Beware the killer job description

Sloppy job descriptions are hurting businesses and employees more than you ever thought possible. Here's how...

From time to time, I like to look at job postings. It’s like car crash TV to me.

My earlier post, titled “Why are so many job descriptions cut and paste catastrophes?  ” seemed to resonate with people, so I thought it was time to revisit the subject.

Job descriptions (JDs) have far reaching consequences. How they are framed dictates who applies, and in this age of numerous unhappy employees and busy recruiters, there’s rarely a shortage of applicants. Unfortunately, this flood of applications deludes employers into thinking their JDs are not a problem.

They are wrong. They are damaging their businesses every day. And in this post I will show you why.

Employers frequently moan not about the quantity but the quality of applications they receive. And I would push this right back at them and say they are largely responsible for this, not the job applicants.

Get the JD wrong, and everything else will go wrong...

JDs are frequently scrabbled together by a junior HR person and/or recruiter in a rush to meet some deadline or other. The hiring manager ‘approves’ it and the die is cast…

But there is a more critical aspect. A JD determines not only who applies, but also after the hiring decision is made, dictates what that person does from day to day. "That’s obvious", I hear you say, but if the way a JD is framed completely misunderstands how the job holder can add value to the business, the foundations are wrong. The daily work and focus is wrong, the job holder fails to achieve expectations, the employer loses out and everyone is disappointed.

And right now, there are few JDs which get this wrong more than digital marketing roles.
So here’s a real JD I took at random this morning for such a role. A few details have been changed to protect the guilty.

Let’s ignore the spelling and grammatical mistakes. Although these are also circumstantial evidence that insufficient care and thought has been applied to this task.

This firm is looking to employ a Digital Marketing Manager. Here’s the summary and the job holder’s responsibilities:

A rapidly expanding business is looking for a top flight Digital Marketing Manager to take on and develop a new role in this ever expanding company. This is a chance for a hands on practitioner to take on a more strategic role and make your mark in a senior management role.

From the off there is a dangerous assumption here. The assumption is that this ‘top flight’ (whatever that means) digital marketer is currently in a more junior role. And the terms ‘strategic… senior management role’ are used to tempt them into believing that this job could be their big career break.

In this case, I believe this is disingenuous as I shall explain if you read on…


* Devising strategies to drive online traffic to a portfolio of websites with a B2C, D2C and B2B activity

The first thing said is usually the most important. And unfortunately if this is the job holder’s biggest goal, they will be focused on pushing those numbers up. So what, isn’t that what they are supposed to do? No it’s not.

Effective digital strategies first and foremost are not about traffic numbers. They are about connecting with customers, not chasing clicks. They are about establishing a customer preference for us over our competitors. They are about building goodwill with customers, about understanding them better, about showing we care about them. If we reduce them to clicks that we count, we are travelling in the wrong direction from the get go.

Calling a task a strategy doesn't mean the role is strategic. Moreover, there is nothing in this JD which I would consider to be strategic. So you can see why I think there's something of a ruse going on here.

* Establish and track and optimise conversion rates Developing (sic) and managing digital marketing campaigns

There’s no such thing as optimising a conversion rate. Since most firms regard conversion rate as a quantification of enquiries to sales, these need to be maximised. ‘Optimised’ implies that we can have too much as well as too little. Nonsense. No business I have ever encountered has grumbled about too many sales.

Conversion is a stupid term to apply to digital marketing. ‘Outcomes’ is much better. If the FT shares our content, that’s a great outcome. If a hundred people love our tweet so much they retweet it, that’s also a great outcome. But if we are defining conversion as 'sales', these wonderful successes score zilch.

* Develop and implement strategies utilising a range of techniques including Email, Social Media, SEO, Affiliate and PPC

This is interesting. The firm seeks to leverage every channel available. Nothing wrong with that, but I sense here that this is all about numbers. We can get x clicks from this and y from that. We’ll measure and compare the cost per click and then do more of the cheapest and less of the most expensive. This is putting the cart before the horse. It’s the old throwing mud at the wall game…

* Working in conjunction with the corporate marketing team implement the social media strategy to support existing and new business opportunities

In my experience, most marketing teams have a chronic misunderstanding of the role that digital media should play in the strategy. I cannot prove this is the case here, but my guess is that the corporate marketing people will be expecting the digital marketing manager to be playing second fiddle to their client acquisition goals.

E.g. “Let’s tweet about our latest meeting with XYZ Corp because they are a potential client.”

"Erm…No. Let's not - their reputation is atrocious.”

* Managing online brand and product campaigns to raise brand awareness and increase revenue

A brand campaign functions to raise awareness. Period. It is therefore about growing the firm’s intangible assets. Its part of the balance sheet. Revenues appear on the P&L. The connection is indirect and impossible to connect. Attempting to do this is a waste of everyone’s time.

* Managing the updates of the company websites for Europe

Fair enough. But I wonder if these sites are multilingual? They should be…

* Improving the usability, design, content and conversion of the company website

Once again, here is evidence that the firm’s ideas about digital are all mixed up. Websites exist for a multitude of purposes. It’s sensible to have sales goals for an e-commerce site. It’s idiotic to set this as a goal for a corporate or B2B one…

* Responsibility for planning and budgetary control of all digital marketing

Fair enough, but I would have liked to have seen a specific statement that this job holder could have a voice in deciding exactly what these budgets should be.

* Evaluating customer research, market conditions and competitor data

Good. For once I like this! That said, because this is so important, it is disappointing that it appears so low on the list of tasks.

* Review new technologies and keep the company at the forefront of developments in digital marketing.

