Wanted: Communications Goddess

Wanted - Communications Goddess

When job descriptions become a communications nightmare.

Chatting with old colleagues, fellow communicators and bloggers on LinkedIn is always good fun and every once in a while I come across something that makes me want to share more widely. In this instance, it started with a series of odd job descriptions that I came across a few months back. In one notable announcement the job description ran for more than three pages…that’s over three pages of required skills and responsibilities. One of my more discerning fellow communicators posted the ad to our LinkedIn group and posed the question, “Who could possibly qualify for this job?”


Wanted Communications Goddess

Many of us read the ad, there are about 163,212 in this particular group, and with some amazement we debated about who had written it. Who could be so clueless? Was there an internal candidate they were trying to protect or avoid? It couldn’t have been written by a human resources professional…we hoped. While we mused over who could have been so silly, more concerning was, who would apply for it? Surely anyone foolish enough, confident enough, delusional or desperate enough would quickly find herself overloaded and overwhelmed. No one thought the individual could exist who had all the skills. The responsibilities were simply too diverse, web master, product marketer, social media strategist and on and on it went. We decided that even if there was someone on the planet who could lay claim to most of the skills, when on earth were they ever going to find the time to put them into play? It made us all wonder about the firm who posted the ad. What on earth would their culture be like?


No Super Heroes Need Apply

The challenge with a bad job description is that it not only means you won’t find who you’re looking for but it also takes a toll on how your organization is perceived. Jobs with ridiculous descriptions or ones that have to be posted multiple times make people think twice about applying. They assume the role was filled and vacated and that begs the question, what happened? If you do manage to find some brave soul to apply then you have to manage their inevitable despondency and disengagement. To add insult to injury, it often takes a long time for the employer to know that it’s the description that has failed and not the employee. In worst-case scenarios employees are fired and replaced several times before someone figures out that they should rethink the job. Most of the time employees figure out pretty quickly that the job simply can’t be done, but coming to that realization and trying to explain it to a boss are two very different things. In some instances the employee throws themselves at the job with great abandon hoping that if they just apply a heroic effort they can make it happen. Burnout will eventually get them and then it’s back to the drawing board.

Noted human resources consultant, Lou Adler explores the job description challenge in various articles on LinkedIn and Inc., as well as, in his book, Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams. Adler suggests that instead of describing a job based on skills, hiring managers should consider what the right candidates would need to do in order to be successful in the job. He argues that when performance is the lens through which a job is viewed, flaws in the description become evident. He also suggests that managers interview departing employees to discover if the job has changed over time. Take a look at this short video.


What do you think? Would you would prefer, to be interviewed on performance or skills? Would you be more responsive to a job description based on skills or performance? Ever come across a job that would take a goddess to perform?

Image courtesy of Gameanna/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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56 responses to “Wanted: Communications Goddess

  • It is kind of like the chicken and the egg. Skills before performance or the other way round. I tend to like performance based opportunities as skills are learned while performance is often an intangible quality.

    • I think about it this way. The skills focus may look at typing as an important skill required and not consider what performance is required, which is writing. Performance allows you to see what a person might do with their skills.

  • The other question would be, Who wants to work for an organization that cannot communicate and has no sense of priorities. Much depends on the position but I lean towards performance as it provides the clues to skills and in the end we all want results.

  • Cygnus III says:
    April 7, 2014 @ 08:04 am

    I was only talking about jobs and a job description the other night.
    The job in question asked for a school or college leaver and the exams were less important than enthusiasm.The firm in question were even willing to put them through university for a degree.
    I thought the advert was so good I wrote to the MD and said so.(I wasn’t looking for a job)
    He replied by saying that is how he started and he wanted to give someone the same opportunities and staff like the ones he wanted were more liable to be better, harder working and more loyal to the company.
    So as you so state in your post communications come in many form and sometimes the person is more important than the convoluted application forms they sometimes put out.

  • Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) says:
    April 7, 2014 @ 08:00 am

    I’ll go off on a different tangent here. I wonder if the job post was for a position where the company already had a foreign national they wanted to hire. Under certain circumstances in the US, as a condition of being able to obtain a work visa for that person, they have to prove that there aren’t any suitable Americans for the position. They do have to post a real job description with bona fide requirements and they have to be paying the prevailing wage, but they can certainly skew the job to the person they already have in mind. Of course, I have no idea if that was a possible issue in the job ad you were describing.

