24 February 2013

Perfect job description and ugly companies

Picture this: You're searching for the perfect employee and your job description rocks. Everything is perfect -- or is it? Is your JD scoring the perfect candidate? Or have you scored an own-goal?

As a freelancer, I spend a lot of time browsing job adverts. Many are fairly anonymous, standard-text type affairs, but a bit of close reading can usually get some useful information even from these. But UX ads sometimes veer to the silly too.

One I read recently (I don't feel mean enough to link to it) did a superb job of 'selling' the company. If I believed what they wrote, I'd consider them to be a forward-thinking team of the best individuals on the planet.

Of course, we all know it's nonsense which makes me wonder why we persist with this type of strategy, but something else was nagging me. Then, it hit me. There was little about the job itself, what the successful candidate would be doing. Just many sentences of how they only every took the best.

And that company looked ugly to me

Seriously unattractive and slightly fake. Something like a salesman turning up to your birthday party and getting you to buy something from him. Or a insecure person desperately boasting about how great they were. Confidence is good but walking the talk talks louder than talking the walk.

Maybe I'm not good enough / not confident enough? Well, I get enough repeat work to know that I must be doing something useful for people. I have failures too, but these are learning processes we all encounter.

Is it because I'm scared of the challenge? 'Scared' isn't the right word. I've been in competitive fields for many years and I'm happy to compete and lose (and even win on rare occasions!) because it's a way to learn and be better. If I'm not periodically knocked back and picking myself up again, I'm not learning anything.

But this point is somewhat on the right track.

I wouldn't ever apply because the content felt like the company were putting up a huge wall between me and them.

The best challenges I've ever had are those that made me want to  try because I felt I would learn something even if I failed.

But this job description made me feel like I should consider myself honoured to read the advert, never mind apply. A speck of worthless, unproductive dirt like me could, at best, be granted the privilege of prostrating my pointless form at the feet of the almighty Company.

Well, I am being a bit harsh, but the job ad's hyperbole did make me feel like that.

And that's why I wouldn't apply. I'm happy to face challenges, but I want to get something worthwhile out of them: to learn something new for myself. I just don't find being invited to be a a faceless member of a faceless self-proclaimed elite to be attractive without knowing why they're elite. Just saying it is not enough.

So my advice if you're writing a job description is this: Making your company attractive isn't about selling it's corporate beliefs: it's about saying, or even better, showing, that you do cool stuff and anyone is welcome to come in and try and chat about work. Much like how my most enjoyable interviews as an employee were where I forgot myself just talked about my work like an enthusiastic child. The worst were where I felt I was being examined by a higher power.

Feel free to disagree. But as someone who has run a business, if I found that you wrote a job description that actually turned people off from applying, then I'd suggest that maybe you need some additional training.