Ditch the Job Description – The importance of hiring for skills vs. Job Descriptions

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Bob Dylan once sang the lyrics, “Times they are a changin”.  That was true in 1964 when he sang the song, and it is true today.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) has changed the world of work.  Organizations cannot continue to do things the way they have always done them.  Jobs are changing and organizations must change with them.  As a leader, you know how important it is to get the right people in the right job. However, too often, we focus too much on defining job requirements and creating job descriptions without really understanding the basic skills a candidate needs to enter the role.  In this blog post, we will explore why it is essential to make a shift in how we think about hiring and start prioritizing skills instead of the inclusive and highly subjective job descriptions.

Job Descriptions Don’t Tell the Whole Story

In their book, “Work Without Jobs”, Ravin Jesuthasan and John W. Boudreau suggest that we should start with the work and what skills are involved for the job instead of starting with the job.  This allows us to deconstruct the job into required skills. While job descriptions are essential for setting expectations for a role and outlining what is expected of candidates during the hiring process, they don’t give a complete picture of what skills an applicant brings to the table. Instead of just looking at a candidate’s work experience and education as they relate to the job description, take into account their transferable skills. These might include things like communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills, all of which can be applied to a wide range of roles. These skills don’t apply to any one job but can apply across all jobs and be evaluated to understand the level at which a candidate possesses these skills. For example, a Client Success Manager might use problem-solving skills to handle a difficult client issue while a nurse might use those same problem-solving skills in an emergency situation where the stakes may be extremely high.

Skills Bring Diversity to Teams

When organizations focus too much on job descriptions or supposed minimum requirements, they end up looking for candidates who match the mold of what the organization thinks an ideal candidate should be. However, this approach inevitably leads to narrow hiring, where only people that fit that particular mold are hired. Job descriptions are intended to be a guide for candidates to understand the role, they should not be the guide for an organization to identify skills needed to begin working in the role. By prioritizing skills over job descriptions, we are allowing people with a more diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, and different ways of thinking. This results in more diverse teams that can bring new and innovative solutions to a company’s problems and allows organizations to restructure jobs as AI and other automation affects the structure of existing jobs.

Psychology Matters

Humans are built to categorize and create shortcuts for understanding the world around us, referred to as cognitive biases. When we focus too much on requirements established for the screening process that may not be supported by data, our cognitive biases can lead us to discount highly skilled candidates who don’t check every box. A good example of one of these requirements is a college degree. Many jobs list a college degree requirement in their job description but when looking at what is done on the job, it is apparent that a college degree is not required but instead a highly skilled individual could do the job just as or good or better. 64% of working age Americans do not have a college degree. Having this type of requirement could lead to missing talented individuals in the hiring process purely because they don’t check that box. By prioritizing skills over job description requirements, we can overcome our cognitive biases and create a more equitable hiring process.

Alignment With Company Goals

While job descriptions are fine for conveying the necessary skills and experience required for a role, they can become obsolete if the company’s goals change. If you prioritize skills over a list of requirements, an organization can hire more flexible individuals who are better prepared to respond to any necessary changes in the work environment such as occur when automation is implemented. Finding employees who have the minimum skills necessary to start the job but also can adapt to change can help your organization make more significant strides towards organizational objectives and make the organization more agile.

We apply this principle in our own organization when we hire someone new. We look for 4 key things in a potential employee.

  1. Flexibility – In our organization, we move very quickly and pivot quite often. If an individual does not have the ability to pivot with us, they won’t succeed. This skill also allows us to move individuals into other roles or adapt roles as needed. Obviously, this is more of a behavior than a skill but very important.
  2. Independence or ability to operate on your own – Once again, we are moving quickly. We need people who are not constantly being frozen by inaction because they have to get permission to do something. We empower our staff to do their jobs independently.
  3. Good Computer Skills – In today’s world, this is critical in most positions, but we have data that shows that if an individual does not come into our organization with good computer skills, they won’t succeed.
  4. Problem-Solving Ability – This is critical for our organization and applies across all roles.

We don’t really care that someone has a college degree. We don’t care if you come from a similar industry. If someone has the skills, we know that they can be successful in our organization.

Hiring the right people is essential for any organization, and the key to doing so lies in prioritizing skills over job descriptions. When we focus on a candidate’s skills, we open ourselves up to a broader pool of talent that possesses transferrable skills applicable to a wide array of roles, facilitating diverse teams, and creating a more equitable hiring process devoid of unconscious bias. By aligning candidate’s skills with organizational objectives, we ensure that they work in roles in which they thrive, contributing meaningfully to the company’s success. So, take the time to start deconstructing jobs to really identify what skills are required and start using that to hire for today’s roles and the ability to adapt to the changing needs or organizations tomorrow.

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