The smaller your business, the more important it is that you hire the right people. This should go without saying.
Happily, whole books have been written, and seminars taught, on the art and the science of determining whether or not the nervous candidate across the interview table is the one who’s going to thrive on your team and help take your small business to the next level.
But what if that isn’t the problem?
What many business owners forget is that hiring is a two-way street. Just as applicants are pitching themselves to you, you’re pitching your business to them, and for you that process starts much earlier: with the job description.
Even the interviewing skills of a Barbara Walters won’t save you if your job posting isn’t bringing quality candidates through the door in the first place.
Here are five common ways that your job descriptions could be letting you down.
1. Too Broad of a Job Description
At most small businesses, employees wear many hats, with everyone pitching in to get done what needs doing. If this is true in your business, then it’s important for your job posting to communicate the freewheeling nature of the work.
Let applicants know that you’re looking for flexible team players who don’t mind stepping outside their lane every now and again. For the right candidate, this will be a draw, not a turn-off.
But your job description also needs to, well, describe a job. No serious candidate is going to answer a job posting that doesn’t set out a clearly defined role, complete with a reasonably detailed list of duties and responsibilities.
For one thing, your failure to get specific suggests either a general lack of organization, which doesn’t bode well for your small business’s long-term prospects. For another, people with specific qualifications want to go where those specific qualifications will be valued — or at least recognized.
If you’re staffing up a high-end florist, for example, it’s great to let applicants know you’re looking for people with a “passion” for flowers. However, if you hope to compete for people with specific expertise, then say so. Including a phrase such as “Must have experience with exotic shrubs” will ensure you don’t waste your time on candidates who can’t tell Kangaroo Paw from Yellow Aphelandra.
Even if it feels like there are no cut-and-dried parameters to the position you’re trying to fill, and you really are just looking for a flexible and motivated team-player, it’s worth stepping back and taking a moment to think about the nature of the work that needs doing. Here’s an excellent example of a job description that manages both to convey the open-ended nature of the job while being ultra-specific about what’s actually required:
Note how the text moves from the general to the very, very particular, and how much thought goes into describing the job’s parameters. Curiosity and enthusiasm will take you a long way, it seems, at Beverly Bremer Silvershop, even with limited experience. But if you can’t lift 20 lbs? You should probably look elsewhere.
2. Too Narrow a Job Description
The most common mistake people make when writing a job posting is to confuse wants with needs, and preferences with requirements. They end up writing a description of their ideal candidate, who bristles with more qualifications and experience than anyone could plausibly hope to amass in a human lifespan.
Don’t do this.
The “Requirements” section of your job description should only list those skills and qualifications that are actually required to perform the job. Detail and word choice count for a lot here. Insisting that an applicant be “proficient” in a piece of software when really they only need to be “familiar with” it could cost you a superb employee.
And don’t go demanding an arbitrary number of “years of experience” in a field when all you really need is someone with “good knowledge of” it. If a skill is desirable but nonessential, then say so. The useful expression “… is a plus” was invented for just this purpose.
3. The “Too Fancy” Job Title
One advantage of running a small business is that you’re not constrained by the standard hierarchy of corporate job titles. No one expects a coffee shop to have a Chief Financial Officer, or a three-person landscaping firm to have a General Counsel. This frees you up to get creative with your job titles, yet it’s a freedom that can easily be abused.
A common mistake is to load up your titles with inflated markers of prestige and authority. Adding words like “Senior,” “Chief” and “Head” to a job title may seem like a no-cost way of enticing quality hires, but anyone of working age was not born yesterday.
Inflating the job of barista to “Vice President of Beverage Distribution (North America)” makes your coffee shop sound like a two-bit operation that’s pretending to be something it’s not, and most qualified candidates will head for the hills.
4. The “Too Silly” Job Title
At the other end of the spectrum are those “playful” job titles that are currently so fashionable: “Chief Dreamer,” “Marketing Rock Star,” etc. This trend originated in Silicon Valley, which has long prided itself on having an inverse correlation between the importance of a thing and the silliness of its name. (There is an actual, NASDAQ-listed company named “Google,” if you can believe it, and another one that goes by “Yahoo!”).
If your business is a tech company, or anything else on the cutting edge, then by all means go advertise for a “Growth Hacker” or a “Marketing Ninja.” But if you’re hiring a new Sales Associate for your furniture dealership, then “Sales Associate” will do just fine.
5. Too Impersonal a Job Description
Hiring someone for a full-time position is a high-stakes, serious business for both parties. But that doesn’t mean your job descriptions should be written as bone-dry, quasi-legal documents. On the contrary, it’s essential that every job posting convey a sense of your business’s culture and mission. Doing so will help get suitable candidates fired up about joining your team and — just as important, if not more so — help deter those applicants who just aren’t a good “fit,” saving both of you the time and awkwardness of figuring that out in an interview.
How do you convey your corporate culture? Well, you can—and should—put as much of it into words as possible. Say what your business is about, what larger vision of the world makes you and your team excited to show up for work each morning. (This is a chance to unload any cool, snappy slogans or philosophies you have lying around.)
But the tone of your job description can say a lot as well. Is the mood in your office light and irreverent? Communicate that by sprinkling your job description with slang, and maybe the occasional joke.
Conversely if you prize focus and intensity above other qualities, eliminate needless words and keep your job description taut and to-the-point.
6. No Attention to Appearances
In job descriptions, as in life, words can only take you so far. Before potential applicants have even started reading they will have formed an impression of your business, and the job on offer, from the way your job description looks. Without reading them, compare these appearance of these two job descriptions from two different café/coffee shops:
Without reading a single word of text, you get a clear sense of what the atmosphere is like at each establishment, as well as the different kinds of energy and purpose each brings to the task of supplying the general public with snacks and caffeinated beverages. In the pool of available baristas, some will find themselves more drawn to the no-nonsense brickwork of Puzzles.
Others will feel more of a pull towards the New-Agey, eco-conscious world of Bourbon Coffee, and these visceral preferences are as good a guide as anything else as to which candidates will “fit” better with each business.
That, ultimately, is what good job descriptions are all about. Hiring is a process of matchmaking, and just as on a first date with a potential partner, exactly what you say in a job description often matters less than how you say it, not to mention what you look like. The feeling applicants get from reading your job description is what they assume it’s going to feel like to work for you. So take the time to make sure you give an accurate—and positive—first impression.