Writing Realistic Job Descriptions

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When writing job listings, some managers and companies will list every skill they wish a potential employee might have as required experience. The following is from an actual job posting on a major job Web site:

For this position, with one of the world’s foremost manufacturing companies, you will own the design and maintenance of an Intranet website. You will be responsible for maintaining the integrity, consistency, and accuracy of the written and graphical content of online as well as offline publications, while conforming to established standards. This will involve working closely with internal staff to gather / organize content, manage / resolve issues, and provide training and support related to web publishing. Additionally, you will be documenting network infrastructure strategies, network hardware ordering and implementation procedures, and other workflow processes.

YOUR BACKGROUND:
- 3+ years relevant experience
- Expert-level skills with web publishing and graphics software, including Dreamweaver 4.0, FrontPage 2000, Adobe Photoshop, WEBTrends, FTP, and Visio 2000
- Solid knowledge and skills with HTML, CGI, Perl, JavaScript, CSS, ASP, and PHP
- Familiarity with UNIX and Windows NT platforms
- Experienced documenting workflow processes
- Background in telecommunications
- BA/BS in CS or related field

You are very unlikely to find someone who is an expert graphic designer and programmer, especially a programmer with Perl, JavaScript, ASP and PHP experience. Designers don’t often have computer science (CS) degrees.

Documenting workflow processes? That’s the job of a business analyst. Network infrastructure is the realm of a network engineer, and maintaining “the integrity, consistency, and accuracy” of content is what an editor does.

In the tools list, they want someone who’s an expert with FrontPage 2000. Apparently they aren’t looking for serious Web developers. I know very few Web development experts who think that FrontPage is a decent tool. FrontPage is a tool used by non-developers to mange their site in a MS Word-like environment.

They also list FTP as a tool that this expert web designer and programmer needs to know. That’s like asking for a mechanic who is also skilled in using a wrench. Any Web professional is going to have experience with FTP. And even if someone didn’t for some reason, FTP isn’t rocket science. If you can copy files, you can use FTP.

It’s obvious that someone is listing all the tools that might be used in the job, adding in the job requirements, and then throwing in a wishlist of all the skills that might be useful. The problem with this approach is that you are virtually guaranteeing that you won’t get qualified applicants for the position.

When I look at that job description, I can’t decipher what they really want. What’s the real need behind that job? Do they want a developer, a designer, a manager, or an analyst? They are discouraging people from applying because they don’t have all those skills. A great manager with lots of experience in leading Web teams might not apply because they don’t know Photoshop. A hot designer that doesn’t have expert knowledge in four different programming languages will send their resume elsewhere.

So who will apply for that job? Someone who’s prior experience is building their uncle’s Web site. They’ve dabbled in all those technologies, so surely they are qualified, right? Publish a job listing like that and you’ll also get flood of resumes from people who have one or two of the skills you mentioned. The responses will be all over the map and good luck in weeding out those who are unqualified.

Give people half a chance and they will pre-qualify themselves for a job. No one wants to take the time to send resumes and cover letters and never get a response. If you want to receive quality resumes from a group of qualified applicants, explain exactly what you want. Write a tight job description with the basic required skills. If you still feel the need to try to get “the dream applicant,” list your nice-to-have skills in a separate section. Say something like, “it would be helpful, but not necessary, if you have any of the following skills…”

Zuly
July 10, 2003 7:45 PM

Excellent points, Adam. One of the biggest frustrations of unemployment for me has been job descriptions. 3+ years of experience yet expert level knowledge in 5 different applications and two platforms and one industry. I shy away from those descriptions because I figure the company doesn't have it's stuff together enough to come up with a good job description, therefore even if I do land the job by some miracle of God, it will undoubtedly be a giant mess, usually involving confusion over who I report to and which project is the priority.

Adam Kalsey
July 10, 2003 11:04 PM

Someone sent me this anonymous comment.... "In many cases, these descriptions are 'H1-B baiting,' meaning these companies really want to hire an Indian programmer and sponsor him for an H1-B visa so they can pay him $12 an hour. But to get authorization for one of these visas, they have to publicly post the job for 90 days. When they get no qualified applicants (not surprising), then they petition the INS to let them bring someone over from India. So they put things things up in the HOPE that no one will apply, thus giving them the justification they need."

John Engler
July 13, 2003 8:16 PM

something I've always found useful (when searching for a job) was to apply for jobs that I was qualified completely for, as well as to apply for jobs that I was close to qualified for (perhaps if I possess 8 of 10 skills) because I know that 9 times out of 10, an employer isn't looking for the perfect skillset, they're looking for the 'most qualified' candidate that'll fit into the corporate culture and prosper. Hiring authorities look for people that are 9's and 10's not for resume's that are 9's and 10's, so submit your resume, and hope you get a phone call or email response. Submit your resume even if you don't think you're fully qualified... let the hiring manager tell you that you're not qualified after they've interviewed, other wise you'll sell yourself short of the opportunity... I agree job descriptions are sometimes very poorly written, but in today's world of 'doing less with more' most of the jobs that have poor job descriptions evolve constantly, and thus the job descriptions do the same...