    • Great tangent. It was written in such a convoluted way that, that might easily have been the case. When I worked as a lobbyist I often saw RFPs that were so convoluted that the key distinction between one person getting the job and another could be that one was a Norwegian bachelor…nothing to do with the job and everything to do with abstract criteria.

  • I think there should be a balance between skill and performance. You might totally nail down the performance part of your job, but you also need some skills in order to accomplish it 🙂

    • Fair enough. I think the assumption with performance based hiring is that if you can perform the job, you have the skills you need and they may or may not be the ones identified by a skills focussed description.

  • Aw, job descriptions can be a challenge. I have seen those adds, and I too scratch my head.

    Many times when we would post an ad for a new position our (sales) way of describing the position (in a performance based fashion) was in conflict with HR. We would have to fight hard to get our way. One time we ran a test and posted the position two different ways to see what got the best response with quality candidates. Can you guess which one won? HR was much more apt to follow our recommendation after that. 🙂

    • I think it’s both telling and kind of funny that the sales folks had a better handle on what was required to attract the right candidate than HR. HR suffers from the same challenge as politicians and doctors, the assumption that they will know everything. It also makes sense to me that people in the sales industry would know how to develop a pitch that would get them what they wanted. 🙂

  • Excellent video! I normally don’t like having to watching imbedded video links in a post, but this one was definitely well done and pertinent to your point. I agree that Performance is more important than skills, and that you can teach the right person the right skills to get the job done.

    • Video definitely sits in the love or hate camps. I generally try to make them optional or quick. 🙂 I like this video because it explains so succinctly what generates a successful candidate search.

  • Performance. It’s always about the little things you do behind the scenes to build trust.

  • Certainly makes sense that you would get fewer candidates if you ask for too many skills. I like the idea of finding people who would be excited about the task. I get recruiters asking me about positions they have; they often have a really boring way of presenting whatever it is they are trying to fill.

    • Recruiters can sometimes be the worst job representatives because they forget that sales is part of the process. When jobs are scarce it can get really easy to assume that you don’t have to attract candidates, but when jobs are scarce good people, like most people, generally stay put.

  • Hi Debra
    I think skills would be the important feature since matching the person’ skills to the position would ensure the employee is happy at work which leads to greater productivity. Once that’s in place, performance naturally follows.

    • I look at it this way. I can have all the skills advertised, for example the ability to type, the ability to manage the phones but if I don’t understand customer service, when I answer to phone I may may be short or unfriendly with callers. I may be able to type quickly, but have no facility with writing clearly. Skills can play an important role, but I think they don’t always capture a person’s ability to perform well.

  • Hello Debra!
    This reminds me of those days after my post graduation when I was hungry for jobs! Came across a number of illogical job description and obviously had some bad experiences! Gosh!! God knows why they cannot be more specific about their requirements!!

    • I think that employers/recruiters get so paranoid about not getting the right person in that they create completely unrealistic requirements in an attempt to get the “perfect” candidate.

  • I couldn’t agree more that most job descriptions are useless. They are filled with tasks and not broad responsibilities. As Lou Adler pointed out, what are the performance objectives? What is expected of the candidate? The person hired should be given the responsibility and authority to select the tactics that will get the job done. Listing every single tactic and requirement is like putting someone in a straight jacket and asking him to find a way to fight his way out.

    • What an excellent way to describe it. There is more than one way to do a job right and forcing people into a straight jacket limits innovation and stifles creativity.

  • Skills and performance should go hand-in-hand, but often don’t. I recall a math teacher I had who was smart and highly skilled in Mathematics, but he couldn’t teach at all!

    • Teaching is one of the areas that I find so challenging. Its got to be one of the most difficult roles to fill because so much is riding on it and it can have such a profound impact on students.

  • Arleen says:
    April 3, 2014 @ 11:04 am

    From my standpoint where I have to hire my employees it is hard to come up with a specific job description. I am not hiring robots that they do just one thing so sometimes it is hard to be specific in expressing my needs. It is really a balancing act.

