A tale of two job ads Matt 28 Aug 2006

25 comments Latest by Richard Chuo

There seems to be a reality problem with a lot of tech help wanted ads. They contain too much stuff.

For example, here’s a job ad at the National Democratic Institute. Phew. That’s a lot of managing, writing, training, synthesizing, cultivating, etc. for one person to do. Is there really a candidate out there who can do ALL this stuff?

Compare that to this shorter, more realistic ad: Junior Product Manager at KickApps.

Being brief and to the point is as important in a job ad as it is anywhere else. Clear, concise ads attract people who are clear and concise.

25 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Levi 28 Aug 06

As someone who been on both ends of technical job descriptions - writing and applying - I don’t know why larger organizations insist on writing such convoluted descriptions. When a company is hiring they usually have a specific need and are looking for a specific qualification - just describe that need and maybe one or two secondary qualifications.

Mark 28 Aug 06

Levi —

I would guess it would be for similiar reasons as to why job candidates do the same kind of thing on their resumes — to take advantage of the keyword goodness in the candidate / position search game.

It might also serve as a filter to cut down on resumes received. I would think that after seeing all that, only the most confident applicants, or those who have been around that particular job set (and know from experience what the true expectations are) will be the only ones who apply.

ML 28 Aug 06

Only the most confident applicants, or those who have been around that particular job set (and know from experience what the true expectations are) will be the only ones who apply.

Or perhaps you’re just more likely to attract applicants who are fluent in bullshit, ya know? It’s a problem when any relationship begins with a lie. It’s a dangerous precendent to set.

Banjomamo 28 Aug 06

I think its because one was written by a recruiter who has no idea what the person does and is too lazy to find out. They did a search on that job and copied and pasted the results. Way to be mediocre there corporate guy!

Adi 28 Aug 06

does anyone else feel too that Mark has totally taken over this blog…kiddin

Greg 28 Aug 06

Or perhaps youíre just more likely to attract applicants who are fluent in bullshit, ya know? Itís a problem when any relationship begins with a lie. Itís a dangerous precendent to set.

I actually find it kind of insulting. If you post what is supposedly a PHP job, but you mention wanting x years of Flash and y years .NET in the fine print, you have just wasted my time. I don’t care if it’s because you’re keyword farming, or Mark is right and you want ancillary skillsets for whatever reason - it’s annoying.

More to the point, it means that I am not applying for your position, because you look like jerks who don’t know what they want, or you can’t write add copy. Why would anyone want to work there?

Richard Chuo 28 Aug 06

I am writing my MBA dissertation (sigh…), and my topic is about the recruitment and selection for software developers. I can understand NDI’s approach a bit better now.

There may be three reasons for NDI’s long and detailed job advertisement:
1) To pre-eliminate many applicants: raising the requirements for a job can reduce some applications, and save costs (time and effort) of assessment,
2) Researches show that a more realistic job description can improve the retention, especially for knowledge workers,
3) It may be the organisational culture, this may be a good indication for the applicants to know what the organisational climate NDI is.

Albeit KickApps’s job description is shorter, it may not be a fair comparison between these two opening jobs because the actual contents of work are different: NDI requires a much senior manager, whilst KickApps needs a junior one.

There is one thing in common for these two job descriptions, that is there is very little soft skills mentioned (e.g., interpersonal skills). I wonder the reason these two organisations do not require soft skills (in the job description) is because they do not concern, or they will assess soft skills in the selection process later?

The great book ‘Getting Real’ addresses quite a few soft skills in the chapter ‘Staffing’. It mentions Jack Welch fired managers, but did not refill those positions at once. We debated the GE case study in the Human Resource Management course. My point of view is that Jack Welch fired those who did not fit into his values, firing those managers was a resort to shape up the corporate culture. It is difficult to assess an applicants’ values, and this certainly made the position opened for a long while.

I wonder if I shall see a day that a software development company will make soft skills the primary requirement, and the technical skills secondary? (besides, any technology stands many years nowadays?)

I’d like to enquire a favour from you. If you would like to help me answer the questionnaire for my dissertation, please send me an e-mail (mailto:05047447@brookes.ac.uk), thank you very much indeed. It will only take you no more than five minutes (six questions in total).

Cheers.

Bill de h”ra 28 Aug 06

“Or perhaps youíre just more likely to attract applicants who are fluent in bullshit, ya know?Itís a problem when any relationship begins with a lie. Itís a dangerous precendent to set.”

That’s hard to say - it might be ok if both parties get what they want; for example you could do something like in a user interface for date controls and it would be appropriate:

“Plus, they may think they actually have to click it to specify dates and times. Itís kind of a trick. So they click on it because it seems action-oriented when they probably would have skipped over ‘more’ or ‘?’ or something like that. And thatís ok because it still gives them what they need. Bravo.”

It’s interesting. The precendent you mention was exactly the main problem I had with the date control post - somebody might feel they were being duped.

Sketchee 28 Aug 06

Richard, I really hope that NDI’s isn’t a “more realistic job description”! If that’s how it is, I feel sorry for their employees!

