This section will help employers develop comprehensive job descriptions and attract the job applicants that will best benefit their company.
Table of Contents
- Job Analysis
- Writing Job Descriptions
- Job Description Components
- Screening and Interviewing Job Applicants
- Evaluating and Testing Job Applicants
- Employee referrals
Hiring is of key importance to the overall productivity of Canadian businesses. A well put together job description is a good business investment because it can be used to support most HR functions: recruitment, selection, orientation, training, work plans, compensation, performance reviews and legal defence. Job descriptions explain the key responsibilities of the actual position, reporting relationships and work environment. The first step in writing or rewriting job descriptions is job analysis. Job analysis is an in-depth study of a job. It provides information for job descriptions. In doing the analysis, you or an employee will gather information about jobs through interviewing employees, observing performance of certain tasks, asking employees to fill out questionnaires and worksheets, and collecting information about a job from secondary sources such as the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system.
Step 1: Understand the job
Start by developing a complete understanding of the position. This is the foundation on which hiring is based. In conducting your analysis, consider:
- All of the duties and responsibilities of the position
- Their scope and level
- The context in which these are to be performed
- The amount of responsibility, authority and accountability required to perform the work
- The major and minor activities
Step 2: Identify Performance Behaviours
Next, identify examples of behaviour that you would use to evaluate the quality of the work. Identify examples of both effective and ineffective behaviours. To do this, ask yourself:
- What are the performance expectations for superior performance?
- How do you know someone is doing an excellent, satisfactory or poor job?
- How does it look when a high performer is doing an excellent job or when a poor performer is doing an unsatisfactory job?
Step 3: Essential Competencies
Using the examples of behaviour as a basis, identify and choose only the most critical/essential competencies required to demonstrate high performance. Differentiate between high performers and average performers:
- There should be no more than 6 to 10 competencies selected for a role or job. Remember, fewer are better.
- The key is to select only the most critical/essential competencies required to demonstrate high performance. While all competencies may seem desirable, they are not all critical.
- Familiarize yourself with the types of competencies and skills.
Next, sort the competencies based on how critical or essential each one is. You could sort each of the competencies into one of four groups:
- Less important/learn on the job
- Not applicable
When determining how critical or essential a Competency, Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (CKSA) is, consider factors such as:
- The difficulty or criticality of the tasks being performed
- The impact on job outcomes
- The impact on the performance of other employees
- The consequence of error if the CKSA is not present
- How frequently the CKSA is used on the job
- Whether the CKSA is required at when the job starts or can be learned or acquired on the job within the first six months
When completed sorting, review and make any adjustments that are needed. Count the number of CKSA you sorted in the Critical/Essential and Important/Significant groups. There should be between 6 and 10 competencies. If you have more than that number, you can rank the competencies in your Important/Significant group and pick only the highest ranking that provide you with an appropriate number of competencies. Put all others aside. If you ended up with fewer than an appropriate number of competencies, then rank the competencies in your Less Important/Learn on the Job group and pick only the highest ranking to add to the Important/Significant group, providing you with an appropriate number of competencies. Put all others aside. The competencies you have chosen form the CKSA portion of the qualifications for the job.
Step 4: Identify Target Performance Level
Target levels refer to the types of behaviours demonstrated by high performers. They are not minimum standards. The key is to select the target level that high performers demonstrate most of the time (general rule - 75% of the time). While all people may be able to demonstrate a level once, target levels refer to what they do most of the time. To assist you, think about what a high performer in the job demonstrates most of the time when they are engaged in that competency. Do not select an inappropriately high target level. Setting the bar too high can lead you to hiring no one. The focus is on trying to describe reality, not ideals. Once you have set the Target Level, you should also set the minimum acceptable level required at job start. You could set Level 1 as the lowest possible level and 5 as the highest. Ensure the minimum level is also realistic.
Step 5: Experience, Education and Training Needed
Review the final list of Competencies, Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (CKSA) and determine the various ways in which these could be acquired through education, experience (work, volunteer and/or life) and/or training. It may be helpful to consider the background of high-performing employees in this type of position. Be sure to include as many of the equivalent combinations of education and experience as possible. Consider the availability of qualified people in the job market and ensure the qualifications are reasonable given that market. It is important to determine a qualification that is appropriate to the job on day one and not inappropriately high or low. If qualifications are set too high, candidates that have the competencies may be inadvertently eliminated at the screening stage before having the opportunity to prove themselves. Alternatively, if the qualifications are set too low, most of the applicants will need to be considered which can be a time consuming process and many may not have the required competencies.