    • Arleen, I think job descriptions are brutal things to get right. There is generally more than one way to get things done and when a job description goes wrong it can either be because it reflects all the ways a job can be done or a very narrow view of how a job can be done. It is most definitely a balancing act.

  • Hi Debra,
    I think employers need to be both specific and concise in expressing their needs.
    You can’t leave it up to a prospective employee to navigate a marathon document and guess at what the employer really wants. If they could figure it out, the company would likely end up with a people pleaser, not a productive employee who adds value to the company.
    Companies that fail in the proper methods of acquiring talent need to take leadership on this point.

    Kind Regards,

    • Great point about ending up with a people pleaser. They are well meaning individuals but can create real chaos by leaving the impression that the tasks are doable and then leaving them undone, poorly done or burning themselves out.

  • The organization I worked for was looking for a director with a specialty (youth development, nutrition, agriculture- whatever the need was in the county). I wondered how they expected this person to perform the responsibilities of the specialty programming while supervising others, budgeting, meeting with county government and all the other roles of a director. And this is the norm for all the county director positions state-wide. Some find the work rewarding and rise to the challenge while others, like you mentioned, become burned out.

    I have a friend that had two job offers. I said to her that she’s a good fit for both and she would do her best work at either one. But, the question is, which position a good fit for you? Remember that the interview is both ways.

    • I think some jobs simply never get done the way they are described. You hire one candidate that does 70 percent and ignores the rest, then a new candidate does a slightly different 70 percent and ignores something else. The burn out comes when someone decides they have to do it all or a supervisor asks an employee to start focussing on the things they have been ignoring.

  • Thank goodness I have not had to apply for a real job in about 15 years. But, I think long job descriptions, as you describe, are impossibly stupid. A job description and a candidate should be assessed on performance. Lou hit the nail on the head!

  • I was conducting a job search in the communications field up until a couple of months ago. One of the reasons I suspended my search is because I came across several of those terrible job descriptions. I figured that either the job description was written by a committee, where everyone had to get their little piece in, or the company had someone in mind already. The job description is often the first thing I see about a company, and if I can’t decipher it, I’m not going to apply.

    • Communications seems to lend itself to these crazy descriptions. I was reading an article on the most stressful jobs and was struck by the finding that communications people were on average more stressed out than policemen. I wonder if that has anything to do with our job descriptions or if it’s because we are NOT allowed to carry guns. 🙂

  • Hello
    You are right about that. Sometimes we come across those requirements or skills that mean nothing for the job. I am doing my second job but lucky I have not faced any such thing.
    I believe that recruiter must keep in mind the performance having related skills . I liked the video and if we go according to that …. many problems can be solved and right person can get a right position.

    • Over prescribing requirements for a job definitely creates challenges. Fortunately I think that eventually it becomes self-correcting because it forces turn over.

  • I think our world has no room for Jake of all trades. A job description needs to be specific and to the point. The market requires specialists not generalists and one needs to be passionate about what thet do and not spread themselves thinly over everything.

    • I think its part of a pendulum. We want generalist until we saturate the market with people who can do a lot of things ok, but nothing well, then the pendulum swings and we want people who have specific skills.

  • Eleanor Bell says:
    April 2, 2014 @ 12:17 am

    Really like the idea of focusing on what is required to be successful at the job and finding someone who would have passion and interest to apply themselves to it.

    • Doesn’t it make perfect sense that you would want to hire someone who legitimately wanted to do the job as opposed to someone so overqualified that they would find the job boring?

  • Out of the six or so teaching positions I applied for when I first started, one of the positions touted how the candidate should have a lesson plan ready to teach a group of students. I was totally psyched and thought it was a great idea. Of course, it was all just on paper, and the candidate never had to be observed by the interview panel.

    • I would have been so excited and so disappointed when I didn’t get to teach. It’s amazing to me that you’d never observe a teacher in a classroom before hiring, but then the way we approach filling positions in any sector is odd. 🙂

  • I agree there’s a lot of wishful, muddled thinking behind Goddess-type job descriptions. What we need in organizations is clear thinking, even if the truths we uncover are uncomfortable (for example, it would actually take three people to do all that).

