Job description tips
Eric Gaffen, Global Manager, Talent Acquisition at Acquia, is constantly getting requests for new hires from the leadership at Acquia. His previous company grew from 1600 to 3000 in six years, and from that experience, Eric knows larger companies have a very standardized approach to job descriptions which match compensation and evaluation. Things are quite different here.
- Step 1: Understand typical teams, roles and job titles
- Step 2: Define your requirements
- Step 3: Widen your net with your job description
- Step 4: Where and how to post jobs
- Step 5: Evaluating applicants
At Acquia, you might notice there’s lots of variety in the job descriptions on our "open positions" careers page. Eric Gaffen explains that job descriptions come about organically and are written by the hiring managers. "As we scale the organization up, we're seeing more unique job specifications," for example we’re looking for a solutions architect that will be embedded in one of our partner's projects. These roles couldn't have been foreseen even a year ago, and many of our partners and clients can relate. Eric offers hiring managers some guidelines on writing job descriptions.
- 1Start off with the "30 second elevator pitch" - Why this job and our company is great.
- 2Next, define the roles and responsibilities
- 3Then list the must-have skills
So what skills should you list? Games start-up Penny Arcade recently incited a backlash for posting a job listing that was deemed as "insulting" due to the laundry list of qualifications and skills they require for apparently low pay.
"We are quite literally looking for a person that can do four jobs: Web Development, Software Development, Sys Admin, and the (dreaded) GENERAL IT for us here that need help configuring a firewall for a dev kit, etc."
So you probably want to avoid that kind of situation. It's best to put away the laundry list and focus on what is important.
What official qualifications do you really need?
While it’s a common inclusion in job descriptions, Computer Science degrees don’t necessarily indicate understanding of practical web development skills. Even asking for a “related degree” can limit your options. Many of the senior and most experienced people in web development are self-taught. At Acquia we have people on staff who were formerly artists, dancers and physicists. That kind of creative diversity can actually be a positive thing.
Programming as a discipline is valuable prior experience for senior levels on the team, and knowledge of the software development lifecycle is very useful. However, you should be aware that very little from other languages or frameworks in Python, Java or .NET really applies to Drupal, and experience with a custom PHP application does not mean that someone can develop in Drupal. In fact our partners and clients have found the most egregious errors from from some of the most talented programmers. In our Drupal training program, we help learners differentiate when is the time to add custom code, and when you shouldn’t.
So while many job descriptions require Computer Science degrees and formal programming qualifications, those aren't necessarily going to help you attract the right candidate.
You could use these skill inventories in your job description, as our partner Annertech did in their recent job posting.
Standing out by communicating your culture
Finding someone who matches your culture is really important. Some of our established clients and partners have strict dress requirements and conservative cultures; yet others are just starting up and creating a vibrant, energetic environment. However, by attracting a more diverse workplace you increase your chances of finding great talent and colleagues who bring a different perspective to projects.
To really stand out, write and speak about your current work; this helps potential candidates see what kinds of projects they’ll be able to work on. For example, proposing a case study presentation at a local DrupalCamp would be a great way raise your profile and communicate what it’s like to work with you. You can find an up to date listing of DrupalCamps and meet-ups at Drupical.com.
You can also transmit your culture through your job description and on your careers page. Be careful to consider people’s different backgrounds in your job descriptions. If you want to be more inclusive, transmit your company culture in a way that is open to people with different backgrounds. While some applicants might think it’s cool you have “free beer flowing on tap”; others might find this excludes them, and they would be put off from applying to your company.
Consider what elements of your culture are most important. You might get more mileage from saying you have flexible work hours; emphasize the elements of your company which will attract the right kind of candidate. Square, Inc. include videos of staff interviews on their careers page that emphasize a sense of purpose behind what they do. On their careers page, Rapid7 make a point of simply saying “We’re not for everybody.”
Just a warning: Don’t include the words killer, ninja or rockstar. Admittedly, we’ve made this mistake ourselves in the past. But we got good feedback that these attempts to relate to potential employees really either intimidate or annoy them. Instead, we’ve been able to transmit our sense of fun and our culture by listing “No limitations on hairstyles” and “Casual office and dress” as benefits on our "open positions" page to help potential employees know a bit more about what it’s like working for us.
Casting the net wider
As I mentioned above, try and be sensitive to other people's backgrounds in your job descriptions and in how you portray your company. Also open opportunities for people who have had less formal education in programming. The outside benefit of this is that you'll end up opening the way for a more diverse team. Besides the obvious aspects of increasing the talent pool, "There's a lots of evidence that increasing diversity benefits businesses in nearly every measurable way," say Ashe Dryden, developer and diversity advocate..
"Racial diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits. Gender diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, and greater relative profits." -- "Does Diversity Pay?: Race, Gender, and the Business Case for Diversity" by Cedric Herring,American Sociological Association, April 2009 (pdf).
In the upcoming book “The Diverse Team; Healthy Companies, Progressive Practices” Ashe Dryden will outline practical advice for increasing diversity, because when it comes down to it, your business can benefit. Some techniques for"Programming Diversity" are highlighted in a recent presentation by Ashe.
- Facilitate events for marginalized people in tech
- Volunteer at local schools and groups
- Work with colleges and universities
While it may seem strange to be starting to talk to young adults long before their working age, these may well be the people you’ll want to hire in a few years time. I wrote previously about inspiring Drupal internship programs which you might find useful. We work with our partners to help them arrange programs and we can also provide learning materials for use. Please do contact us if you’re setting up an internship program.
With that said, your work to write an effective job listing or job description goes beyond just the essentials of defining requirements and listing skills. How do you portray your company? What have you learned about writing job descriptions? We’d love to hear from you. In my next post, I'll be going into more detail on how where and how to post jobs to attract the best candidates.
If you’d like to know more and talk with one of our experts here at Acquia, please sign up to our online session with guest speakers, Summer Swigart, Practice Manager and Meagen Williams, Program Manager.