Jennifer Breazeale 28 Aug 06

Many times, companies write these job descriptions either:
1) based on the skills/qualifications/tasks of the person who previously had the job (so if you’re not that person’s clone, what are you supposed to do?); or
2) based on some HR person’s perception of what job skills should be required based on the position/job family/company/band/pay scale, etc. (so you could possibly be a great fit for the job, but because you can’t check all the “x”s in the box you’ll be screened out)

I’m just curious to know if anyone *ever* meets the qualifications for these jobs with ridiculously long sets of requirements. I’ll stick to good ol’ fashioned networking, thanks!

Arik 28 Aug 06

I applied for a web job at the school I was attending a year back. The post on the job board was asking for a standards developer, who knew flash, js, php, graphic design, and photoshop. To the Jack of all Trades out there, this is a short list. But for me, who is very much a web designer I pretty much responded to just simply web standards and photoshop, everything was sketchy and they were happy with that.

I think more and more companies or looking for sprouting potential more than just your jack of all trades.

Arik 28 Aug 06

I applied for a web job at the school I was attending a year back. The post on the job board was asking for a standards developer, who knew flash, js, php, graphic design, and photoshop. To the Jack of all Trades out there, this is a short list. But for me, who is very much a web designer I pretty much responded to just simply web standards and photoshop, everything was sketchy and they were happy with that.

I think more and more companies or looking for sprouting potential more than just your jack of all trades.

Manuel 28 Aug 06

Arik 28 Aug 06 I applied for a web job at the school I was attending a year back. The post on the job board was asking for a standards developer, who knew flash, js, php, graphic design, and photoshop. To the Jack of all Trades out there, this is a short list.

totally agree. senior or not, who does ALL that- and well? ML has it right: a lie.

Scott Teger 28 Aug 06

By being more and more specific, you’re adding more and more of a filter. In my experience, you have to have the right blend of what they’re expected to do.

We just posted a position for a PHP developer - if i didn’t put that we need someone with OO experience and it is an on-site position - i’d wind up with 200 resumes of either unqualified or international applicants. Being vague only lengthens the process.

Bryan C 28 Aug 06

Job descriptions like that first one exist because the same text is actually trying to serve two very different purpose and two different audiences. They’re supposed to attract a qualified candidate, of course, but they’re also written to impress the other parts of the company with how important, valuable, and well-qualified this position must be.

You see this sort of thing a lot with technical positions in essentially non-technical organizations, where the management structure is often percieved as indifferent, at best, to technical needs. It makes people very defensive. Their IT departments constantly feel the need to hedge every position with a thicket of buzzwords, qualifications, and inflated responsibilities in order to convince other parts of the institution that they’re not wasting their money on what they might consider to be yet another interchangable geek in the back room.

There’s nothing wrong with making sure management values your contributions and pays people accordingly, but pontificating in a want ad is clearly not the best way to do it. Unfortunately in many organizations it’s the only on-record way for IT to get a word in edgewise. These long-winded ads are basically an ugly hack to interface with a poorly designed system.

The second example doesn’t try to do any of that. They’re a web design firm. The people doing the hiring know what they need, they don’t need to dazzle anyone else with their qualifications, and the ad is much better for it.

Arik 28 Aug 06

Focused skills always seem to be the bread and butter of most successful web firms.

Ian 29 Aug 06

In all likelihood the job ad at the democratic institute was targeted to the specific person they’ve already decided they want to hire. If so then the ad is really just jumpiong through hoops so someone can claim they followed the process. In the second instance they want to find someone to fill the position.

Richard Chuo 29 Aug 06

Dear all,

I have a on-line survey for my MBA dissertation, and the topic is about the recruitment and selection for software developers (including product manager, system analyst, system designer, programmer/tester).

There are only four questions (will only take your five invaluable time), your help is greatly appreciated.

The questionnaire is at this URL. (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=690682520035)

Best regards,

Yin-Wu (Richard) Chuo
===============
If this post is considered inappropriate for this blog, please pardon me and remove it.

Chris Keane 29 Aug 06

I posted the KickApps ad. Take a moment to compare to my parallel listing at Craigslist: . Personally, I prefer the CL post. I only truncated the text in the SVN boards because of the 500-word character limit, and I was cursing throughout the editing process. I’d be curious about your thoughts, now that you can compare apples to apples. We got very different responses to the two posts, though we’re still trying to fill the position.

Thanks also to Jason Fried, who corrected my mistake on the SVN job post within minutes of receiving my email.

Chris Keane 29 Aug 06

The Craigslist URL was stripped, trying again:
http://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/art/194981908.html

ML 29 Aug 06

Chris, the CL post still seems much more realistic than the NDI one linked above. What sort of different responses have you seen to the two posts?

Chris Keane 29 Aug 06

We got a *lot* more responses from CL (like 10x), probably due to CL’s larger audience reach. (If we’d been looking for an RoR developer, I expect the ratio would’ve been different.) The CL responses also came in a lot sooner.

