How to Write a Job Description: Crafting the Perfect Document to Attract Top Talent

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>In This Guide You'll Learn</h2><ul><li>Why traditional job descriptions aren’t the best way of identifying the right people for your business.</li><li>Why a Great Performance Profile is a better document to guide your hiring.</li><li>How to create your own Great Performance Profile.</li></ul></p></div>

  • Recruitment mistakes happen when businesses aren’t clear about the qualities that make someone a Great Performer.
  • The standard job descriptions used by hiring managers often aren’t sufficiently performance focused. They stipulate capabilities which are so vague that most applicants could claim to have them (e.g. “strong organisational skills”). They frequently specify many kinds of skills and experience as essential. Without a clear sense of priority, these laundry lists of desired attributes actually give little information about what’s needed for someone to be a Great Performer.
  • In contrast, Great Performance Profiles clearly prioritise the competencies and Minimum Acceptable Standards of Great Performers. This gives a solid foundation for effective recruitment as well as for ensuring great performance once the recruit is in post.

How to create a Great Performance Profile

You can download a pdf of a sample Great Performance Profile from the Guides & Checklists section of our website. Have a look at it, then read through the following steps that you’ll need to carry out to create your own version.

Step 1: Assemble a Recruitment Team

  • Never let one person make hiring decisions on their own. Unconscious bias – favouring people similar to oneself – affects the best of us and with more than one person involved in recruiting you’ll gain a more balanced view of candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • Desperate hiring managers acting alone often end up rushing to hire, recruiting friends who might not be the best fit, dithering through lack of confidence, or even covering up bad recruitment decisions by giving inaccurate appraisals or not wanting to hire Great Performers out of fear that they’ll poach their jobs.

Step 2: Include the right mix of people in the Recruitment Team

Ideally, your team should contain:

  • Senior leadership for their insight and experience, final decision-making power, and to give importance to the process.
  • The line manager as they are familiar with the specifics of the job.
  • A cross-functional interviewer to bring independent accountability to the process in order to ensure quality and cultural fit.
  • HR as they are uniquely qualified to assess suitability and to make sure the recruitment process is well run.
  • A junior employee or peer (optional) as this can be a good way to develop your current staff (though don’t involve them in the interview or allow them a veto as they might not have much experience at assessing candidates’ potential and if they’re seeking promotion may have a conflict of interest).

Step 3: List Measurable Outcomes

With the line manager write down the Measurable Outcomes of Great Performers. Do the following:

  • List actual outcomes (“make £10,000 in sales each month”), not activities (“make 100 sales calls a day”).
  • Keep adding to the list, then prune it back to include only outcomes that deliver the most value (remember the principle that 20 percent of outcomes deliver 80 percent of value). Junior posts should include no more than five outcomes, senior positions up to around ten.
  • Go over your list and make sure it’s really about great rather than just average performance. At the same time, don’t expect the impossible. Outcomes need to be stretching but realistic.

Step 4: Draw up competencies

Next draw up a list of competencies: the experience, skills and personality traits that are essential to achieving the Measurable Outcomes. Here you might find it helpful to consider what makes your existing Great Performers so great. A few guidelines on selecting competencies:

  • Managers need to be able to hold employees to account fairly and firmly. You don’t want to hire a manager who your staff hate; equally you don’t want one who’s only concerned with being everyone’s friend.
  • More experience doesn’t necessarily mean better performance.
  • If you want a quick learner, don’t insist on applicants having a degree. Formal qualifications aren’t an infallible indicator of job performance.
  • If you do need a graduate, don’t limit yourself to the “top” universities – there are talented people everywhere.
  • You could provide training as part of an apprenticeship. This can be a good way of developing the specific skills that you need.
  • Don’t assume that sector specialists are better. Past successes might not carry over to the specific context of your business.

Just as with the Measurable Outcomes, don’t list too many competencies. There’s no perfect applicant so focus on what’s really needed for great performance. If an applicant could achieve desired outcomes without a particular competency or be trained up to have it once you’ve hired them, then remove it from your list. (For more on how to avoid sabotaging yourself by expecting too much, see guide: Does the "Perfect" Employee Exist?).

It's good practice to also list competencies that you don’t want. For example, in a job where procedures need to be rigidly followed, you might not want a highly creative person.

Step 5: Define Minimum Acceptable Standards for each competency

It’s important to prioritise desired competencies. Rank them from unimportant to very important using a scale of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 13 (people are much more able to tell the difference between options ranked using this Fibonacci Sequence, than in an ordinary five-point scale in which it’s harder to distinguish between a 4 and a 5).

Don’t rank all of them 8 or 13. But at the same time, do you really need competencies that you only give a 1 or a 2?

Once you’ve followed these steps, you’ll have in your hands a document with tangible, verifiable criteria for an applicant to be a Great Performer. Great Performance Profiles are the basis of effective recruitment. But they’re also a big help beyond the hiring process. They give clarity to your employees about what’s needed for great performance and so can be used to keep them on track, whether they’re new recruits or seasoned members of staff. By consistently using Great Performance Profiles, you’ll foster an ethos of accountability and value creation across your whole organisation.

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p><ul><li>Bin old-style job descriptions as these tend to be full of vague and overly long lists of requirements that aren’t focused on performance and value creation.</li><li>Instead use Great Performance Profiles.</li><li>To create a Great Performance Profile you need to: make sure not to allow a single individual to recruit, assemble a Recruitment Team, list Measurable Outcomes, list competencies, define Minimum Acceptable Standards.</li><li>Use your Great Performance Profiles to recruit the right people and to foster the pursuit of performance and value creation among all your employees.</li></ul></p></div>

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Geoff Newman has dedicated his entire career to recruitment. He has consulted for many well-known international brands, and worked with over 20,000 growing businesses. He has helped fill over 100,000 jobs.

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We literally wrote the book on...

The secrets of great recruitment

The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

Book cover for The Secrets of Great Recruitment