    My favorite clear thinker/writer is Malcolm Gladwell. He brings things into sharp focus and comes up with surprising, inspiring truths. I’m giving away an autographed copy of his newest book “David And Goliath” — in case anyone’s interested.

    Thanks for another good post, Debra.

    • Isn’t it funny how long we want to avoid the truth. Rather than admit that more than one person is required it’s often “easier” to assume that the right person just needs to be found.

      I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell! Heading over there now, I may have missed the book give away but I can see what you thought of the book.

  • Great post, Debra! I liked the video very much – performance objectives could really help you find the right (for you) fit!

    When i was reading your post and reached the part about the person realizing it’s a mission impossible, i remembered of a College Humor i saw recently – why an engineer feels in a corporate world – hope you don’t mind me posting the link here, it’s hilarious! http://bit.ly/1mIGyVm

    When i have been recruiting freelancers for projects, i have found asking specific questions helps me a lot – to see how they think, to get a feel for their skills and competencies, to better understand what type of people they are… I just finished a blog post on the topic the other day which is scheduled to be published mid. April – you’ll like it, i believe 😉

    • The right fit is really what it’s all about. Skills bring you close but they don’t tell the whole story. Skills break a job down into little parts, but performance illustrates what the whole thing looks like when it’s in play.

  • I liked that video. It would be great to see that put into practice. The problem we run into, too often the hiring people have no clue what is needed for the job. Many times they don’t really know the culture on the floor.

    This all comes back to the culture being built within the company. I feel like with all the changes in the working world of late we find the mentality has changed to you need to be thankful you have a job instead of we are thankful you are here. That mentality change shows in how workers are treated and in productivity of the company.

    • I think people make assumptions about how jobs are done all the time and communications is definitely an area where wild assumptions about what is needed to perform can run amok. It’s all made worst when employers assume that anyone would be “grateful” for a job, so they go to town on the requirements.

  • Agree with you Debra. Job descriptions have been ludicrous since 2008. Page after page outlining, as you say, a God or Goddess. Saw one ad for a private assistant in Qatar that asked for an MBA. There’s gone inflation into this because there are an abundance of unemployed people with MBA’s so I actually think they get away with hiring someone with a degree from an Ivy League university, even for mediocre positions such as the one in Qatar. Too many people desparately want a job and have to take what they can get.

    • When it’s an employer’s market it’s definitely easy to see an explosion of odd job descriptions, but I don’t see how it works to the employers advantage in the long run. I can do a job and meet the basic criteria or I can love a job and give a great deal more than anticipated. When employers try to take advantage of people by placing overqualified people into roles that are below their capacity, they are unlikely to get much more than disengaged service.

  • Hello; while i was reading this i was thinking about all th jobs i do as a sole proprietor and thinking maybe there job description is unreasonable or impossible but then so is mine. smile I am webmastr, social media ambassador, copy writer, bloggr, podcaster, etc. I maintain the email list and get out th weekly newsletters. and i have a day every now and then when i think hey a regular job would be easier. grin thanks for the post and take care, max

    • The difference Max is all about choice and ownership. If I own my own company I expect that I will have to work from dawn to dawn and on all manner of jobs, but it’s very different if you are hiring strangers to do a job for you. I work for someone else during the day and then spend the evening pursuing all kinds of things, including my blog. 🙂

  • I was fortunate in my career to have only applied for my first job. From then on, I was wooed away. That said, what attracted me to change jobs was always a description based on performance. I guess they assumed I had the skills or they wouldn’t have come looking.:) That’s not so hard if you move within an industry, and your career is sales. Rarely did the customer base change, though often it was expanded. So in addition to calling on key distributors, I moved into chain sales (KFC, Wendy’s etc). But by and large, it was the challenge to meet a performance standard that most attracted me. I wan’t interested in the jobs that offered me less of a challenge. Loved the video. He is right on!

    • Yeah, the job challenge is much easier when you can skip the job description all together. I think the odd stuff starts to show up when people are not sure what they want and then they start to think about all the “skills” and ideal candidate might have without really understanding what was done in the first place.

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