Quality is harder to measure, especially since our desired attributes are mostly what Richard described as “soft skills”. I’d guess that the 37Signals respondants tend to be equivalent to the top 50% of the CL respondants, probably because they’re the kind of intelligent people who read leading industry blogs. On the flip side, CL attracts wide audience, and the applications reflected that range, top to bottom.

The determining factors in the applicant quality seemed to be readership (population size and demographic). I completely agree that a job description written by a peer will likely be more compelling than one written by a headhunter or HR staff. That’s a result of authorship though, not formatting; the 500-word character limit on the 37Signals job board feels a little too tight, especially when searching for a generalist.

Richard Chuo 30 Aug 06

This is certainly a marvellous thread! ;) Since analysing Internet discussion is one of my data source of primary research, I start worrying that I cannot squeeze as much good information in my finding and analysis.

Chris (Keane): “Iíd guess that the 37Signals respondants tend to be equivalent to the top 50% of the CL respondants, probably because theyíre the kind of intelligent people who read leading industry blogs.”

This is what I would like to argue about having a company blog, a well written (realistic, informative: company culture, teamwork, etc.) blog can help short listing applicants, and create a much solid psychological contract (i.e., this is the company as what it advertises) which can reduce the attrition.

Christ (Keane): “I completely agree that a job description written by a peer will likely be more compelling than one written by a headhunter or HR staff.”

One of my research objective is of discussing the possibility of embedding human resource management into software development process (agile process). Since the recruitment and selection process should ensure candidates will have less problem for fitting in the teamwork, it would be great if the software development process facilitates this transition. By enquiring and training peers to write job descriptions, this may help the team acquire suitable candidate, and team solidarity.

Chris (Keane): “Thatís a result of authorship though, not formatting; the 500-word character limit on the 37Signals job board feels a little too tight, especially when searching for a generalist.”

The school of resource-based strategy advocates human resource can create competitive advantage. This is especially true for software development. However, a good software developer is a rare resource, a software company must compete with other companies to acquire her/him. I analyse many job descriptions and find these descriptions imply the unbalanced power (i.e., it is I who decide if I want to hire you or not). Much like a company does its best to sell products to customers, wouldn’t it be the same for acquiring good talents?

IMHO, 500 words should be a good limit; it is a variant of elevator pitch (pitch your object: a product, a job, or YOURSELF in less 60 second). This limit will help you do job description ‘refactoring’. ;-) A team may conduct a pilot run (test case? ;-)) and soliciting comments from team members. This practice can help the job description more realistic.

Many managers (especially from B-schools) takes the classical/rational-planning approach of strategy formation. IMHO, software development is a process of creating many more opportunities. If the management hires people to achieve fixed business goals, this may eliminate many good business opportunities. This is another argument of mine about emphasising ‘soft skills’.

Thanks for the great comments, Chris!

Richard Chuo 30 Aug 06

This is certainly a marvellous thread! ;) Since analysing Internet discussion is one of my data source of primary research, I start worrying that I cannot squeeze as much good information in my finding and analysis.

Chris (Keane): “Iíd guess that the 37Signals respondants tend to be equivalent to the top 50% of the CL respondants, probably because theyíre the kind of intelligent people who read leading industry blogs.”

This is what I would like to argue about having a company blog, a well written (realistic, informative: company culture, teamwork, etc.) blog can help short listing applicants, and create a much solid psychological contract (i.e., this is the company as what it advertises) which can reduce the attrition.

Christ (Keane): “I completely agree that a job description written by a peer will likely be more compelling than one written by a headhunter or HR staff.”

One of my research objective is of discussing the possibility of embedding human resource management into software development process (agile process). Since the recruitment and selection process should ensure candidates will have less problem for fitting in the teamwork, it would be great if the software development process facilitates this transition. By enquiring and training peers to write job descriptions, this may help the team acquire suitable candidate, and team solidarity.

Chris (Keane): “Thatís a result of authorship though, not formatting; the 500-word character limit on the 37Signals job board feels a little too tight, especially when searching for a generalist.”

The school of resource-based strategy advocates human resource can create competitive advantage. This is especially true for software development. However, a good software developer is a rare resource, a software company must compete with other companies to acquire her/him. I analyse many job descriptions and find these descriptions imply the unbalanced power (i.e., it is I who decide if I want to hire you or not). Much like a company does its best to sell products to customers, wouldn’t it be the same for acquiring good talents?

IMHO, 500 words should be a good limit; it is a variant of elevator pitch (pitch your object: a product, a job, or YOURSELF in less 60 second). This limit will help you do job description ‘refactoring’. ;-) A team may conduct a pilot run (test case? ;-)) and soliciting comments from team members. This practice can help the job description more realistic.

Many managers (especially from B-schools) takes the classical/rational-planning approach of strategy formation. IMHO, software development is a process of creating many more opportunities. If the management hires people to achieve fixed business goals, this may eliminate many good business opportunities. This is another argument of mine about emphasising ‘soft skills’.

Thanks for the great comments, Chris!

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