially missing out on talent as a result of unclear job listings and must adapt to ensure they’re hiring in the most efficient way. In order to streamline the recruitment process, and save your own time, I would urge all employers to consider the following before finalising a job description:

  • Know what you are looking for

Spend time distilling exactly what you are looking for in a new recruit: technical aptitude, experience, qualifications, strong personality…? With a plethora of options, if you are not clear on what your ideal applicant looks like, you’ll struggle to attract them! Be sure to include stakeholders from within the business in this process, particularly those who will be working with the new hire. The time investment up front will pay dividends further down the line.

  • Identify your skills ‘wish list’

Divide the attributes you’re seeking into two lists: ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice to haves’ and make this distinction clear in your job description. It’s no use to you if a candidate possesses all of the “nice to have” skills if they’re lacking the fundamentals. Being open about what candidates need will prevent unqualified candidates from applying and empower applicants that do possess the right skills to highlight these to you, confident that they meet the requirements for the role.

  • Avoid jargon

All companies use their own unique jargon and phrases, so chances are you won’t be familiar with such terms unless you work there. Writing a job description in simple language eliminates any confusion over meaning. Try to apply the same logic to job titles, where possible, so as to be clear about the level of the job on offer.

  • Be clear on your offer to candidates – and your expectations

Job descriptions are just as much about candidates finding the right company to apply to as they are finding the right candidate for your company. Highlight the potential benefits to the successful candidate from the outset – but ensure these are clearly balanced with your expectations.

  • Express your company culture

Don’t be afraid to showcase your company’s personality and culture. Company culture is increasingly important to employees so use your recruitment process to express what candidates can expect as part of the role. Putting value against company culture will also help to ‘weed out’ those applicants that may have all the right skills and qualifications but would be a bad cultural fit within your organisation.

 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/unemployment-down-by-over-11-million-since-2010

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