Step 6: Special Considerations
Now is the time to identify and include any special considerations you may wish to include. Some jobs may require additional specific criteria like the following:
- Criminal records review
- Drivers, firearms or other licenses
- Professional designations (for example: Professional Engineer)
- Occupational certifications
- Physical requirements to lift heavy objects, work in strenuous situations etc.
- Willingness statements (for example: willingness to work in dusty or noisy environments)
Step 7: Review and Finalize
At this point you have completed the job analysis process. This final step is to give you an opportunity to stand back and take a second look at your work to ensure its valid and stands the 'common sense' check. To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
- Given what I know about the accountabilities of this job/role, are the competencies, knowledge, skills and abilities chosen really the most critical ones? Will they help me identify the difference between a high performer and a poor one?
- Do the behavioural levels identified really define what high or poor performers actually do in this job/role?
- Are the experience, education and training requirements related to the CKSA chosen: job-related, inclusive, reasonable and appropriate?
- Have all necessary special considerations been included?
If you answered 'no' to any of these questions, review your work and make adjustments so that you can answer each question with a 'yes'. If you answered 'yes' to all of the questions, finalize your Statement of Qualifications. These may now be added to Job Descriptions, included in applicant packages and advertisements, and used as a basis for determining the most appropriate assessment methods to be used in the hiring process.
Step 8: Expected Results
The list of qualifications and competencies developed through job analysis are used to create:
- The Statement of Qualifications to be attached to Job Descriptions
- Advertising content and/or applicant information packages
- Criteria for short listing applicants
- As a basis for determining the most effective assessment methods
Writing Job Descriptions
Step 1: Start with a Job Analysis
Writing the job description is normally preceded by a job analysis. The job analysis is a study of the job or role that helps the employer identify and describe the essential functions of a position, as well as the competencies, knowledge, skills and abilities (CKSA) needed to fulfill the functions.
Step 2: Identify Essential Rather than Marginal Functions
To identify the essential functions of the job, first identify the purpose of the job, and the importance of actual job functions in achieving this purpose. In evaluating the importance of job functions, consider, among other things, the frequency with which a function is performed, the amount of time spent on the function, and the consequences if the function is not performed. In defining the essential functions of a job, it is important to distinguish between methods and results. For example, is the essential function moving a fifty pound box from one part of the lab to another, or is it carrying the box? While essential functions need to be performed, they often do not need to be performed in one particular manner (unless doing otherwise would create an undue hardship).
Step 3: Cover the Key Areas
Job descriptions describe the job and not the individual who fills the job. They are written narratives of the major duties and responsibilities of a job position or job role. The job description also states the results expected of anyone in the job. There are many formats used in preparing job descriptions. Typically, the key areas to include are:
- Job Title
- Based at (business unit, section - if applicable)
- Position reports to (line manager title, location, and functional manager)
- Job Purpose Summary (ideally one sentence)
- Key Responsibilities and Accountabilities (or duties typically 8-15 numbered points)
- Dimensions/Territory/Scope/Scale indicators (the areas to which responsibilities extend and the scale of responsibilities - staff, customers, territory, products, equipment, premises, etc.)
- Hours of Work
- Date and other relevant internal references
Step 4: Write in a Simple Style
Job descriptions should be written in brief and clear sentences. The basic structure for sentences in a job description should be "implied subject/verb/object/explanatory phrase." It is best to use action verbs like "types" and "files."
Job Description Components
- Job Title
The formal position of the successful applicant. Use clear terminology.
The name of your organization.
- Job Objective
Describe the general nature, purpose and objective of both the organization and the job. Capture the broad scope of the position in no more than three or four sentences.
- Duties and Responsibilities
Identify functions that are essential to meeting the objectives of the job, and secondary requirements. These should be differentiated in the job description. As specifically as possible, list each duty and responsibility of the job. Each statement should begin with an action verb describing the activity. Examples of action verbs: performs, drives, cooks, coaches, monitors, plans, delivers, supervises, recommends, analyzes, paints, weeds, answers, trains, verifies, sells, organizes, files.
