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Mar 2016

The traditional job description is flawed. It’s time to change it.

Seth Matheson, director of recruitment for Monster’s Talent Fusion, says candidates are being turned off by the way companies describe their roles.

By Seth Matheson

In 12 years of recruitment, there’s one problem that I’ve seen more than any other: Recruiters getting the wrong type of candidates. It results in lots of frustration, from both hiring managers and their talent acquisition partners—and both sides end up going back to the drawing board more than they would like.

Granted, it’s tough out there to hire. I see it daily in my role as the director at Talent Fusion by Monster—many companies outsource their toughest hiring challenges to us to solve. But the data shows that my experiences are indicative of what’s going on more broadly: U.S. unemployment is at 4.9%, which makes for an extremely competitive market. Anytime we get below 6% the war for talent intensifies. Meanwhile, the Society for Human Resource Management, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data, reported that Information Security Analysts, Data Scientists, Marketing Managers and a variety of other roles are going through serious talent shortages.

But I’d argue that hiring managers and recruiters are putting an additional hurdle in their own way: the job description.

Typically written by human resources staffers, the job description is meant to create a clearly defined profile of the type of candidate to be hired for a certain role. But the description is typically written in stark black and white terms, and humans are not as simple as that. To boil down one’s attributes to a few bullets leaves countless positive highlights unnoticed. 

I think there’s a better way to hire, and it’s not that hard. It will just require some adjustment, realigned expectations and—here comes a familiar refrain—buy-in from industry leaders.

What’s wrong with the current job description?

Take a look at this sales job description below. It’s in line with what most companies would use to advertise this kind of position today:

Sales Manager

Value Prop – We are looking for a HIGHLY MOTIVATED sales leader to join a FAST PACED company to drive revenue growth.


  • 3-5 years of sales management experience
  • Proven management of 5 or more employees
  • Regularly achieve quota or MBO goals


  • Proficient in Salesforce
  • Proficient in Microsoft Office
  • Excellent Communication Skills
  • Ability to present in front of a group

This job description doesn’t provide nearly enough information about the job itself. It shines no spotlight on what someone should have done in their past to be able to perform in this new role.

Also this elicits no emotion. A successful job description will make the reader feel something; the seeker should be able to envision him or herself in the role right then and there. The best candidates are employed. So the job description needs to give candidates something that catches their attention and follows up with a compelling reason to make a move.

Additionally, it weeds out some potentially very good talent. A candidate with less than three to five years experience would move on instantly. But who’s to say that one candidate couldn’t gain the equivalent of 10 years of experience through five years in a fast paced, high-intensity job? Conversely, what if those 10 years were spent at a mundane organization with little ingenuity? Will that candidate be able to grasp the role if hired? This is why hiring for quality of the individual and quality of the work that individual can perform will lead to better results.

And to get there, drastic changes are needed.

What’s the right way to write a job description?

I believe the job description needs to become more of a “job profile.” Some have started to refer to their job descriptions in this way in an attempt to set them apart, but few have actually changed the content

To me, the perfect “job profile” is a vision for what the role will become. Take a look at this. This is the careers page for Internet retail company Woot, owned by Amazon and launched in 2004. Each of this company’s descriptions are funny and enticing. But beyond the light, poetic language, you get a vibe about the company just by reading a few of their postings.

Just look at the poem they wrote to advertise a business intelligence engineer job:

When you apply to be a BIE
it's not about the shirt and tie
It's not about the way you'll try
to measure data with no lie
It's more about the way you'll fly
right through reports that are stacked high
and automate so any guy
or gal can easily decry
the work of those who did not try
to interact, assess, provide
details of which are a far cry
from companies without a BIE.

Also you'll probably be expected to have a rudimentary understanding of rhyme scheme. That's negotiable, though.

This is a gutsy tone for any company, but it grabs the reader. The qualifications for the job are below, and as with any good content, once you’re sucked in, you’re compelled to keep reading.

My colleagues on the product team here did something similar in hiring for a senior search product manager. They turned their ad into a top 10 list of reasons candidates might want the job, which included the lines: you get to see your products launched in the real world, making a tangible difference in the lives of people and you’ll find out that people search for a lot of very random things.

One way to get at this type of job description without having a Dr. Seuss on your team is to have the hiring managers you’re working with write down a "day in the life." This would be their vision for the role along with some personal statements about their own passions and their group’s passions.

But it doesn’t stop at the job ad…

On top of all this, the hirers—and likely companies at large—need to reset their expectations.

I have never hired someone who meets all the requirements. If I were to hire someone with all the requirements I’d immediately need to give this new hire a promotion. This is a flawed way of looking at a job description, and it’s also a flaw created by the job description. 

Apple’s late founder Steve Jobs had a hiring mantra: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Google, too, hires based on potential, not for specific roles, and allows their employees to tinker and move from group to group. Woot is clearly ahead of the game when it comes to the job description as well.

I’ve always said: “Hire the person, not the skill set. The person will surprise, the skill set is always predictable.”

And the right job profile will get you that person—the one who will work tirelessly and enthusiastically, who will drive your business forward, and who will help build the culture—rather than just getting you a tool box.

Seth Matheson is director of recruitment process outsourcing at Talent Fusion by Monster. In his 12 years experience as a recruiter, and seven as a manager, Seth has specialized in the verticals of Technology, Engineering, Finance, Sales and Creative.

Work directly with Seth to live-hack your hiring challenges at SXSW Interactive next week at Monster’s workshop: Hack Your Hiring: Find the Talent Your Company Needs Now (Tuesday, March 15th at 11am)

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