Most Job Descriptions Suck

An actual job description template found on the web


Last month a young woman named Cathryn Sloane posted a blog in the NextGen Journal titled “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25”. In this piece the author argued that because the youngest adults grew up with social media, it became part of their fabric in a way no other group could claim, which entitled that group to suspend more mundane requirements like work experience in order to be successful in that particular job.

As you might suspect, there was a huge backlash of comments about the arrogance, absurdity and ageism of the premise that only people under 25 could possibly be effective social media managers. The outcry was so great that the very next day the founder of NextGen Journal posted his own response, which continued to draw negative comments (“just as entitled as the original post”).  Finally, NextGen posted a rebuttal from an outsider that somewhat summarized why the oldsters were so upset with both posts.

But what all of these posts and counter-posts and comments seemed to miss was that Cathryn Sloane had a valid point. Yes, her youth, inexperience and poor communication skills made her miss that point entirely – but so, it seems, did all of the other writers. This is the point:

Job descriptions and requirements for social media managers suck.

HR writes countless job descriptions based on outdated templates that keep getting used over and over again, despite the fact that those templates are not based on any proven correlation between the stated requirement and the actual skills needed. Instead, you see advertisements that require things like this, an actual social media job posting on LinkedIn:

  • BS/BA: Marketing, Advertising, Communications
  • 3-5+ years Social Media experience
  • 3+ years Ad Agency Experience
  • Proficient in social media monitoring and analyitcal software/resources

Who cares if you have a BA in advertising? Your advertising degree could be 20 years old and irrelevant. Ad agency experience? What for? There are tons and tons of people on the net having extraordinary conversations via social media that have never set foot inside of an ad agency.  Instead, HR pros should create job requirements that really address what people need in order to be successful community managers:

  • Exceptional communication skills
  • A dynamic personality
  • Large amounts of creativity
  • Empathy, reason, intelligence

These may vary a bit from job to job or by brand, but the point is the same: successful social media management has a lot to do with personality and intelligent expression, and almost nothing to do with degrees and professional experience. And it certainly has nothing to do with age – a point missed entirely by poor Ms Sloane.

Job posts and ads for social media managers are not the only ones that suck, though.  Tom Brokaw, in his keynote closing address at the recent  massive Society for Human Resources Management conference (#SHRM12), told a story about a military captain returning from 12 years in Afghanistan. He is told by an HR pro that he has “no experience”. He replies to that criticism by listing all of the things he did in Afghanistan that were certainly key competencies for many jobs: he rooted out bad guys, he helped locals create better systems, he learned to live off the land and available resources, and he did it with minimal loss.

He got the job, but the sad truth is that in most HR departments that military captain would not have even landed an interview, because a ridiculous job description with boilerplate language that said nothing about real world skills and competencies would have kept him out the door. Job descriptions or posts would have asked for a college degree, with possible project management certification, a number of years at a Fortune 500 company, and all kinds of statistical proof of his claimed accomplishments.

And that really sucks.


6 thoughts on “Most Job Descriptions Suck”

  1. Joan, you hit the nail on the head. You are so right in this and make valid points. HR seriously needs to change this model and do away with out-dated, always used this, always done it this way, formulas and mentality.

  2. Susan I think you are right about old formulas and mentality. Perhaps instead of some of these conference speakers talking about all of this bright and shiny stuff, maybe we need to promote speakers who come in and talk about throwing out all of this old, tired shit – and giving/showing HR specific ways to do it. We really need more hands on stuff and fewer lectures that go right over everyone’s head.

  3. Thanks for reading and commenting, Terry. I have to admit that I was one of those people when I first started doing HR back in the 90’s. I just used crap I found during a web search and thought that was how it was done. So stupid. Wish I could go back and do things differently.

  4. So true Joan about doing the quick google for current examples. What you find currently being used in an organisation is something set up by a basic admin person a very long time ago, and if you go to the internet, most examples will mirror a very outdated model. In fact, most business chambers and orgs are publishing the same crap for money too!

    I did my degree in HR so I can supposedly be prepared to strategically run HR for better outcomes. But you know what would have seriously put me ahead of the airy-fairy talking crowd? Having studied a model of a new job description and having been able to sell that to a future employer. Because it’s so valuable to get the nuts and bolts of the HR function right before even getting into the higher stratosphere of thinking that will totally disconnect with the reality…

  5. “Airy-fairy talking crowd” – too funny, even though some of my best friends are part of that crowd. :)

    There are a couple of vendors trying to work on these broken job descriptions and then create software that will help the business sift through resumes based on the better job description. We’ll see where that goes.

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