- Qualifications and Requirements
Identify the minimum qualifications needed to perform the essential elements of the job: education, languages, experience, credentials (for example, to practice in a profession or to operate equipment), skills, and knowledge. Draw attention to any critical expertise or skills. Say whether experience will be viewed as equivalent to formal education requirements. Be careful not to inflate the qualifications for the job. If only a high school education is necessary, make this the minimum requirement rather than a university degree.
- Organizational structure
Identify where the position fits within the hierarchy of your organization.
- Special Working Conditions
Are there any unique working conditions that the candidate should know about - for example, a non-office environment, or working with violent clients? It is also useful to mention commitments your organization has to pay equity and/or employment equity.
- Salary and Benefits
You may want to identify the starting salary or pay range and benefit entitlements that are associated with the position. Mention whether the salary is fixed or falls within a range. If it is negotiable, what factors will influence it? For example, is it dependent upon experience? Job seekers prefer knowing as accurately as possible how much you expect to pay them.
Provide a contact name for applications and information about how job seekers can get in touch - telephone and fax numbers, e-mail and mailing address.
Screening and Interviewing Job Applicants
As anyone who has ever run an employment ad probably knows, screening job applicants can be exasperating. Streamlining the hiring process is difficult. It may seem obvious, but efficient screening starts with specifying clear job requirements. Write the job description carefully and include all the associated duties. Separate the necessary skills from the helpful skills, the soft (interpersonal) skills from hard (job-related) skills. If you run a job listing or a take out an ad, make sure the minimum requirements of the job and the salary range are clearly defined. Ambiguous job postings attract a broad range of candidates, many of whom may or may not be qualified for the job you need done.
If you use application forms, review these first to screen out applicants who clearly do not meet the requirements for the job. Make sure to compare the applicants' qualifications to the job specifications and the job description.
Applicants for both academic and administrative positions should provide a covering letter that identifies the position, provides relevant background linking their education and experience to the position, and highlights their specific qualifications. This is a good document to look at first, as it might indicate at a glance that an applicant is "completely out of the game" when it comes to meeting your job specifications/statement of qualifications.
A resume is a brief description of a candidate's education, professional experience, knowledge, skills, and accomplishments. Curriculum vitae is an in-depth account of a candidate's background. Resumes are common screening tools for administrative positions. Academic recruiters usually ask candidates to supply a curriculum vitae. You can have an outside firm screen resumes/CVs for you or you can do it yourself. A simple way to begin the screening of resumes or CVs is with a "three piles" approach - an initial sort that classifies applicants as qualified, possibly qualified, or not qualified. Although CVs and resumes may provide different types of information, your purpose in screening them is the same - you are looking for candidates who appear, in writing, to have the qualifications and experience you need for the position. The screening process will save you time and energy because you will be selecting only qualified candidates for interviews and job-related testing, if applicable. Following are some guidelines on how to read resumes, CVs, and covering letters. Remember that your objective is to compare the information presented against your selection criteria. Compare the following against your selection criteria:
- What is the highest level of education completed?
- What other educational designations does the candidate possess?
- Examine professional experience. While there is no hard and fast rule about how far back you should go into someone's work history, you should probably pay special attention to the past 10 years. All experiences that the candidate presents are open for exploration during the interview.
- Explore non-traditional experiences which may have enabled a candidate to acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the position to the desired (target) standard.
- Look for portable and transferable skills.
- Spot time gaps in experience and note them for future inquiry.
- Are there any patterns in a candidate's work experiences (e.g., promotions, career changes, employment stability, reasons for leaving positions)?
- Identify technical skills which are testable before an interview.
- Identify any work samples such as publications or portfolios that you may want a candidate to bring to an interview.
- Does the candidate live out of town? Who will pay his/her expenses to travel to the interview and to relocate if hired?
- Are there spelling or grammatical errors in the resume/CV?
- Is the resume/CV formatted and presented in an appropriate manner?
- Does the covering letter link the candidate's qualifications to the position?
- What information is still missing?
