Bad job descriptions . . . norm and embarrassment

Do you want traffic to your blog?  Write about bad job descriptions!  I mean it ~ bad job descriptions.  See, I know how to do SEO.  Bad job descriptions.  People put bad job descriptions into Google.

Amazing.  But they don’t have to search far. Job descriptions are uniformly bad, spinny and scammy and show woeful lack of understanding of the purpose of a job.

In the throes of a general election, Britain, home of satire, has produced this wonderful spoof of the typical HRM effort at describing what we do at work. Jobsgopublic.

It’s funny, very funny, but not so much for the HR profession. When will we lift our game?

2 occasions to use a person specification; 3 ways to select with job descriptions

Job descriptions ~ good and bad

I picked up a reference to a job description for a Social Network Manager in the White House.  I don’t know if it is a spoof.  I repeat it here because my first reaction was, “Hey, this is a good job description.  I’ll file it away.”

Job descriptions vs person specifications

Then I looked at it more closely.  It is not really a job description.  It is a person specification.

Job specifications that are neither excellent nor strong

And it is not a good person specification.  Each line refers to an expectation that observers may have of the job holder and to a standard that is unanchored.  “Excellent”, “Strong”, and so on are intuitive standards that are believed to be commonly held but are obviously not as the writer was unable to articulate them.

Happy working relations begin with good job descriptions

If you want to be happy with you staff, then it is up to you to describe the job.  Let them see what they have to do. They will have a fairly accurate idea of whether they can do it or not.

When to use person specifications

Person specifications are useful under one of two conditions.

Scenario 1.   The mammoth unchanging organization. You have hired and filled the job over the decades and have objective records of the measurable qualities of the applicants and their subsequent job performance.  The measurable qualities are likely to be in the form of psychological tests.  After all, how else would we keep bureaucratic records spanning thousands of people and dozens of HR managers?

Scenario 2.  A rich leading organization.  In this scenario, it  is extremely unlikely that the applicant has any idea how to the job.  You are recruiting ‘noobes’ and you have the time and resources to train and give a grace time of several job cycles to learn and perfect the job.  Under these conditions, we extrapolate (preferably with the help of objective records or otherwise with commonsense) to qualities that allow a person to learn to do the job that we will show them how to do.  This technique is especially useful when we want to diversify the people in our organization and recruit people who would not normally consider working for us.

When to use job descriptions for selection

When you are in neither scenario, just write out an accurate account of what you want done.  Let people see it. They will self-select.

#1 If you are left with no takers, maybe rethink what you want done.

#2 If you are left with a handful of takers, interview each one and confine the discussion to what you want done.  You will soon find out who has the strongest knowhow.  Leave other discussions for your security check and get a third party to do that (with your preferred candidate’s knowledge and cooperation, of course).

#3 If you are overwhelmed by competent people wanting your job, then use social media!  Start a forum and let the applicant discuss the job with each other.  You may learn a lot.  To be sure, when they think more deeply about the position, many will recuse themselves. Add some voting too like they use on Stackoverflow.  The candidates will quickly tell you who is competent.  So will their pattern of voting.   You will spot gaming in an instance.

Here is the job description

Maybe it is spoof.  I didn’t check.  Follow

* Excellent writing and editing skills with strong attention to detail; your writing is strong, sharp, and personable

* Strong organizing and campaigning instincts; you can craft messages that move people to act, and you know what actions will achieve the right impact at the right time

* Strong familiarity with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.

* Ready to work hard; this isn’t a 9-5 sort of job

* Ability to work under deadline pressure

* Ability to manage multiple complex projects

* Passionate about engaging millions of Americans in advancing President Obama’s agenda and changing the country

* Candidates must be willing to relocate to Washington, DC

Preference given for experience with:

* Online organizing experience with an electoral campaign, advocacy organization or non-profit

* Complex project management

* Experience using social media for organizing

UPDATE:  Here is the link to the original on  It follows the format we might expect beginning with the wider picture and then a two sentence description of why the job exists.  Again it leaves the exact parameters of the job in the shadows. HRM for organizations with ‘strong internal labour markets’ [when everyone is promoted from within] is quite different from HRM for organizations who have ‘weak internal labour markets’ and appoint from without.

