Job Descriptions

Interviewing 1: It Starts With Requirements and with Job Descriptions

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Before you interview a job candidate, you need to understand the job you are interviewing them for. You need to understand the requirements of the job you are interviewing them for. The natural place to start for job requirements is the job description. I know you’ve seen job descriptions. You may even have helped to write a few. They are just written narratives that describe the tasks, responsibilities, and other related duties for a position. 

Job Requirements — Functional and Non-Functional 

Most job descriptions are very good at describing what a business analyst would call the functional requirements of the position. The job description will tell you what the person performing the job needs to do. Most job descriptions don’t do such a good job at the non-functional requirements. What are non-functional requirements? Well, if functional requirements tell us what a system, or a person, needs to do, then the non-functional requirements tell us what personal attributes the person needs to possess. The non-functional requirements tell us who the person is. 

Functional Job Requirements — What does the employee need to do?

Let’s look at an example. When responding to my brother’s inquiry about interview questions, I used a simple example: hiring a person to walk his dogs. Let’s stick with that example here. What are the functional requirements of a dog walker? What does a dog-walker need to do?

  • A dog walker provides exercise, usually through walks, of a client’s dogs.
  • A dog walker picks up and disposes of dog droppings during walks.
  • A dog walker monitors the dogs’ food and water supply to make sure they meet basic needs after walks.
  • A dog walker notifies owners and pursue veterinary attention for any dog that becomes sick or injured under their supervision.
    If you have a job description, I’m sure that it captures most if not all the key tasks that the job requirements. But give it a review, just in case. Are there any tasks that are missing? Are there any tasks that just aren’t relevant anymore? As you plan for hiring, you’ll want to make sure you have the most important functions top of mind.

Non-Functional Job Requirements — Who does the employee need to be?

But just being able to perform those functions does not make someone a good dog-walker. A good dog-walker will also possess some qualities that make them good at performing those tasks.

  • Is knowledgeable about dogs — A good dog walker needs to know about dogs. She needs to know about the physiology and behavior of dogs.
  • Is experienced with dogs — A good dog walker is also an experienced dog walker. She has worked with different kinds of dogs and probably dogs (and owners) with different needs.
  • Loves dogs — I like dogs. I don’t love dogs. I wouldn’t be a good dog walker. A good dog-walker has a heartfelt passion for the animals in her care. 
  • Compassion for dogs — The dog walker must always treat the dogs with care, kindness, and respect.
  • Patience — This is key to working with animals—especially when you’re first becoming familiar with each other.
  • Customer-service skills — While the dog walkers main responsibility is to the animals, she also has to keep her human clients satisfied.
  • Reliability — Those human clients needs to count on the dog walker to  show up on time and perform those duties we’ve identified.
  • Physical strength and stamina — There is a physical component to this job. A dog walker needs to, well, walk the dogs. She needs to be up and on her feet for at least 30 minutes. She may need to handle larger dogs and keep control of a leash if a dog pulls.
    What about your job? What qualities does a candidate need to possess to perform it well? What qualities does a candidate need to possess to perform the job well in your organization? My list of non-functional requirements varies by job and by organization, but mostly I’ve settled on something that looks like this:
  • Ability to learn — Knowledge is the stock in trade of any knowledge worker and learning is the key to acquiring knowledge. Candidates need to show an ability to learn and the best candidates have a passion for learning.
  • Foot on the gas —  Knowledge workers have to think but thinking alone doesn’t get the job done. There are a lot of ways to articulate this quality. Some might call it a bias towards action. I like to refer to it as “foot on the gas”. If I were even less formal, I would say “gets sh!t done”. 
  • Executive presence — “Is this someone who we can put in front of our CEO and not fall apart?” Seriously. That was a question we used to ask about candidates. It isn’t really that bad. But the question is still relevant. Knowledge workers need to present information and solutions to leaders in your organization. They also need to present to your clients or customers.

Non-Functional Job Requirements And Bias

When articulating your non-functional requirements, it is very important to be wary of the potential for bias. Your selection criteria has to be fair, objective, and directly relevant to the job. Federal and state law forbids employers from using criteria based on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, martial status, age, religious belief, sexual orientation, transsexuals, disability or age. Objective functional job requirements are one way to minimize bias in hiring. Your gender, ethnicity, marital status, or religion are irrelevant in determining whether or you not you can “provide exercise, usually through walks, of a client’s dogs.” 
With non-functional requirements like personal attributes, you run a higher risk of introducing bias. Just like functional job requirements, non-functional job requirements should tie to job performance. Make sure you can draw a line between the personal attribute you are looking for and the job itself. You should also have objective criteria for evaluating candidates against those criteria. How do you know if someone loves dogs? I’ll explore evaluation criteria in another post. 

Capturing the Non-Functional Requirements of the Job — The Person Specification

What do you do with these non-functional requirements? Many companies are adding person specifications to their job descriptions. A person specification describes the personal attributes desired in a potential employee. These attributes might include qualifications, skills, experience, knowledge, and sometimes personal attributes which a candidate needs to possess in order to perform job duties. The person specification is the perfect place to capture your non-functional job requirements. Talk to your human resources team about person specifications. They might already use them or be ready to adopt them. If not, you can probably develop your own personal specification to aid you in your hiring efforts. Make sure you have it reviewed by human resources. They can help you avoid bias by ensuring that your non-functional job requirements are objective and tied to job performance. 

What’s next?

You have a job description with articulated functional and non-functional requirements. Now you need to review the resumes of applicants that come pouring in your door. In the next article in this series, On the Problem of Resumes, I’ll share my approach to weeding through that pile to identify the people I want to speak with.

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