Hiring the "RIGHT" person in today's market place is more important than ever. With increased global competition, downsized staffs, and downward price pressures, having the wrong person in a position is costly. Interviews are particularly useful for getting the story behind a participant's experiences. The interviewer can pursue in-depth information around a topic. Before you start to design your interview questions and process, clearly articulate to yourself what problem or need is to be addressed using the information to be gathered by the interviews. This helps you keep a clear focus on the intent of each question. There are two rules of thumb for deciding how many people to interview:
- Try to interview from three to six candidates.
- Only interview people you think you would want to hire.
Get ready to help make the interview go smoothly by doing the following:
- Develop an interview schedule and stick to it.
- Try to have more than one interviewer (you risk intimidating the candidate, but you'll make a better decision).
- Prepare all the questions in advance, and anticipate possible answers to the questions.
- Send the job description and/or statement of qualifications to candidates before they come to the interview meeting.
- Review the resume and know the job description (bring both to the interview)
- Arrange the meeting time and space - make it comfortable and private to help candidates feel at ease and more empowered.
- Arrange to have the same interviewers conduct all the interviews.
- Provide candidates with a comfortable, safe place to wait for the interview.
Tips for Preparing Interview Questions
- Ask all candidates the same questions. How can you compare candidates with each other if you do not ask them the same questions?
- Wording of interview questions should be open-ended. Respondents should be able to choose their own terms when answering questions.
- Questions should be as neutral as possible. Avoid wording that might influence answers, e.g., evocative, judgmental wording.
- Questions should be worded clearly. This includes knowing any terms particular to the program or the respondents' culture.
- Be careful asking "why" questions. This type of question infers a cause-effect relationship that may not truly exist. These questions may also cause respondents to feel defensive, e.g., that they have to justify their response, which may inhibit their responses to this and future questions.
- Only ask questions that will give you information about past job performance, skills, and personal traits which are directly related to the position you are trying to fill. Get the facts, and then ask subjective questions which will allow you judge the person's ability to fit your corporate culture and business situation.
Tips for Interviewing Job applicants
- Keep notes of what each candidate answers.
- Focus on learning about the person's experience, ability and personal qualities that will directly affect how he or she will do the critical parts of the job.
- Ask questions that are open-ended. For example, ask how the candidate's education would help the person do this job better, rather than ask what education the person has.
- Do not talk too much during the interview.
- Do not make a decision too early. Listen carefully to what the candidate has to say through the whole interview.
- Do not be too concerned if the applicant is nervous, unless it is really relevant to whether the applicant can do the job. For example, nervousness would matter if the person would have to make cold sales calls. For most jobs, it does not matter.
- Do not ask leading questions, which tell the applicant what answer you want to hear. Do not use stress interviews, designed to see if you can upset the applicant. You can find out if an applicant can handle a stressful job through role-playing, situational questions, or by checking with references.
Evaluating and Testing Job Applicants
Historically, employers depend upon résumés, references and interviews as sources of information for making hiring decisions. In practice, these sources have proved inadequate for consistently selecting good employees. While pre-employment assessments are widely available, they have yet to be adopted by the majority of firms in Canada. One of the major reasons for this is that most companies lack an understanding of what pre-employment assessments are and why they are effective. A pre-employment assessment is a battery of tests used to collect information from job applicants for the purpose of aiding hiring decisions. Such assessments may include items on topics such as motives, ethics, traits, work experience, intelligence, skills, preferences, and preferred work hours. When effectively measured, all of these things may be used, in some capacity, to make accurate predictions about which applicant will perform well on the job and/or which ones will remain with the company.
Usefulness of Assessments
Pre-employment assessments may increase the effectiveness of an organization through four avenues:
- Selecting more effective employees
- Improving retention
- Minimizing employee theft and other socially undesirable behaviours
- Increasing the effectiveness of the hiring process
What Do Assessments Measure?
Through proper use, pre-hire assessments will greatly increase hiring effectiveness as they improve the firm's ability to make precise, objective and accurate hiring decisions about an applicant's compatibility with the competencies required for a specific position. As an example, some of the competencies that may be measured using testing include:
- Ability to learn
- Attitude toward technology
- Basic literacy
- Customer service technical skills
- Drug use
- Flexibility of thought
- Job-related knowledge
- Math ability
- Mechanical aptitude
- Problem solving
- Sales potential
- Verbal ability
- Cognitive Ability and Intelligence - These are measures of learning capacity, scholastic aptitude, verbal reasoning ability, comprehension, memory, and reasoning style.
