How to find the best jobs and identify the best candidates

A post by the Microsoft blogger J.D. Meier on Job Creation got me thinking.

The original article that J.D. refers to in Strategy+Business introduces the book by Jim Clifton, the Coming Jobs War.

Whereas the book focuses on the need to create good jobs, J.D.’s post builds on this by drawing out a key aspect of work that is often missed in many jobs – the need for entrepreneurism. In his role, J.D. sees this as a core capability, but this is a far from a common occurrence – either in job descriptions or in the CVs of the applicants.

– Most job descriptions give detailed breakdowns of the exact tasks and functions to be completed and the experience needed. This is reinforced at review time as we are measured against the yardstick that was defined a year ago, often with little regard for whether the world has changed.

– Most applicants CV’s cater to these by listing what they have done, and where they have done it, but they struggle to communicate passion for what they care about, and find it hard to communicate their potential.

And we wonder why this isn’t working.

What we are failing to recognise is that the tighter the job description, the smaller the space the person has in which to leverage their own passions, skills and experiences to improve the role. Instead of setting a high bar, the job description too often becomes a ceiling on what is achieved. The job description becomes an innovation killer. For the individual, the inability to improve the position, to help shape the role, to raise the bar on what is possible moves us further and further away form this being a ‘good’ job.

It is here that J.D. gives the solution.

– Include entrepreneurism as a core requirement of the job.

Of course there will be a set of core skills that are required in any position, but don’t become obsessed on trying to define everything.

Define the need to grow, shape and improve the job as an essential skill.

Instead of defining a known set of tasks, define a desired outcome and invite candidates to share how they would meet that challenge.

Let candidates share their passion and experience to enthuse you with how they will embrace the challenge. Give them the trust, support and confidence to invent, to design, to imagine, and critically to contribute. This is entrepreneurism. This is what makes a good job.

Abraham Maslow knew this when he wrote about the Hierarchy of Needs in 1943.

If you define a job as a series of functional tasks, it is defined at the ‘safety’ level. The one above food and water.

That is not a ‘good’ job. It is a job.

Work = pay. That’s it.

But there is another way.

If you focus on problem solving, creativity and provide the freedom for expression, you are describing self-actualisation, the ability to be who you are – the very top of Maslow’s pyramid.

If a job is to be a good job, as Clifton correctly says is needed, then we need to stop seeing work as a series of functional tasks and more as opportunities to use our talents to achieve common goals. This applies to all jobs. It isn’t about the status of the job, it isn’t about the income either (although the pay should be equitable).

Successful companies already know this, but as applicants continue to outnumber available positions, job descriptions are again becoming increasingly detailed as companies seek out the ‘best’ candidate. They don’t get them of course; inevitably they get the person best able to craft a CV that tells you what you want to know. This is a valuable skill, but is not the one that is going to make the appointment successful.

The best candidates know that unless they can leverage their talents, their skills and experiences, it is simply a job, not a good job. It may be well paid, it may have good benefits (and these are important), but it is going to be unfulfilling and they will ultimately be unhappy there.

This is why people can be paid a lot of money and be utterly miserable.

This is also one explanation why employers can be inundated with CVs but still fail to find candidates that capture their attention or spark their interest. The paradox is that the tighter they define the job description, the less chance they have of finding the candidate that they are really looking for.

So tips for employers and applicants. 

Employers – If you want to attract the best candidates, pose a challenge, define the direction, not the path. Seek creativity, innovation and passion. Leave space in the description for a candidate to interpret the role. Purposely define a ‘good job’. It takes time, you need to see a lot of candidates and this costs more money, but the end result is positive for the employer and the employee and will be repaid in commitment and results many times over.

Applicants – Don’t just describe what you have done. Of course, cover this, but focus on what you can do. Communicate what drives you, what you are passionate about and what you want to achieve. Link your passion to your achievements. This won’t work with all job applications, but when you do find a job, you know they have hired you because they want you. And you will have a good job.

 

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