What is the first thing you do when you start recruiting?
The typical answer is, ‘write a job ad’. For me, this is the improv approach to recruitment. It might lead to a good outcome, but more likely, it will go off the rails at some point. Either way, you don’t know where you’re going until you get there.
It would help if you had a plan
Hiring someone is a project. It has a starting point, a set of procedures, a timeline and a clear goal at the end. You should treat it as a project - and every project needs a plan!
In this case, it is the job description. Get this right, and everything that follows should flow more efficiently, on time and increase your chances of a successful outcome. You will use this blueprint to craft your ad copy, construct screening and interview questions and drive the reference and offer stages.
Even after you have hired, you will use it to onboard, set goals for and performance manage your employee.
Start with your needs ... then look for the right person
Another typical mistake is to start with a particular person or profile in mind. My advice is to start by considering what outcomes you need for the business and then build a profile around those criteria.
If you do this well, then candidates will have specific criteria against which to measure themselves. This will broaden the field to include backgrounds you may not have considered, yet it also makes applications more targeted to the job requirements.
A bit of effort up-front saves you time in the long run
As a busy start-up founder or CEO, you may feel writing a job description is a time investment you cannot afford, but without doubt, it will save you time and money, and improve your chances of success.
Build a Job Description Template
The easiest way to start is to use a standard template, and I recommend creating one for yourself. To give you a head-start you can use the following headers and suggestions to build your own template.
Note: The title you use internally may be the same as the one you advertise publicly, but not always. For example, a ‘Business Development Manager’ can mean very different things depending on the makeup of the role and the needs of the business. The reader will interpret this title through their own lens.
Note: Describe, in a brief paragraph, the main deliverables that you want from this role. This should be a high-level statement – there is room for detail later. You can be specific, e.g. if you expect this person to deliver a particular project or an annual sales target.
Note: Who does this person report to? What is the nature of this reporting relationship?
Note: Who does this person interact with in their role? This should be divided into Internal and External relationships. Include anyone that reports to this person.
Note: This should be a comprehensive list of activities that this person will be responsible for in the course of carrying out their duties. Use bullet points.
Note: What skills will be required to carry out this role? You can divide this into essential and desirable skills. Candidates rarely come with all skills intact – some will need to be learned on the job. Use bullet points.
Note: What prior experience would be advantageous for this person to have? Sometimes previous experience, and the networks that come with them, can be an immediate advantage when someone starts a role. However, bear in mind that someone with less experience but who has strong innate attributes will likely be a better asset to the company over time when compared to an average performer with prior experience. Also, experience in another setting can often be associated with bad habits that need to be unlearned.
Note: Divide into mandatory and nice-to-have.
Note: These are the personal qualities, values and attitudes that will best suit someone in this role and your company culture. Value alignments with the company should be consistent over time and across all employees. Other personal qualities will vary with the position, e.g. a salesperson will have different attributes from someone in a regulatory role. Try to avoid cliches like ‘self-starter’ and ‘team-player’ as they come across as meaningless unless you define what they mean in this particular role.
Dr. John Bethell has 28 years experience in health and life sciences recruitment. He is co-founder of two successful recruitment firms employing over 100 staff and delivers training on setting up recruitment systems for start-ups.