- Achievement Tests - These are measures of knowledge within academic subjects, scholastic skills (like reading and writing).
- Special Aptitudes and Abilities - These measure current performance or potential in special skill areas like mechanical aptitude, musical and artistic ability, and spatial abilities.
- Vocational Interest Tests - These are measures of interest in the activities, skill development and environments associated with various occupations.
- Personality Tests -These measure character 'traits' or personality patterns using either 'diagnostic' tests for measuring non-typical behaviour to define treatment, or 'development' tests measuring typical behaviour for making development plans or decisions.
- Job Simulations - A job simulation is a representation of some aspect of work that an individual would be expected to perform. A keyboarding skills test is an example of a job simulation that might be used to assess an applicant for an administrative position.
Four steps towards the correct use of assessments in the workplace are:
- Define requisite job competencies.
- For the most effective use of online testing, it is imperative that the job competencies are clearly defined. This includes the necessary skills, personality traits, integrity, and abilities (or intelligences) necessary for successful tenure. Typically, this is done through job analysis, which includes some form of the following steps:
- Interviewing incumbents and their managers to create a first draft of potential competencies.
- Confirming the information on the tentative list of competencies by way of customized questionnaires distributed to incumbents and managers.
- Analyzing the results to determine which competencies are necessary for the final list.
- Choose assessment based on job competencies.
Once the competencies have been accurately laid out, the assessment should be chosen based on the degree of overlap between the competency list and the areas the assessment evaluates. This is one of the greatest reasons for using a battery of tests to evaluate applicants. Success in any position is not merely a matter of possessing intelligence or personality or skills. To be successful in any position, a person must possess a minimum level in a number of areas, such as verbal ability, ethics, and certain personality traits. The evaluation of any human being is inherently complex and requires a sufficiently elegant and elaborate solution - a battery of tests to look at the whole applicant.
Standardize the application process.
The selection process must treat all applicants for a given position in the same manner. Ask the same questions. Ask them in the same manner and under similar conditions. Administer any assessments at the same point in the selection process. This is the only way to create as fair a selection process as possible for your firm and your applicants.
Use assessment results effectively and consistently.
Make sure you are provided adequate training so that you or your hiring managers can effectively and consistently interpret the assessment findings. This is essential so that hiring decisions are made on a consistent and equitable basis. All individuals making hiring decisions should have access to the same information on all candidates. If you have questions or concerns, put a call in to your test vendor for clarification. The high stakes involved in hiring decisions demand that it be done correctly. When pre-employment assessments are used properly, they offer a fair and unbiased selection system that benefits everyone. The company prospers as a result of more productive, reliable and honest employees. Applicants can benefit through increased job satisfaction due to an improved fit to their job.
Discrimination in Tests
How can you avoid discrimination in the use of Assessment Tests?
tart by Answering Questions About the Use of Test Results
- Exactly how will the test results be used?
- What kind of decisions are the results expected to influence?
Ensure Confidentiality and Privacy
- Who has access to the test results?
- Who will interpret the test results and are they qualified to do so?
- When and how will the feedback be provided to the applicant?
- What procedures are in place to protect the confidentiality of the results?
Obtain Informed Consent of Job Applicants
After you have clarified the situation as above, you might request a release of information form which states in writing what the purpose is and where the information will be going, which the individual may sign. Gather Feedback on Test Use and the Accuracy of Results in the Hiring Decision. You should request feedback from the test administrators and ask how that feedback will be conveyed. Test score numbers will be of little meaning in comparison to the overall interpretation, but how will the interpretation be communicated to the person?
Check for Test Bias
Before any tests are used they must be checked to ensure they are free of bias. There are a number of Employment Equity target groups which are often disadvantaged by the use of tests that are developed around norms for the standard population in Canada. Some of the target groups with whom caution must be exercised in using tests include those from a non English or French speaking background, those from different cultures, women, persons with disabilities and Indigenous Peoples. Tests used must be investigated prior to use to ensure the test norms included representation from people in the various populations mentioned.
