Same old song in recruitment.

I read this post today pondering why so many job adverts still require a degree, even though there are other ways of gaining expertise and experience. It seems almost like a default. And I think part of the answer is that it is a default. This isn’t a glamorous macro answer reflecting on the value of education, it is a thoroughly micro answer based on observation. The question I’d ask is nice and tight – how does a job description get published?

The simplest way to approach any problem to assume the last solution. We might be bad at recycling waste but we are pretty spiffing at recycling other people’s work. Most job descriptions aren’t written from scratch, they are organisational relics.

When you need to recruit a new hire you dig out the job description you last used and maybe give it a cursory check. Maybe you don’t even do that. So mistakes are carried down through the organisational generations.

If you do need to to create a new JD there is a tendency to cut and paste from already existing ones (hell, it saves typing AND thinking) and the desirable/minimum criteria are easy to copy. The first one is often the requirement for a degree – so it seems the most important – and nobody wants to be bold and delete the first thing that occurred to someone else. Candidates are losing out due to unthinking choices.

Two examples of this phenomenon

1. A few years ago my firm was struggling to hire for a Product Manager. I was asked to look at  the JD to see if I knew anyone who could do it. The role was UK based with no international exposure. The essential criteria, nevertheless, required fluent German AND French. It turned out that 6 years ago someone had copied those criteria from an international role and they had stuck. Nobody currently in the team spoke German or French fluently. When I challenged it I got an awesome response ‘well, I didn’t notice it was there, but it wouldn’t hurt…’. Ah yes, the essential criteria that you aren’t fussed about….

2. I did a recruitment event and reviewed the contact details form afterwards. We had guided the first person through the form and on the first side 90 per cent of the details were completed by interested students. However, when I turned over the page the first person to fill it in overleaf had declined to give an email. Only 10 per cent of people completing the second half of the sheet have full contact details. We look at what has gone immediately before for our standards.

We play unthinking ‘follow my leader’ and our actions echo in a way we wouldn’t expect. Why do we need degrees? We didn’t even reflect on that, we just knew the last person did….

Thanks to Gabriella Driver for the link.


A side thought: a great degree gets you the opportunity to dress up like a donkey at the Fringe. There are still some things it does seem to entitle you to.

One thought on “Same old song in recruitment.

  1. Great observation David – so true.
    Probably the biggest problem is the assumption the the job description accurately reflects a hiring decision. So often it does not.
    Emphasises the requirement for efficient and clear communication in advertising, selecting and hiring – and only serves to enhance the observation that HR is not the right place for recruiting – but it should come from an area of marketing.

    (but that’s *another* discussion!!!)


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