Defining a job vacancy: are you doing it properly?

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Defining a job vacancy: are you doing it properly?
Ashton Arnold

Defining a job vacancy: are you doing it properly?

In a skills-short talent market, it's key to master the art of defining a clear job vacancy. Our regional director Ashton Arnold explores this initial part of the recruitment process – to help ensure you're one step closer to finding the diverse candidates your business is looking for in order to drive forward growth.

I constantly speak to clients in the technology market, and I’m always hearing that there isn’t enough talent to meet demand.

It’s one of the reasons more clients are trying to diversify their talent pools. It’s pretty shocking that less than one in five tech workers are female, for example. Research also shows that just 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice.

But credit where it’s due – businesses have recognised that things need to change. So, why are so many of them struggling to actually make that change?

Some businesses make a hire, only to find that person leaves within six months. Some get a good batch of CVs, but see things fall down at the interview stage. Others don’t even get that far.

The talent acquisition lifecycle has many parts. Often, it’s the very first step which throws up challenges, and it’s one I’m going to explore in this article. Without getting this step right, you’re limiting the candidates available to you and will find it hard to get a diverse talent pipeline.

Defining the job vacancy

This involves recognising and communicating the requirements of the role. You may be using an internal recruitment team, an agency, or an outsourced partner. Either way, the principle is usually the same – you put together a job description and then talk through the essential requirements.

But what if unconscious bias is creeping in at this very early stage? That means the candidates you find will only ever fit one type of profile. Here are some of the common problems businesses have.

1)  Experience-focused

Some businesses focus excessively on experience. This is important – but, at the same time, you should also look at competency in roles with a transferable skill set. Having some flexibility is key, especially in a market that suffers from skills shortages.

You should also be wary of writing a job description based on the person who currently has this role. By doing this you risk ruling out people who are more than capable of doing the job, but come from non-traditional backgrounds or have a different personality.

2)  Exclusive criteria

Some job descriptions use desired attributes such as ‘drive’, ‘competitiveness’, or ‘assertiveness’. Unfortunately, these phrases carry a certain stereotype.

The moment you put this in your advert, you’re closing the door to a number of people – the exact opposite of what you want to achieve. And often, this phrasing goes under the radar.

If you take a step back, you’ll realise that often there isn’t much of a link between the desired attributes and what it takes to do the job. I’ll hold my hands up – I used to be guilty of this – but now I try and make sure there is a much bigger focus on role competency, and it’s something I advise every client to do.

3) Narrow role definition

Not too long ago, you would see job adverts which said they only wanted candidates who went to Russell Group universities. We’re slowly seeing a shift away from this mentality, but there are still far too many companies which focus on things like this.

While qualifications are important, especially in the tech world where there are certifications for certain platforms/tools, there needs to be a better balance. Some of the best tech minds around didn’t have a formal higher education and have picked up skills simply by developing side projects.

So these are common issues - what are some of the solutions?

Ask around

When businesses are submitting a proposal for an important piece of work, they send it around internally to get fresh eyes and perspectives. Why not apply the same principles to hiring?

For core roles, you could submit your job descriptions to an internal panel before you finalise them. This should be made up of a variety of people – for example people of different ages, backgrounds, and/or parts of the business.

I’m not suggesting you go overboard with different opinions - and I would only use this approach for key hires - but if you want a diverse talent pipeline, you should get a diverse set of opinions.

Mind your language

Research suggests that women are more likely to screen themselves out of roles if they don’t feel 100% qualified – and often it’s the language in the job description which makes them feel this way.

Check for any potential biases in the way jobs and desired attributes are being described. You may not even recognise them at first, so I would advise using digital proofing tools to help you. Over time, it will become easier. Focus on the mandatory skills and the key outputs of what makes a successful candidate.

Establish frameworks

I remember one of the first clients I ever worked with. They told me they had a role they were struggling to fill, because they couldn’t clarify what they actually needed. It was only when one of the main assessors – who hadn’t even been involved in writing the job description – went through it line by line and clarified what he needed, that things became easier.

He documented this and made it available to everybody involved in the recruitment process. It meant everybody was looking for a common set of requirements, making it much easier to find the right candidates.

This is why frameworks are so important. It may sound bureaucratic, but the alternative is that you have people making decisions clouded by unconscious bias.

It also has the added effect of letting everyone know how serious you are. It’s one thing talking about an improved hiring process in a team meeting - but formalising it hammers home the message.

We should all take heart from how far businesses have come in terms of Diversity & Inclusion. The stats I mentioned at the start of this article show we still have more to do. But I've got no doubt that with the right attitude, we can keep moving forward!

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