Job specification

Is your job spec too tight?

The latest UK labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics show that unemployment is continuing to fall while job vacancies are rising. With Brexit about to turn off the tap of EU migrants, employers are going to struggle to attract the right candidates for their roles. Even in marketing, which is traditionally a candidate-rich sector, companies are likely to find it more difficult to find the quality of hire they need.

This leaves employers with three options. You could lower your standards and hire sub-par candidates – not ideal. You could make your role more attractive by increasing the salary package, which can be expensive. Or you could consider relaxing the person specification for your role and widening your pool of potential candidates. But how can you do this without sacrificing quality?

Revisiting your job specification

When you’re under pressure to fill a vacancy, it can be very tempting to simply advertise using the previous incumbent’s job description. However, that can actually make it harder to recruit, as it limits the number of applicants to those who have exactly the same qualifications and attributes as your leaver.

Taking the time to consider whether the role could be adapted could give you a much wider pool of candidates to choose from. Which parts of your job specification are truly essential and which are just nice to have? Could you split up the role into two part-time jobs? Would it be more efficient or cost-effective to outsource some of the duties?

A shorter job description focusing on what you really need is always going to be better than a longer one full of vague requirements. Research has shown that job descriptions of around 90-135 words deliver the most applications. Jobseekers reading lots of job descriptions are only interested in the basics, so keep it down to the essentials. Anything else can go into your ‘nice to have’ list.

Loosening your job spec makes it easier to consider candidates traditionally considered overqualified or to hire someone with the right attitude but junior level skills and training them up. One of the most common specifications for marketing role is a marketing degree, but is this really necessary for your vacancy? Would someone who is qualified by experience be just as good, if not better?

In the US, where the job market is even more competitive, toy manufacturer Hasbro inc has been exploring new ways of hiring. They wanted to attract more entry-level employees and develop them internally, rather than struggling to find candidates with high levels of previous experience.

Hasbro took four marketing jobs, previously created for business school graduates with MBAs, and split them into eight lower level positions to cover routine activities while supporting higher level staff in the division. Lowering the job requirements for these roles significantly boosted applications and allowed them to make nine hires.

Improving diversity

A significant added benefit of approaching recruitment in this way is that it gives you a more diverse range of candidates, and we all know diversity is good for business. Relaxing your job requirements opens up your vacancy to people of different ages, genders and backgrounds, who may not have your ideal level of skills or experience but can offer new ideas and perspectives instead.

An often-quoted internal report from Hewlett Packard found that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the qualifications, while women only apply if they meet 100% of them. Including very specific criteria in your job description could seriously limit the number of women who apply for the role, making it harder for your company to improve its gender diversity.

How to do it

So how do you go about relaxing your requirements, but not your standards? The first thing to note is that recruiting in this way doesn’t work well with automatic shortlisting and applicant tracking systems, which look for keywords in CVs and lack a nuanced approach. However, broadening your job spec does not necessarily make recruitment a more cumbersome process.

Start by going through the list of requirements for each role and separating out the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. Only the must-haves should be featured in your job description; everything else can be either cut entirely or used if you’re finding it difficult to choose between interviewed candidates.

Its also worth considering the wording you use in your job descriptions and advertisements. Requirements can be implied, rather than explicit, and how an ad is worded can have a dramatic impact on who applies. Phrases such as ‘self confident’, ‘high calibre’ or ‘polished’ can seem natural when you’re looking for a top candidate, but they can put off less experienced candidates. Certain phrases are also far more likely to put off female candidates. You can use this free tool to check for any unconscious bias in your advertisements.

You can also remove any platitudes from your job spec, such as organised, hard-working or energetic. These are requirements that can be pretty much taken as read (you’d never choose a disorganised, lazy or listless candidate) and only take up space in your job description.

When assessing candidates, you may want to move away from traditional interview techniques, which focus heavily on a candidate’s previous work experience. Instead, consider focusing more on skills-based tests and predictive assessments, as well as problem-solving interview questions, that can help forecast how well a candidate will do in a role, regardless of their level of experience.

Using a recruiter

If your organisation is struggling to find the high quality of marketing candidates you need, choosing a specialist recruitment partner like the Tarsh Partnership will help.

All of our consultants are ex-marketers, giving us a unique understanding of the sector, and we have a comprehensive network of candidates. This allows us to find an extremely wide pool of applicants for your role. If we suggest a candidate, you can be confident they are right for your organisation, even if they don’t necessarily tick all the boxes.

Get in touch on 020 7849 6875 or

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Recruitment Advice