The Art and Science of Recruitment – Chapter 1

Define your need. Craft your message . . .

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m just a couple of years from retirement (and don’t mind giving away a few trade secrets) or the fact that this pandemic has so many hiring managers working out of their homes, engaged in recruitment and conducting Zoom interviews. But I just know that most recruiting processes could benefit from an update on “Recruiting 101.”

And that’s exactly what I’ll be providing to you in the next few columns of “Managing Your Career.” Each installment will become a short course on how to optimize your search, whether you’re an experienced exec or a new Manager working with a handful of leads and a LinkedIn account. I promise that if you can follow a few general guidelines, I’ll make your recruitment smoother and help you attract a higher caliber of talent.

Identifying the best possible choice for that open role will be one of the key reasons for your next promotion and continued upward career trajectory. If you agree, please read further.

Identify the True Elements of Your Need

Every reader of this column has likely either written or collaborated with others on the development of a JD (job description). There’s already a boilerplate document in your HR department that will help get your thoughts down on paper. But as the specs start to come together, keep in mind that one of the most effective practices used by external search firms when engaging on a new project is to talk to key staff who are not a part of the actual reporting relationship.

Collaboration is critical when defining your need. Yes, you already know the mechanics of the post and the various hands-on skills and experiences required to do the job well. But it’s clear to me that the heads of other departments and project managers who will interact with this role also have input, sometimes very valuable. Perhaps they’ll suggest elements of the job that will help your new hire better integrate with their team, or even leads on specific people they know who you can talk to later when you start networking. These other voices are invaluable, so make sure you bring in as many of them as possible.

One area where others can be particularly helpful is when thinking about those off-the-job-description elements of personality and fit within the company and team. While you may indeed write some of these into your document in shorthand (“Action orientation desired,” or “Solid interpersonal skills required”), you should commit to writing the full detail behind these statements and then review them when focusing in on your top candidates.

You already know your team’s strengths and weaknesses, not only for technical abilities, but in the way they interact with each other. As the head of this team, you know what kind of personality you’ll need to add who can become the “glue” here – a person who brings the team closer together as opposed to a communication style that brings instability, clashes, and friction. You need to think through all these elements when you are crafting your job description. Your job is to integrate key words and statements in a way that applicants see the required soft skills and learn something at the same time about the unique culture in both company as well as your team.

Differences Between an HR Job Description and a Networking Kickstarter

Once you’ve got your broad outline and have filled in enough blanks, leave all the HR verbiage intact and get it to your boss for the necessary approvals. But once you’ve got your go-ahead, kick some of that HR language off the document, because you don’t want “must be able to lift 40 lbs” being included in the detail that gets posted or passed along to prospects. (Of course, there will still be certain legal language that must remain – ask HR.)

The goal is to have two versions of the job description – one, a formal HR-compliant document that includes all those items that your business partner says must be present, and secondly a JD that can be used for posting and distribution for networking purposes. Both versions are important.

When a search firm gets a new assignment, one of the most important early pieces of writing involved is the search profile, another version of the job description clearly laid out in all its detail, but where a particular emphasis is placed on facts and readability, along with a bit of added salesmanship. You don’t want to hit them too hard with the latter, but you will want more than a one-liner describing “An innovative startup featuring IP in the area of microbial solutions to industrial wastewater problems and sustainability.”

Finetuning to Ensure the JD Works for Networking Purposes

Unless you are with a giant corporation that needs no introduction, you’ve got to have a paragraph or two about the company, the culture, the innovations and atmosphere. My suggestion is that even managers with the giant corporations need to post a paragraph about their team and why it is unique. One thing that has always proved true . . . the best candidates are attracted to your team and its reputation, and not just the company name. Maximize this in your document!

Here’s an example of how I suggest expanding upon my short example statement above for the small company, describing it in a bit more detail and with a focus on recruitment:

XYZ Corporation is a unique innovator founded in 2017 by MIT Professor Marilyn Finnegan and co-Founder and successful entrepreneur Ed Fischer. Marilyn and Ed began the company on a mission to disrupt the industrial wastewater industry and their many associated problems with environmental safety. We’ve grown to 70 employees engaged in discovering and commercializing unique microbial communities that solve a great number of problems associated with the discharge of chemical contaminants from dozens of industry sectors. Our team collaborates with major universities and public research centers around the world, develops unique concepts for new commercial products, and has a great time with technology that can actually benefit the planet and improve lives.

For the large corporate manager, there’s already an approved paragraph that describes the company, one that you’ll be required to include in your job description. That’s OK. That doesn’t preclude you from adding an additional paragraph that describes the environment you’re building in your team, and a bit more detail that will help you land those top candidates. Remember, people will have an instant thumbs-up or thumbs-down impression of your job because the company is well known. It’s up to you to add to that positive, or to pump it up if there’s a negative, by introducing your specific team and its culture:

[Follows the company boilerplate describing big corporation]

The BigCorp Formulation and Analytical Services team is a 22-member organization servicing the needs of a broader R&D organization of over 400 researchers in the development of multiple dosage forms. We’re a creative group of multidisciplinary talent, with the goal of developing new methods and innovations from formulation tools such as spray-drying and hot melt extrusion. Our internal clients appreciate our attention to detail but also our proven ability to deliver on-time consistently. We enjoy broad interactions with other research teams, both in international divisions of BigCorp as well as with our partners in the CMO community. Our work is challenging, but always fresh and exciting.

Getting Your Message Out There!

If you’re working with an executive recruiter, you’ll be providing them with a wonderful resource – an actual well thought-out job description, and that’s a rare resource for a headhunter, believe me. But chances are high that you’re not working with a support team, and now you’ll be moving into the posting and networking phase of your search on your own. That’s where things get exciting, and where all your hard work and thoughtfulness will pay off.

In my next chapter of The Art and Science of Recruitment, I will focus on where to place your position description, how to maximize its visibility without hitting your budget numbers too heavily, and some of the keyword and fine-tuning you can do to attract the cream of the crop.

Author: David G. Jensen, CTI Executive Search,