For the past 30 years, I've been on a kick to ban traditional skills--and experience-based job descriptions. The prime reason: They're anti-talent, anti-diversity and terrible predictors of future success. If your company is having problems hiring enough strong people, maybe it's time to consider your job descriptions as the cause of the problem, not the solution. Unfortunately, too many human resources people pull out the legal trump card as their excuse for their continued use. To set the record straight, I asked David Goldstein, a preeminent attorney from Littler Mendelson (the largest U.S. labor law firm) to compare the idea of using a performance-based job description to the traditional job description. His whitepaper is included in the appendix of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. (Here's how to obtain a copy, or you can watch this webcast we did together last year.) This is his interesting summary:

  • By creating compelling job descriptions that are focused on key performance objectives, using advanced marketing and networking concepts to find top people, adopting evidence-based interviewing techniques, and integrating recruiting into the interviewing process, companies can attract better candidates and make better hiring decisions.
  • A properly prepared performance profile (aka performance-based job description) can identify and document the essential functions of a job better than traditional position descriptions, facilitating the reasonable accommodation of disabilities and making it easier to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar laws.

For background, a performance-based job description describes the work that a person needs to successfully accomplish during the first year on the job. Most jobs can be fully described in six to eight performance objectives. These are in the form of "complete the detailed project plan for the new automated warehouse in 120 days." This compares to the more traditional: "Must have 5+ years of logistics and supply chain management experience in high-volume consumer durables, plus 3 years of supervisory experience." Here are my top six reasons why using performance-based job descriptions are more effective in attracting, assessing and hiring stronger people than your company is hiring today:

1. Attract stronger people

By emphasizing the work itself and the employee value proposition, online job postings can better represent the career opportunity. Here's an example of how job postings can be used to tell stories that are designed to attract the best people, rather than focus on weeding out the unqualified ones.

2. More accurate screening

While some level of skills is important, the "amount" written on a job description is arbitrary, misleading, and capricious. Unfortunately, front line recruiters use this criteria to screen out people who could do the work but have a different mix of skills and experiences than listed.

3. Increase influence with passive candidates.

A recruiter who doesn't know the real job requirements is quickly branded as a gatekeeper and ignored by any talented person. This is equivalent to a sales rep who doesn't know the product being represented. As hiring needs accelerate in 2015, this will be a critical bottleneck for any company wanting to attract passive candidates.

4. Become a better manager.

Clarifying job expectations upfront has been shown repeatedly to be the foundation of a strong and effective manager. This is the number one factor in Gallup's Q12 list of factors that maximize employee performance and engagement. Google's Project Oxygen reconfirmed this. Most important: a manager who doesn't understand real job needs will not only turn off any strong candidate but is likely to hire someone who is taking the job for all of the wrong reasons.

5. Convert competencies into performance objectives.

Any competency like cultural fit, teamwork, organizational skills, drive or leadership is easy to assess using a performance-based job description. Just ask how the skill or competency is used and measured on the job. On a recent project, for example, strong communication skills for a research scientist was, "convert months of research into 10-minute TED-like talks to the executive team."

6. Increase the predictability of on-the-job performance.

Using the most significant accomplishment question and Performance-based Interview, it's easy to determine if a candidate is both competent and motivated to do the work required. It starts by getting comprehensive examples of the candidate's accomplishments most related to those listed on the performance-based job description.

In a talent surplus situation perhaps it's acceptable to use traditional skills-laden job descriptions to weed out the weaker candidates. In a talent scarcity situation, like we're in now, this approach will backfire.