You’ve started the year off by reviewing your strategic plan and setting S M A R T goals to ensure you have a specific, measurable action plan to achieve the strategic plan. You’re also beginning to use positive accountability to drive results and proactive performance. Whew, glad that’s done. Just when you thought you had it figured out, now you have openings that need to be filled. Now what?

As the economy begins showing signs of life, 2012 may be a busy year for businesses. In a recent CareerBuilder survey 23% of US companies said they plan to add to their full time headcount in 2012; with most job openings anticipated to be in sales and information technology.

Companies also reported an increase in voluntary turnover in 2011, with 34 percent reporting voluntary turnover of employees interested in pursuing other opportunities, seeking higher salaries and a lighter workload. Thirty percent of employers reported losing top performers to other organizations in 2011 and 43 percent are concerned top talent may jump ship in 2012.

No matter how experienced you are in talent acquisition (code name for hiring) you can always improve. With unemployment at an all-time high over the past 3 years, there are tons of good applicants (and not-so-good applicants) just waiting for an opportunity. Combine that with the estimated 40% or more of unhappy employees in the workforce just waiting for greener pastures to emerge and you could be setting yourself up for an avalanche of applicants.

With this kind of data, it looks like organizations should be gearing up for a lot of hiring activity. Are you ready? Do you know where to start to find good applicants or is your strategy to simply call the local headhunter and sit back and wait for the resumes to roll in? If so, what exactly do you plan to do with them once they arrive? How will you evaluate the hundreds of resumes received to determine if you have the right person for your organization? And don’t underestimate cultural fit – most organizations make offers to candidates based on their knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) but fire employees because of a misaligned cultural fit.

If you’re in the hiring mode, remember that opening exists because your organization has a problem and you’re looking for the right candidate to solve that problem. But finding the right candidate is a delicate balancing act between what the company wants/needs and what the candidate has to offer.

Company Wants/Needs

  • Culture Fit
  • Growth Potential
  • Innovation
  • Energy
  • Results
  • Retention

  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Abilities
  • Experience
  • Performance
  • Professional Presence

When Warren Buffett looks for leaders for his companies, he evaluates potential candidates for three core competencies:

  • Intelligence
  • Energy
  • Integrity

He fundamentally believes that if a person has 2 of these, the lack of the third can kill a business. Do the fast math on the negative side of the equation:

  • Low integrity, high energy and high intelligence and you have a smart, fast-moving thief
  • Low energy, high intelligence and integrity and you have a shop keeper, not an engine of growth
  • Low intelligence, high energy and integrity and you have strong functionary, but not a great problem solver or visionary

Once you’ve identified the core competencies vital to success in your organization, it’s time to develop and/or update the job description.

Developing a Sound Job Description

Employers should develop job descriptions that clearly define the essential functions of the job before advertising the job or beginning the interview process. Here are steps to writing a sound, legally defensible job description:

  1. Use clear, concise, non-technical language, and avoid jargon and unnecessary words. Focus on words that have a single meaning and use detailed explanations for words that may be ambiguous. Begin each sentence with an active verb and use the present tense. Provide examples of the expected job functions and the desired outcome of the work to be performed. For example, instead of “writes down notes during meetings” put “records notes during weekly meetings.”
  2. Qualify Job functions whenever possible and the desired outcome of the work should be described, rather than the method for accomplishing that outcome. For example, instead of saying, “files folders” use more declarative statements such as “the clerk files folders alphabetically based on category.”
  3. Allow applicants to read the job descriptions and provide them an opportunity to voice any concerns or ask clarifying questions. Include in the job description a statement for the applicant to sign indicating they have read the job description and can perform the essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations. If accommodations are sought, allow space for the applicant to describe the type of accommodations they need.
  4. Make sure your job descriptions are accurate. To ensure accuracy, gather input from others that interact with the open position, including both managers and employees.

What to Include in the Job Description:

  • Job title (job code number if applicable);
  • Department or section of the job;
  • Relationships to other jobs and the purpose of contact with outside agencies and personnel;
  • A brief summary of job functions;
  • Duties and responsibilities, estimated time spent on each (when using percentages, these should be allocated to equal 100%), frequency of activity, i.e., whether these are performed daily, weekly, or periodically;
  • The quality and quantity of work expected from an individual holding the position;
  • The repercussions of not performing each job function;
  • Essential and marginal duties;
  • Special working conditions such as shift, overtime, or as-needed work;
  • Information on the accountability for results; and
  • A statement that when duties and responsibilities change and develop the job description will be reviewed and subject to changes of business necessity.

Clearly state the “essential functions” in the job description. The job description should explicitly state the manner that an individual is to perform the job. For example, if the position requires contact with the public, include not only that the job requires the handling of public inquiries, but also that the performance standard requires those inquiries be handled in a prompt and friendly manner.

If the position requires regular attendance and timeliness state it as an essential functions of job.

Update job descriptions regularly so they accurately reflect the essential functions of altered positions or any other pertinent changes (e.g. fewer employees to perform the duties, mechanization, job-sharing, etc.). Send job descriptions for review by all levels of management, from line supervisors to senior management and human resources to be sure all perspectives are captured.

Outlining Qualifications

Employers typically require certain knowledge, skills, abilities/aptitude, training, and previous, relevant experience. However, be careful to remember that qualifications can be met in a variety of ways. For example, an applicant may have gained the required leadership skills through leading a little league team.

Keep in mind that some requirements, if not directly related to the job, may be considered discriminatory, such as stating an applicant “must possess a driver’s license”, unless they are required to drive a vehicle in the course of the job.

Beware of arbitrarily requiring a high school diploma or other educational requirements that may run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), unless it is specifically job related. Be sure to consider any discriminatory effects of such requirements and provide for any reasonable, necessary accommodations. For example, an employee with a disability may be able to attend a meeting via teleconference or access public transportation to attend the meeting on site.

While there is no legal requirement for organizations to have job descriptions, they are a vital communication tool for establishing performance expectations and invaluable in defending ADA or Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claims.