Let’s Consider Exterminating Job Descriptions Once and For All

By April 5, 2015Uncategorized

Business fads come and go. All business fads, implemented or not, have an impact on staff.   A recent example is the current chatter surrounding an end to performance appraisals. As the old adage teaches us; “talk is cheap”. Only 4% of organizations have followed the advice of trade publications and actually eliminated traditional performance appraisals. Clearly troublesome business processes continue to vex us.

One persistent business “tool” we should seek to exterminate is the job description, a relic from a by-gone era that we simply cannot seem to shake. Ask yourself a few simple questions- When was the last time you reviewed your job description and what was the content? More importantly when was the last time your job description was essential to your achievement of any organizational priority?

Now, I know all of my employment law colleagues, all of my compensation colleagues, and all of my talent acquisition colleagues are cringing. After all, how will we defend ourselves against a claim, how will we set pay, and how will we recruit? The reality is that the traditional job description and the resulting administrative exercises it creates does not actually contribute to any of these important activities.

Consider the following-

  1. Prior the advent of the advent of the internet (yes I remember those days!), no one posted a job description or used it to recruit. We all wrote compelling advertisements and used referral networks. We actually sourced the roles we sought.
  2. Job descriptions are not needed to attract applicants, or generate interest in a role. In fact they may be counter productive.
  3. Job descriptions do not describe “the work”. They describe the attributes (knowledge, skills, ability, education) we believe are necessary to do the work. A candidate may possess all the education and attributes we require, and not be able to help our organizations achieve key business objectives. They are a poor predictor of success.
  4. Job descriptions contribute to laziness and lack of communication between HR and the hiring managers. The hiring manager completes all the boxes on the job description form, the recruiter posts the job, and everyone hopes for the best.
  5. Job descriptions are an administrative nuisance that adds little if any value. They must be created, stored, maintained, and updated.

A much better solution is the force a dialogue between HR professionals and the hiring managers. Asking such key questions as – What is the person in this role required to accomplish? What would a strong performer in this role need to do, to be great? Other tools can be used by HR compensation professionals to set organizational titles and pay.

Let’s continue the discussion and strive to rid our selves and our organizations from this administrative, non-value-added burden.


  • Adding to your good points is that job descriptions can sound alike for very different positions. And ones that require a wide spread of expertise. “Content producer” blankets a wide swath of listings, but knowledge and capabilities required can be vastly different. As an employer, I can be frustrated by HR presenting CVs that are inappropriate. HR is frustrated by the hours invested culling through CVs that don’t make sense to them. Applicants are frustrated by never finding out why they weren’t a fit.

  • Kathy Flora says:

    Agree, John. Job descriptions limit our flexibility to grow in positions using skills outside of the current role. They keep people boxed in and keep managers from calling upon an individual to try new things and stretch into projects and roles that may be perfect fits but not within the prescribed job the individual is placed in at the moment.
    Better off would we be if we hired for accomplishment and proven strength in areas an organization needs at the mid and upper levels and for potential and drive proven by personal experience at the entry level.
    I wonder what an organization’s success record would be if people were unleaded to see a need, then fill it, collaborating with those around them to strategies the “how”, and then take action?
    The only example I have seen of this in action is in a church in my community. They empower members with leadership training and exploration of gifts and strengths, then empower people to act and fulfill a need, by driving toward their passion and purpose. Needless to say, they draw members like bees to honey, and have grown to 5 campuses and over 10,000 members in 11 years. Somehow they have touched a need in all of us to be “on purpose” to make a difference in the world. Brilliant! Oh, and no one has to have a “job description” to be a legitimate contributor.

Leave a Reply to Kathy Flora Cancel Reply