BL&T No. 041: Rethinking Job Descriptions

Agency Leadership

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"Big Goals are like recruiting magnets. They will not only pull you through, they’ll attract key talent to you. If there is one thing talent enjoys, it is a big vision of the future and the challenge of getting there."

From "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, Dave Jenks [Book]


We are currently in the process of hiring for several key roles at Barrel. In fact, James, our first-ever Talent Acquisition Manager, started with us today!

Whenever I write a description for an open job on our team, I look back on lessons learned from past recruiting efforts to identify opportunities for improvement. One area that stood out recently was role clarity. While interviewing a potential candidate, it never feels good to hear that they are confused about the role. As I set out to write job descriptions for new job openings, I was on a mission to be as explicit as possible.

Once I got going, however, I could not help but feel a bit mechanical, trying to capture every last detail for the perfect candidate. It seemed a bit silly. I knew that if I were lucky enough to find the perfect candidate on paper, it would not necessarily mean they would be the right fit for our team. I wondered, could a job description be more than merely a description of the job?

I started reviewing past job descriptions, thinking about the employees who ended up filling those roles. Even if they could not check off every bullet point, they brought something unique not listed in the post. In the end, that was what made them a distinct contributor to our team and culture.

Maybe trying to list out every possible quality, skill, and responsibility added more noise than it did create clarity? Perhaps those long, detailed job descriptions even discouraged incredible talent from applying because they could not meet all the criteria. I went back to the drawing board with these questions top of mind:

  • How do I want potential candidates to feel when they read the post?
  • What recurring questions do we get during interviews?
  • What would get me excited about this job?

In brainstorming the answers, I had a revelation. I was looking for someone as excited by the why as the what of the role. Not planning to come in each day and go through the motions, but someone energized by the opportunity to be a part of something special, open to the various forms that might take. Internally, we do our best to bring this spirit to the team by setting a vision, aligning on outcomes, and guiding the team to develop their skillset.

When it came to hiring, I felt like I was saying, “Hi, we're Barrel. Here's what we do. We have a job opening. Here is what is required. Apply if you fit the criteria." It was not inspiring. To some degree, one might say I was asking candidates to focus on the WHAT, not the WHY.

Here is where I landed on the new job description format:

  • About Barrel: Simple overview of Barrel and what we do. A critical component when distributing the job post across several channels.
  • Discipline/Role Vision: How the discipline contributes to our greater purpose as an agency and how the role plays its part.
  • Outcomes: Rather than centering on every detail of responsibilities, a focus on outcomes helps chart the future, leaving room for how they get realized.
  • Key Requirements: Okay, it is a job. We do need some criteria. The goal here is to highlight the skills and experience we believe are essential in achieving the above outcomes.
  • Team Structure: This is a small addition that can go a long way. It also comes up constantly during interviews. It is a simple sentence stating what team the role sits on and who their manager will be. Team Structure shows potential candidates there is a structure in place and further supports the vision stated above.
  • Benefits: A simple list of benefits. Nothing new. The main point to mention is to list every benefit offered. Some perks may seem obvious or implied, but you never know what candidates will value.

I have only had a few interviews, but the response has been positive so far. Unsolicited, the candidates mentioned that they were "incredibly passionate about the vision" and that they "appreciated seeing the outcomes and would love the opportunity to dig in." Rather than using our time to rehash the role at a high level, we could get specific about where they could add value and contribute to future growth.

The new format is just a start, but it always feels good to try a new direction, even if the progress is incremental. I look forward to sharing these insights with James and the rest of the team in the coming weeks to see what ideas they may have for further evolving the format.

By the way, if you are interested in seeing it in action, below are the job posts described today. More importantly, if you or someone you know might be a good fit for these roles, please reach out, apply, or share them!

Lesson? Every organization is unique. Each inspires, motivates, and retains employees in unique ways. When it comes to recruiting, it can feel natural to stick to the status quo and simply state the job. Instead, try honing in on what makes your culture special. Let future employees know how they can play a role in shaping the future.

Thought Starter

Am I communicating the what or why of the roles I'm looking to fill?

Join My Newsletter

Every Monday, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Details