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Frazzled? Get a one line job description

I don’t know about you, but the last two weeks have been pretty busy for me.  People are coming-and-going, new projects begin, tax returns are due (January 31 deadline for individual online returns in the UK) and I have all those New Year resolutions swirling around my heads, too.

Poet, David Whyte, talks about being so busy that every one around you appears to be too slow.  The person walking in front of you on the street is in the way; your partner left dirty dishes in the sink, again; you colleague, superior or subordinate has dropped the ball, again.

I hate it when I feel like that. I feel like that now, and I know my ‘job description’ is to blame.   It’s just too busy!


In December, I ruthlessly cut out anything that is rushed or disorganized.  I learned this trick from commercial bankers.  If you are in a hurry, the answer is No.  You are obviously disorganized and your project will fail.

And lest I forget, I staple evidence of disorganization to the front cover of the file!

But I have pruned and pruned, and still, I have too much that I want to do.


I spent much of my life working in universities.  It surprises most outsiders (and students) that the main job of university lecturers is not to teach.  They are required to teach adequately – I was even told by my Dean once – CHEAT don’t TEACH.

Research is their main task.  It is the only thing they can be promoted for and to protect this priority, people get up to work early in the morning and it is a big no-no to disturb any one ‘working at their papers’ or ‘in the lab’.

Admin or community service comes a poor last and tasks are shared and rotated.  Even being Head of Department is rotated.   You do your share, perfunctorily.  That’s it. And it is done in the afternoon.

I’ve tried priotiising, but I don’t have three goals.  I don’t even have five.  I got down to nine and the list has lengthened since the New Year.

My difficulty is that when I am doing one task, I am worrying about the others.  Once we get beyond entry level jobs, it is not the tasks themselves that is important, it is the interrelationships between tasks that are critical.  To shift sectors, triage is more important than task.  University lecturers add value by showing students where a field is going rather than by reciting the lecture they gave last year and the year before.


As yet I have never found a system that allows us to track the inter-related progress of several projects and whether we will achieve our grand plan.  What I do, when I need to work at this level, is draw my goals in a circle and imagine bringing all the goals in successfully at the same time.

Pictures are great for seeing interconnections.  Systems theorists are pretty good at drawing pictures of how the world fits together.

What I did this morning was to write my job description in one line.  A job description should only have ONE goal, shouldn’t it?  Basic Fayol.  This how it begins

My job is to achieve, simultaneously, .  .  .  .   .   .

I took a blank piece of paper and put 2009 in a circle in the middle and started putting my sub-goals in circles around the page.  Hey, presto, they fell neatly into five groups.  I thought some might fall away but they grouped quite naturally.

My next test was whether I could I set quarterly and monthly goals for each of the five groups.  I took another page, put 2009 in the middle and drew FIVE spokes, marked off quarters and months for the first quarter, and jotted down some notes.  Yep, this works.  And I got better names for the spokes, making it clearer what I do, why I do it and how each spoke makes the others possible.

And best still, the pull on my attention seems to have resolved a little.  The tasks that have been getting short shrift, somehow feel like they should be done first thing in the morning, though some can be prepared the night before, and the tasks that I enjoy doing but have more elastic timescales can be done in the late afternoon.

Mmmm, definitely worth trying.

Come with me

a) I’ve already said ‘no’ to one or two people this year (amazing), though in each case I’ve been able to follow through with a good introduction or significant friendly help.

b) My prioritization has sucked, but at least I’ve been aware of it. I’m feeling a bit better.

c) I’m testing out my one line job description: my task is to achieve simultaneously .   .   .

A picture would be better still.

Can you state your job description in one line?