Adrian Howard
July 16, 2003 2:25 AM

Sometimes the employer doesn't understand that you can't get all those skills in one person. They see "web development" as a single task and expect to be able to hire one person as the "web developer". The problem isn't that they expect to find a dream candidate. The problem is that they don't understand that "web development" isn't a job, but probably at least three. I've had conversations with management types about this sort of thing in the past. Once they understand the roles they can make a more reasonable decision (for example using existing in-house design skills from the marketing department, getting a board member to drive the analysis and hiring a pure developer).

Phillip Harrington
July 16, 2003 10:47 PM

I've seen worse. Worse is when you get a "Web/HTML" job openning who's description is "maintain corporate web site" and they have C++, Java, Delphi, or Windows Application Development on the list of required skills. As you say, the average markup and procedural web/api guy like myself, who doesn't really know C++ etc, isn't going to apply. It lends credibility to the H1-B theory (although I'm biased to such controversial, subversive theories). Re-reading it, I actually kind of agree with Jon on this one: It's not that bad. I can do most of that. I'm expert enough in Dreamweaver and Frontpage to not need them! If I truly "own" the design of the web site, then I don't need to know that much Photoshop, since I'll do mostly Text/HTML/CSS! :-) Har har! The really funny part is usually after this laundry list of Java, Visual Basic, C++, HTML, 2 years of print design work and solid portfolio, expert with Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash, must be Microsoft, Red Hat, Cisco, and A+ certified, must have studied under Tim Berners Lee, familiarity with APL a plus, and on and on... The next line invariably is: Salary: up to $30,000 annual, DOE.

Tbit
July 25, 2003 1:50 PM

"...they HOPE that no one will apply, thus giving them the justification they need." But isn't this exactly what you are NOT saying? The bitter anonymous commenter (probably long time unemployed like me) is looking for the scapegoat of why they are not getting hired. As you said, this type of job description generally leads everyone and their 19 year old cousin to apply hoping for the "maybe i will float to the top" concept to help them. Nobody will have all the skills so anyone with a 75% match will apply. My scapegoat is the person who applies to the above with their resume tailoured to match it perfectly but who pans out in the interview process. The company must get frustrated and hire the next interviewee who isn't a complete idjit.

Trackback from c u l t u r e k i t c h e n
October 5, 2004 8:53 AM

Fantastic read for those grappling with job descriptions

Excerpt: Writing Realistic Job Descriptions :: Kalsey Consulting Group...

Michael
November 2, 2004 4:57 PM

I have homework tonight, from my company, to write a new job description for myself. So I am looking on the Internet for proper Job Descriptions. My current job consists of Networking, Telecommunications and Building Security Administration. I am a one-man show. Except for a Database / Programmer that maintains the MRP/ERP System and EDI. I have been finding out that a lot of companies take 2 or 3 job descriptions and make an add in the paper or on the Internet hoping that they can get a person like me that can fulfill the requirements of 2 or 3 employees. You know more bangs for the buck. But they really do not need all of the requirements that are listed. When I send my resume out, I send it to a job position even if I have a third of the requirements that are listed in the job opening. I sometimes get calls from the HR Managers of the companies asking me if I have other experience that I have not listed on my resume.

Suzan
December 12, 2005 7:00 PM

My company is hiring for the first time a web designer/developer. The "/" means I don't know what the difference is. We will have a company create us a new website and the individual we will hire (hopefully) will maintain and enhance as need be. Can you help with a proper job description. Not sure what to ask (or in the above case what not to ask). Thanks....

Mclaren dude
April 12, 2006 6:29 PM

I wanted to know if a Business Analyst is worth or not. I am CS Graduate. and I am thinking of venturing into Biz Analyst position I would love to get the feedback from u ppl thanks a lot fellas

Core
July 5, 2006 12:48 PM

Well, I love this posting because it is sickeningly true. I think its just another step closer to making us juggle a larger workload while getting paid for a single one! Many of these individuals who post these descriptions don't seem to understand what they need or want and so do this guerrilla type posting. The world that I live in has seen that there are great programmers and great designers because they've chosen to specialize while still being aware of the other technologies. I think that the worst part of all these requested requirements layed out by these job postings is that the salary never matches the expectations.

Paulo
July 6, 2006 7:50 AM

As a full time web developer and a graphic designer who regularly seeks out clients to apply for web projects, this post really hit home. I've found that most developers out there who are worth a dime, tend to know a few technologies VERY well rather than having the spread. In particular I find it interesting that the post lists both ASP and PHP. While I'm sure there are lots of companies out there that use both, you won't find too many programmer that are comfortable in both. Hopefully employers who are reading this will look into the technologies before making them a prerequisite.

wayne
July 19, 2006 4:15 PM

Here's an ad that web designer/developer/programmers would like to see if they handled the hiring. Human resources personal required. Must have degrees in: clinical psychiatry, Jungian analysis, Freudian analysis, Social work degree, Human Resources degree, collective bargaining degree, Corporate dispute settlement degree. Languages must include: English, French, German, Italian, Cantonese, Japanese.

bryon
April 28, 2008 7:00 PM

I'm going to school to get my B.S. in Web Development. That kind of wanted AD fits my bill. Those requirements of the ad are not that extreme. One person should be able to do all that is requested, if that person has a degree in Web Development. Do your research!

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