A Word of Caution
Assessments tests are powerful tools, but not all tests are created equally nor are all people equally qualified to use them. If you have been relying on tests and have concerns about the judgments made about people based upon the testing, ask questions, ask for clarification. Results must be understood within the context of the purpose of the testing and your background and history.
If you are someone considering the purchase of a test or testing program for employee assessment, educate yourself about testing. Ask the test publisher to provide a technical manual so that you can read about how the test was developed and investigate the test's reliability and validity. Ask about whether the test is culturally fair and ask what norms are available for the test and whether these norms would be appropriate for use in your organization.
Be an informed test purchaser
Should you do the testing yourself or contract professionals? You have decided that you need to test job applicants in some way. Now, you must decide if you or someone in your company will do the testing, or if you will contract a professional organization for this purpose. A number of factors will likely affect your decision to go one way or the other.
|Checklist of Factors|
|Criterion or Factor||Max Point Value||My Point Value|
|Large number of applicants for the position with many having similar qualifications||2|
|Have to hire new employees fairly often, perhaps two or three times in a year||4|
|Could use testing to help in making decisions for existing employees as well as for job applicants||2|
|Costs of testing are likely to be a real constraint - need to go the least expensive root||4|
|Tests to be used are only of types 'A' and 'B'||6|
|Can take the time to learn about the tests needed||6|
|Want to be able to fully integrate the use of test results in the pre-interview screening and interview processes||2|
|Based on what I know now, am comfortable that myself or my company can do a reasonable job of the testing||4|
If the point values you gave yourself total 21 or more, consider undertaking the testing yourself. If less, perhaps you should explore the use of an employment assessment company.
Many job opportunities are never advertised. Often, little is known about these hidden job vacancies. Yet these positions continue to be filled regularly, through referral. Many companies implement formal employee referral programs to attract employees with valuable skill sets.
Employee referrals are a critical and valuable resource for identifying new and talented applicants. Your satisfied employees are the best public relations representatives that your organization can have. If they like their work, they will readily share this information. Good employees tend to know and refer others that have a similar work ethic to their own. Often, specialized employees in one field know others who are looking for work. Employees prefer to work with people they know. Encourage your employees to refer their friends to you.
Formalize your employee referral program by offering incentives and bounties to employees who refer people who are successfully hired for a certain time period. Incentives can take the form of a cash bonus or a finder's fee. Alternatively, offer a dinner for two or merchandise and gift certificates.
Employee referral programs deliver the following benefits:
- Potentially higher-caliber candidates Employees know people with similar skill sets, work ethic, and training backgrounds.
- Lower search costs Compare what an recruitment campaign costs versus an employee bonus program.
- Improved employee morale Reward and recognition makes employees feel good about working at your company.
Remember that there can be drawbacks associated with employee referral programs:
- Your pool of applicants shrinks This can decrease your chances of finding the right person for the job.
- Unqualified candidates You will have to interview all candidates, even those who are clearly unqualified.
- Employees are sometimes unreceptive Not every one is comfortable with the idea of recruiting their colleagues for profit.
- Cliques may develop
Some staff may feel excluded, or your staff might break into fighting factions.
Networking is a focused way of developing and building a broad list of contacts - people you have met through various social and business functions - and using them to your advantage when you need something. When you are trying to find an appropriate candidate for that hard-to-fill position, networking is critical.
The best place to start developing your network is with colleagues you meet at industry gatherings, such as trade shows and conferences. Also, contact past and present employees, professional associations, and social acquaintances. Ask your family, friends, and neighbors. Leave no stone unturned. The key to successful networking is applying the energy needed to have a successful outcome.
Promote from Within
A good candidate often exists within your organization. Giving current employees the opportunity to grow and change positions within your organization has its benefits:
- Increased job satisfaction and esteem for the promoted employee
- Shows others that the company recognizes and rewards excellence
- Reduces training and orientation time since current employees are already knowledgeable about your product and services
Do not overlook students who have successfully worked part-time or summer positions for you. Many educational institutions encourage students to do work terms or temporary assignments in organizations. If you find a talented student, invite them to come back when they graduate. Remember that there are many semi-retired people who also like to supplement their incomes by working part time, but are too shy to job hunt. Be creative!
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