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Seven strategies to help develop a compelling job description

As with any important task or project, from building a new product to executing sales, it’s essential to have a well thought out plan – a blueprint detailing what one wants the end result to look like, and how to get there.  Defining a role for a new hire is no different, and the result we all know is the job description.  But what’s the best way to develop the job description into a compelling document that both encapsulates what you’re looking for, and appeals to the top-performing candidates you want to attract?  Here are seven strategies to consider: 


The hiring manager takes the lead in drafting

As a hiring manager, don’t take the easiest option and have human resources (if you have such a department) send you a standard job description for the role you’re looking to fill, with a typical list of duties and responsibilities to ‘sign off’.  Of course, human resources can help you develop it, but given that your own personal success depends on getting the hire right, you should really take the lead yourself in developing the job description.  Ultimately, you’re the one that knows what you’re looking for and how to ‘sell’ the role better than anyone else, so it stands to reason that you’re best placed to develop the job description.  Don’t just sit back and allow others to make general assumptions about what you need.


Start by creating a vision for the role 

Defining any solution starts with a thorough needs analysis, so invest time in this initially.  Don’t start by listing role responsibilities, start by outlining what you want this person to deliver (or accomplish), how the role benefits the overall company objectives, and visualising what success in the role would look like in a year from now.  Besides helping you to draft an accurate job description, articulating your vision for the role is incredibly powerful in the eyes of candidates.  Ultimately, besides seeking the right experience for the role, you’re also looking to hire someone who buys into your vision of the role and what they need to deliver in it, so it’s best to make it clear from the very beginning.

Don’t rush

Take your time to craft a detailed and compelling job description.  This is important because:

·       It clarifies your thoughts on what exactly the deliverables and role responsibilities are, alongside the nature of skills, experience and prior successes you would like to see from your candidates.  It’s a business analysis task from which you’ll arrive at a solution. 

·       It provides an opportunity for collective buy-in on the role, allowing all stakeholders that will work with the future role incumbent to have input in reviewing and developing the role (to a certain extent, of course).  This will also prove invaluable as you move onto the interview process, as it should mean that everyone will be ‘singing from the same song sheet’.   

·       For candidates who are sourcing opportunities and interviewing, a well thought out and comprehensive job description elevates your professionalism and employer brand.  Candidates will respect the time and thought that has gone into it, and a compelling job description provides so much more insight into a company.  This document is your first opportunity to start selling your company and the role, so make the most of it.

·       The candidate accepts the role knowing exactly what is expected of him or her on joining – there are no false pretences from either party, which lowers your risk of a mis-hire.

Craft a compelling story

Take your vision for the role and clearly articulate it, in particular focusing on how the role fits into the company objectives and what you want this person to accomplish.  Paint the picture of how you see the role being executed and what success will look like, so the reader can visualise and buy into your vision for the role.  This is so much more powerful than starting with a list of the role responsibilities (although it is also important to articulate the tasks the person will perform in the role, given that some tasks may not have quantifiable success measures).  In addition, despite the same or similar titles, the nature of a role can certainly vary from company to company, or even within a company.  Look at this section as a list of the end results you want to see and associated functional requirements.  It should be a full definition of the end solution you’re seeking, in the same way you might need to uncover the solution needed from one of your clients through business analysis.   


Don’t list candidate requirements

A ‘standard’ job description normally has a list of candidate skills and experience requirements, but I challenge you to consider whether this is necessary if you have already spent time defining the solution you’re seeking.  You should be assessing candidates against the detail of role deliverables and functional tasks you’ve identified; this is true competency-based assessment.  Focus on what you need this person to do and achieve in the role, seek a solution and assess against that.  In taking on a project from one of your clients – for example, a custom software development project – you wouldn’t expect your client to provide full details of how you would build the solution.  You would take details of what they were looking for, noting any particular functionality it needed, and as the solution provider you would use your design and engineering expertise to meet those needs in the best way possible.  You should look at hiring in much the same way, letting your recruiter (either your company talent acquisition team or an external recruitment firm) provide the solution that meets your needs without any experience profile preconceptions.


Help potential candidates self-actualise

Hiring is as much about selling as it is selecting, and the selling starts with the job description – particularly if you want to compete for the best candidates, the A Players who will make a difference to your business .  Crafting a compelling story is one part of this, but you also need to think about how you can appeal to the A Players in other ways.  One common trait top performers have is a strong sense of self-actualisation – this is the tip at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need for people to feel that they will fulfil their highest potential.  So in addition to developing your compelling story about your company and the role, ensure that you also develop ideas of where this role could lead in future, or how as an employer and manager you will become invested in this person’s self-development to help them achieve their maximum potential in this role and beyond.  


Treat it as importantly as a piece of company content for marketing     

Finally, ensure you treat the job description as you would when publishing any piece of company content for marketing purposes, to show off your employer brand and sell your opportunity to candidates.  So, with this in mind, consider the following two final touches:

·       Have your marketing communications department review it, to ensure the document is in line with your company messaging and branding, and allow creative touches to it. 

·       Consider adding ‘social proof’ of the company’s market position and employer pedigree – perhaps include headline details of industry awards received, employee testimonials or key facts and statements from your Employer Value Proposition (EVP).


If you’re a financial technology, data or research provider looking to develop compelling job descriptions that will give you a distinct competitive advantage in attracting top talent, then book a consultation call with me.  Developing killer job descriptions that sell is just another example of the free value added services my firm provides to our clients.


About the author: Shawn Rutter is the founder of Excelsior Search, a market-leading, niche search company specialising in international executive search and recruitment solutions for financial technology (fintech), data and research providers to the global capital markets and investment industry.  With experience delivering search assignments across the Americas, EMEA and APAC, he founded Excelsior Search in 1999, having previously worked as an Army Officer and for the international search firm MRI. Shawn invites you to connect on LinkedIn.