How to Attract the Right Candidates? An Accurate Job Spec is Key

by Bill Allen, Founder, Techaid Inc.

A well written job spec details the skills, experience, education and characteristics that a new employee will need to perform his/her job duties. The job spec is a filter, and a carefully constructed one will make your selection task much easier. If you are too demanding, you will lose valuable candidates, too vague and you will attract unsuitable candidates and, worse yet, make errors in assessing these candidates.

The job spec is best written by the supervisor, who has developed an understanding of what is required, and who will be working closely with the selected new employee. The process consists of several steps.

Too many duties?

List the job duties in order of importance, indicating approximately how many hours each week will be spent on each duty. You may find that you are describing a job requiring more than 40 hours per week. If so, you have several choices: redistribute some duties among existing staff; shift some duties to temporary staff; or, create two positions instead of one – splitting the job into senior and junior levels.

A realistic skill set

List the skills required to perform each of the duties you have listed. Include specific applications or equipment knowledge required, as well as necessary character traits, such as patience in dealing with complaints for customer service staff. Consider whether you can find all those skills combined in one person. Don’t demand an uncommon combination of skills – even if you eventually find such an unusual person, you will make your company vulnerable to pressure for raises and advancement because the employee will be irreplaceable. If you do not want to reduce the combination of skills, then separate out those skills in which the new employee can be trained.

Too much experience?

List the years of experience required to perform each of the duties. It is common to overstate the number of years of experience required for any job. While it is often true that a lot of experience will provide an extra margin of safety, the result will be higher salaries and a reduction in the potential candidate pool. Careful attention to the job spec will remove the need for expensive safety margins. Reduce the years of experience required. An inquiring mind and a demonstrated ability to use what has been learned, will be more valuable than an extra few years of experience.

Education vs. ability

Many jobs require professional certifications, which are easily defined and should be listed. However, avoid the tendency to exaggerate the level of education needed. There are many good college diplomas which may adequately replace your original bachelor degree requirement. Check the educational levels of your present staff. Is there a correlation between higher education levels and performance?

What can you afford?

Salaries will need to fit the existing pattern at your company or there will be trouble within a few weeks of the higher paid employee starting. If you find your company is now paying staff less than market salaries, you may have to increase the responsibilities of the job so that the revised job title will clearly indicate to your existing staff that a higher salary is justified. Salary discrepancies can be a reason to consider bringing in temporary personnel as any difference will be accepted because the job holder is not viewed as permanent competition.

Essential, important or desired

You are now an expert on all parts of the job requirements. Divide each section of the job spec into groups: Essential, Important and Desired, but not Essential. Reduce the number of Essentials to the absolute minimum. Make one last check with members of other departments who will be interfacing with the new employee. They may have valuable suggestions.

You now have an accurate and detailed job spec of the qualifications and skills that you require for the job. It can be used as the basis for job postings, provided to placement agencies, and used as a checklist when assessing candidates, increasing your chances of attracting and hiring the right candidate.

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