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The topic of job descriptions came up in conversation with some colleagues the other day. Frequently cited was frustration with overly broad or ambitious job descriptions that read like an employer wish list of skills and expertise rather than an accurate picture of actual needs. Graphic design seems like an area where this is especially prevalent, perhaps owing to the many forms of design practice. While some may argue on the side of that being a valid recruitment approach I would submit that it results in unsatisfactory results for almost all involved.

Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small shop, finding talent costs time and money so why not do whatever can be done to mitigate those costs and get maximum results?

Here are some examples of possible negative outcomes I see to the “wish list” approach to job descriptions.

Attracting Overqualified Prospects

If these prospects don’t immediately “place out” due to salary there’s a fair chance that they’ll jump ship as soon as a more challenging or rewarding (personally, financially or professionally) opportunity arises. This may not seem so bad in the short term but do you really want to absorb recruitment and training cost of a constantly revolving position?

Scaring off Qualified Prospects

Several articles such as this one from The New York Times have reported employers lamenting lack of qualified employees. While I’m sure there are instances where this is the case I suspect that there are a good number of instances where other factors are at work. One that seems most easily addressed is an overly broad or inaccurate job description, which screens out potentially good candidates. For example, a description where “nice to have” skills are positioned as must-have requirements.

Wrong Fit

Descriptions that lack focus or inaccurately represent the main type of work that needs to be done day-to-day. For example you have a position that specifies “x” but the job in question actually requires “y” the majority of the time and “x” very rarely. If this isn’t clear in the job description you may end up with candidates whose balance of skills don’t match well with the actual position leading to dissatisfaction on both sides.

So how can you avoid these pitfalls when looking for your next hire? We asked Donna Farrugia, Executive Director, The Creative Group to answer some questions on the topic. Here’s what she had to say:

Q1. What are the elements of an effective job description?

Donna: “A well-written job description includes the following information:

Title and Reporting Structure—the type of professional you are hiring for (e.g., “senior web designer” or “art director”) and the title of the person to whom the employee will report to and any positions(s) over whom the employee will have supervisory responsibility
Key Responsibilities—the day-to-day tasks and big-picture initiatives in which the employee will be involved
Qualifications—the technical and soft skills, experience and education, as well as any certifications required
Expectations—the immediate and long-term objectives for the position and a specific definition of what constitutes exceptional performance
Compensation—if possible, list the salary range for the opening as well as any benefits that will be offered.”

Q2. What’s the biggest mistake you see in job descriptions?

Donna: “One of the most common mistakes when it comes to writing job descriptions is creating a laundry list of tasks without carefully reviewing the position and prioritizing what duties are most essential versus those that are marginal. Overly verbose job descriptions can be intimidating and prevent well-qualified candidates from applying to an opening, and ultimately lead to a smaller candidate pool from which to choose.”

Q3. How can employers balance creating a job description for current needs that’s still “forward looking”?

Donna: “Creative jobs today are generally broader in scope than those of the past, with hiring managers looking for candidates with extensive skill sets, like designers with digital expertise and social media proficiency.

“As such, job descriptions need to take into account these expanded skill sets as well as any additional tasks the role may require. In other words, employers should focus on what the job looks like now and in the near future, based on their companies’ current and long-term objectives. One way to determine what ‘emerging’ skills may be needed is to interview top employees in the company who perform a similar job as the one you’re recruiting for. They will have a good sense of what unique skills and expertise are needed to excel in the role.”

Q4. Other advice?

Donna: “When writing job descriptions for design roles, especially, it can be easy to get caught up in the technical aspects, like what version of Adobe InDesign the candidate should know. But a job description is not complete without a mention of what soft skills and interpersonal abilities are needed for the job.

“These include an aptitude for communicating with people of all levels, abilities and backgrounds; the capacity to work well in teams (as both a leader and team member); creative problem-solving skills and a strong sense of ethics. Given how often creative professionals must collaborate with colleagues within and outside their department, these skills are crucial.”

About Donna Farrugia

donna farrugia
Donna Farrugia is executive director of The Creative Group and manages operations for the firm’s locations in major markets throughout the United States and Canada. Ms. Farrugia has more than 25 years of marketing, business development and management experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, with a minor emphasis in systems analysis, operations research, accounting and psychology.

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