Author Profile Picture

Shaun Thomson

Sandler Training


Read more about Shaun Thomson

Why candidates should write their own job descriptions


At the start of the year I was running a breakfast with a number of CEOs from the Oxfordshire area. We were discussing learnings from the last year. The conversation moved towards recruitment and retaining and attracting talented staff – something that was a top priority for all the attendees, regardless of their business size or sector.

The CEOs were sharing stories of how they found their best employees. There was one story that really struck me – how one candidate proactively applied to a firm, when there was no advertised vacancy, and outlined their own proposed job description. The CEO was so impressed by their initiative, and what the candidate said he could do, he brought him in and hired him on the spot.

It got me thinking – why don’t we all ask candidates to write their own job descriptions? Even as a benchmarking and insight exercise there would be significant advantages. Upon musing this I found numerous industry articles backing this theory up – it appears I am not the not the first person to give this strategy significant thought!

Real-life examples

Klip, a start-up video-sharing app, recently wrote about using this approach in their hiring process. In their words, they get candidates to write job descriptions becauseif their job description matches what we are looking for, then it’s a good fit.” They also think that by “tak(ing) the time to find the person whose desires match the company’s wants” that it also boosts staff morale because they are happier in their role; thus enhancing retention to boot. A pretty sound rationale.

The CEO of e-tailing startup Evergreen also makes a salient point: “it’s rare that you find somebody who exactly fits the job spec you put together anyway… (and) the looser listings create opportunities for candidates to think creatively, as opposed to a resume and a cover letter where we already wrote the spec and probably have a bias as to the type of person we’re looking for.”


Obviously the key for HR leaders is how best to implement this process, and then evidencing the success back to the business. Currently, HR departments spend an inordinate amount of time developing and tracking job descriptions, which can rarely keep up with the fast-changing market. The scenario will be familiar – an employee resigns or the business experiences growth, and a divisional manager will request a new recruit, and then will want them to start yesterday.

The HR team will do their best to identify the key skills required for the role, many of which will be considered a prerequisite. The department in need will inevitably add to it, it will need to be agreed and then the job will be advertised. However, by putting so many parameters on the role, you could be missing talented recruits. Skills can be taught. By posting looser job descriptions you open yourself up to a wider pool.


Measuring the initiative can done in three clear ways – performance, development and development. The HR team can track the performance of candidates that have taken ownership of their job roles and benchmark it against peers of a similar level to see which ones are adding the most value, in terms of line manager feedback and 360 appraisals. Over time it should be easy to see a correlation between the speed of development and positive retention of employees.

Once recruited, getting staff to take ownership of their job description can be a tool that they keep using throughout their career with the company. As a development strategy, it could yield interesting insights to both the individual and the company.

The employee may identify innovative approaches to addressing business issues, gaps in the team and areas that need improvement. Many staff notice these issues, but do not feel empowered to discuss and address them – giving the employee the ability to identify and potentially address weaknesses themselves will benefit the entire business.

Also, by enabling the employee to feedback on how they are performing against the role that they defined themselves it will engender much more accountability. The employee will be correlating their performance against duties they have defined themselves, which should make it far more likely they will achieve their goals and feel positive about their development. They will have ownership over their career plan, which will enhance the likelihood that they stay with the business.

Time to get started

HR managers across the country have embraced the universal corporate truth that staff rarely leave for money, they leave because they don’t feel recognized or values. Losing a good employee can have serious repercussions for any business – in terms of the cost of rehire, lost productivity and the negative impact on teams. The CEOs at my breakfast all agreed that losing great staff was one of their biggest regrets.

Addressing this before it happens requires businesses to examine innovative approaches – I truly believe that giving candidates and employees power over their job descriptions is a tool that is seriously worth investigating.

Author Profile Picture

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.