Why Job Descriptions are a Recipe for Disaster

I was sitting down for yet another episode of Marketing Evangelist Network a few weeks ago, as I’ve been doing for the last three years with sales and marketing leaders.

A bit of background: when we started ME Network, I really just wanted to talk to smart people about what they are passionate about. And ad-hoc video via Google Hangouts is a pretty damn convenient way to rapidly create content.

Along the way I’ve learned some really important lessons, not the least of which is that people are surprisingly willing to film a video in very personal areas. I’ve seen dirty kitchens, strewn bedrooms, cats walking across keyboards, spouses and significant others in various states of undress in the background, and delivery guys that pause filming for really uncomfortable amounts of time. And the list goes on and on.

In the vein of getting hyper-personal, the folks I’ve interviewed also (sometimes) have a tendency to start off really self promotional. It’s the nature of marketing. But if you scratch through that surface you can reveal some really genuine conversations.

Nowhere does a conversation become more genuine than the topic of hiring is at hand.

Which, thankfully for you, brings me back to my point.

I was talking to Influitive’s Jim Williams, who thankfully was in an office this time (very refreshing, as I knew there’d be no accidental nudity or pizza deliveries to interrupt us). In the course of our conversation, we had what I like to call an “off-camera moment,” called such because its a point where both subjects forget (for a moment) that they are on camera repping a company and get lost in a true conversation. I love off-camera moments. In this one, the topic was the creation of brand advocates but at some point we took a turn around hiring.

Probably not so surprising. Everyone struggles with hiring, right?

I shared with Jim that we are now giving three (3) separate personality evaluations in the course of our hiring process. Beyond the normal bit of shock at the sheer volume, you could tell that we were both really interested in the topic. And the interview mirrored the same conversation I’ve been having lately with dozens of executives. Why? We all struggle with building teams that fulfill the lofty expectations of the modern day hyper-growth organization.

When it comes to finding great talent, the reality is incredibly disparate from the expectation and therefore seems to be summed up in one common theme – hiring really sucks.”

Back in the day, I was taught to hire from people who frankly had no business pontificating on the subject. I was under the illusion that an interview really could provide a forum to properly evaluate candidates. It’s not my teachers fault. They were mentored and taught in the same manner by those before them, and on and on.

We are all links in one big daisy chain of outdated hiring modes. The resume, the job description, the interview – fundamental tenets of recruiting and talent acquisition. But if you look at them honestly, they are all worthless elements.

I’ve been hiring for sales and marketing for over fifteen years. I no longer read resumes.

I no longer care about phone screenings. I certainly don’t care about where you went to school or where you previously worked. To say I no longer care about these items carries one important caveat, which is to say that I do not care about the candidate telling me about any of the above. What’s valuable instead, you ask? I want insight through someone I know, who knows them.

Out of all LeadMD directors, only one didn’t come through a personal referral. But he interviewed with us over the course of two years. Our VP of Services I’ve known for 7+ years. Our Chief Strategy Officer was a referral from a former VP. When I started writing this post, I was shocked at the number of folks at LeadMD who I either have a personal connection to, or that were sent over to us via a personal connection. Over 80% of the company was sourced through these types of relationships. Do I think that is an accident? Nope. I think it is a necessity in today’s climate. It shouldn’t be like this, but as Tupac said: that’s just the way it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I love relationships. I thrive in creating them and I truly believe that relationships are all that matters in life.

However, when it comes to hiring, relationships are a hack – and one that I hope becomes less of a necessity down the road. The “why” is simple: it’s really, really difficult to scale relationships. I can’t meet everyone, I can’t know everyone and therefore if you are building a company you have to find another way to gain insight.

This is exactly what Jim and I were discussing. The reason we provide so many personality exams is to achieve the same result as a referral, without the need for one. We’ve spent a lot of time and resources evaluating both personality tests and the personalities we have. From a data science perspective, it’s called a regression analysis. We look at our successful folks, boil them down to traits, then look for those traits in new hires.

DISC personality assessments have been one of the more successful evaluations we’ve used, simply because the results have made clear sense and we can look at personalities in relation to position-specific needs. In the past we tried the blanket “culture survey” and frankly I think it’s B.S. Organizations are too multi-faceted to boil everyone down into one number in relation to fit. Fit needs to be determined by the role you need someone to play.

Along this bumpy road of talent management, I’ve noticed that the previous tools we’d been heavily relying upon look archaic.

Which brings me back to the job description. I HATE job descriptions. By my nature, if you only do what is laid out as your responsibilities in a job description, I will not like you. I will think that you are a bad hire.

This may seem harsh and counterintuitive to some people – after all a job description is supposed to create clarity. For me, they create excuses. We have always been an organization that violently resists the phrase that’s not my job.

If you walk into LeadMD you might find me tidying up a conference room or hanging our latest edict on the wall – that’s because in my heart, I believe in Holacracy. My CSO said what I believe to be a very accurate statement (yet a half-truth nonetheless) the other day in an interview: “Justin just wants to be surrounded by smart people.”

Somewhat true, but I would also add driven to that requirement. As an organization we want smart, driven people by our sides. We want utility players – the people who can do anything that they set their mind to and are motivated to do just that. In fact, in a pinch I might just take pragmatic and driven over smart.

You’ll never find an indication of drive or creativity or intelligence on a resume.”

Sure, we can state it in a job posting all we want, but that is no promise that we will receive it. That’s why a referral from someone I know, and more importantly, knows me – is the root of my hiring strategy.

All the while, lurking in the back of my head, the knowledge that this needs to change is a blinking trouble light. I’m not alone, in fact I’m in really good company because I have yet to meet one exec who isn’t struggling to find what they would call top talent.

The reason, in part, is that we are asking for the wrong things, explicitly spelled out responsibilities and skills – when what we really want is someone who breaks the mold and behaves like an owner, like a highly pragmatic, driven smart person.

I love our tribe at LeadMD, but I wish it had been easier to get where we are. For that matter, I wish it was going to be easy to get where we are going. Easy just isn’t in the cards, at least not anytime soon.

As the marketing profession as a whole continues to work toward a universally agreed upon definition of a modern marketer, teams are being forced into two well-defined camps: those that hope for the best and those that are finding creative ways to actually uncover it.”

One certainty has become painfully obvious amongst both groups however: true talent is in a critical short supply. And with the influx of technologies and shiny new toys, the pains of having the wrong body in the seat are being felt where it really matters, on the company’s balance sheet.

No amount of hope will fix that.

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