A Word On Job Descriptions

Posted by amy on May 17, 2007

I look at a lot of job descriptions. If the perfect employee jobs came up, Max and/or I would take them. We are also always on the lookout for interesting contracts, cool companies, and weird projects. For clients who want the work done, and don’t care if I bring a nursing infant to a meeting…For work opportunities with the potential for exponential and renumerative growth. For a fast-paced, take-no-prisoners, work hard-play hard up-and-coming, learning organization. Wait, no, scratch those last two sentences.

__What we’re looking for is job descriptions that are not full of crap.__

Most job descriptions are as tedious to read as most resumes. Do they say *anything*? Can even the people who write them stand to read them? I’ll be honest – I cannot bear to read my own resume, or Max’s. Or anyone else’s really. Even the best-written resumes I’ve seen are so bland my four-year-old would eat them without complaint. That’s *bland*, baby. Same for job descriptions. Occasionally I send my resume to a company because they had a puzzle in their job description — Athena Health had a fun one) or because they have an opening for “General Rock Star” (ZoomInfo‘s clever recruiter Martin Burns attracted me with that one). The rest of the time I think, “eh, I’d rather be wiping up baby poop.”

I would like a world in which no one was counseled to pepper their resume with impactful verbs, and companies did not seek “ideal candidates” who “posess excellent communication skills” and are “self-motivated.” Resumes and job descriptions would be formatted in a kind of work-yaml:

job-title: senior software developer
    skills: RoR, mod_perl, MySQL
    experience: 4-6 years
    hours:  40 hours for salary negotiations, 55 if you ever want a raise or bonus
    location: Burlington, in a hideous office complex where the only food is a Panera
    commute: 30 minutes, door to door (i.e., at least an hour each way)
    boss: hates confrontation, won't tell you if you're screwing up. Otherwise nice.
    benefits: good for now, but next year we'll cut out prescription drug coverage
    coworkers: pretty smart, will expect you to know how the Sox are doing this year.

resume: Amy Newell
    keywords: Java, Oracle, RoR, JSP, HTML, workflow, FDA compliance, project management
    previous_employers: Newell Household,
                        Millennium Pharmaceuticals,
                        Abuzz Technologies,
                        Harvard Extension School,
                        Harvard Medical School
    education:  humanities degree, summa, Harvard College.
                Software classes at Harvard Extension,
                vague thought of getting Masters there till life got in the way.
                O'Reilly's Safari Books Online.
    good_at:    talking, writing, coding, training, requirements
    experience: mom brought home apple 2+ when I was 7.
                Husband brought home heapsort 7 years ago, been software developer ever since.
    quirks: nursing infant, hate crowds, startle easily, don't like gadgets
    projects: Teaching Fellow for Data Structures class.
              Experiment Management Software for Molecular Pathology Department.
              Clinical Exam for Fourth Year Medical Students.

That’s it. I couldn’t resist putting in some jokey parts, but if you take those out I think we’ve really got a solution to the heartbreak of job and contract-hunting. Let’s stop bombarding one another with “Implemented Tracking System that increased revenue by 17% in 6 months” and “Must be a team player.” Let’s quit with “Detail-oriented”, “compensation package”, “in search of talented individuals” and “demonstrates expertise”. Please, no more “performs a variety of tasks” or “helped to grow the business”. Let’s ban “methodologies”, “proactive”, “interpersonal skills”, and “highly motivated”. I’ve been reading Jakob Nielsen’s website, and he has a nice quote from Winston Churchill: “Short words are best, and the old words when short are best of all.”

The thing about resumes and job descriptions is that there’s really no hope that most of what we say in them is going to be particularly useful in matching people to work. All the interesting, useful things to know about jobs, and about people doing jobs, come out later, after everyone’s already committed. So can’t we all just cut the crap?

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    1. Audrey Thu, 17 May 2007 18:24:30 UTC

      Aaaah job ads. This one is still my worst of the worst: http://dyepot-teapot.com/2006/09/25/some-job-posts-are-bad-and-then-theres-this-one/