This is na├»ve and unreasonably optimistic. If you truly want to be on the bleeding edge of digital marketing, you’d better be prepared to invest a whole lot of time and money in wasted pursuits and blind alleys. This is counterproductive and a gamble which flies in the face of everything else on this JD.

* Stakeholder management. Both internal and partners

Okay. I know this is a cut and paste on most JDs. But please tell me what it means. Unless you do, I will assume it just means don’t p**s off the bigwigs.

What we have here is a recipe for everyone to be unhappy a few months after this hire is made. The new hire will be full of enthusiasm for their new ‘senior’ and ‘strategic’ job. They will set about driving all those extra clicks with every trick they know. They will probably succeed in pushing these up a bit too.

But the real value will fail to materialise, because they have been hard at work doing the wrong things. Because the JD tells them they must do these things and their appraisal will be measured against them.

They will become disillusioned. The firm will likely think, “We made a bad hire. And this digital stuff isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.”

And so it will all end in tears.

Davos is depressed this year, and we should be too

By Neil Patrick

Welcome to an exciting brand new year. What does 2016 have in store for us? Well the world's top economic, business and government minds are all in Davos to figure it out for us.

Here in the UK, despite the government crowing about the record number of ‘jobs’ it has created (actually this is only true if we count what I call the 'self-unemployed'), there’s no sign that many normal people actually feel much better about things. In the US, a similar pattern is occurring; a slight uptick in hirings, but a persistent deterioration of incomes.

From my perspective it's all been rather obvious for a long time now: the world is trapped in a vicious circle of low growth, low interest, low inflation and low hope.

In September 2014, the World Bank finally decided the global jobs crisis was more or less ‘official’ as I reported here. According to their estimates, the global economy needs to create a further 600 million jobs by 2030, just to keep pace with population growth.

16 months later, and this topic is now one of the main themes of the World Economic Forum at Davos. This week, the world’s elite in business, government and rather weirdly IMHO, entertainment (Bono, Will.I.Am, and Leonardo DiCaprio are there too), have all gathered in this swanky ski resort in Switzerland. Not surprisingly, no-one invited me or anyone I know.

Davos in Switzerland - Where the world's elites are this week

As the super rich engage in their own peculiar form of networking and schmoozing with their peers, the world’s stock markets are in turmoil, global investor confidence is tanking, interest rates seem to be stuck for at least another year, oil prices are in free fall and the wealth and incomes of ‘normal’ people are continuing to shrivel. Oh, and just to add insult to all this economic injury, here in Wales, it has been raining for the last 81 days…

But even the just modestly well-off are taking a hammering too as trillions have been wiped off stock values since the year began. Sir Martin Sorrel, chairman of U.K.-based advertising giant WPP was characteristically pragmatic saying:

"The new normal is a low-growth world"

Sorrell is worried that companies are not confident enough to invest in new projects that might create growth and jobs. Instead, they increasingly prefer to reward shareholders with dividend payments and share buybacks.

And consumers remain wary too; nearly eight years after the global financial crisis saw the collapse of many banking groups and triggered the deepest recession since World War II, many retailers have reported massively disappointing sales over the Christmas period.

But let’s not despair. Fortunately Swiss bankers UBS have come up with a 'keynote' report which deals with the main theme for this year’s Davos conference. It is titled excitingly, “Extreme automation and connectivity: The global, regional, and investment implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Well I was excited by it…

I don’t expect you to read it, but if you are as nosy as I am and have some spare time, here’s the link to it.

The mainstream media is busy not reading it much either, either because they are too dazzled by the parade of rich and famous people they are itching to photograph, or because for them this is just another reporting gig and careful reading of such things takes too much time when they have tight editorial deadlines to meet.

However anoraks like me do read such things. Very carefully.

In case you are not familiar with the who’s who of global private banking, let’s just summarize UBS’s resume. UBS is the biggest bank in Switzerland, operating in more than 50 countries with about 60,000 employees globally. It’s the world's largest ‘manager’ of private wealth assets, with over CHF 2.2 trillion in invested assets. In other words, it’s the bank of choice for the world’s super rich.

Swiss banks do not care about the likes of you and me. They do care about things like making friends with the rich, powerful and influential folk at Davos. They work hard at this (aka spending lots of money). And they apply a lot of their considerable reserves of brain power too. The term ‘establishing our thought leadership’ was doubtless bandied around their offices a lot as the work was being done on this report.

Over the years, UBS has built up an extensive corporate resume of what Wikipedia rather euphemistically call ‘controversies’. These include laundering Nazi holocaust assets, tax evasion in the US, France, Germany and Belgium, LIBOR rigging, bond market rigging, currency benchmark rigging, FOREX manipulation, rogue trading, misrepresenting mortgage backed securities, and illegal arms sales money laundering.

There is a full description of all these accomplishments and more on Wikipedia here.

In the interests of balanced reporting I should point out that UBS is ranked in the US as amongst the top 100 best places for mothers with children to work and invests significant sums in the arts and cultural sponsorships. In October 2013, UBS Wealth Management was voted the Best Global Private Bank by Professional Wealth Management, while also being recognised as the Best Private Bank for Philanthropy Services, and the Best Global Brand in Private Banking.

A Thomson Reuters survey ranked UBS number one in all three of the key disciplines of research: Research ; Sales and Equity Trading and Execution. UBS was also named as the number one leading pan-European brokerage firm for economics and strategy research.

I will let you form your own views about the question, ‘If UBS was a person, who would they be?’

The UBS report sets out to forecast the impacts of current trends in technology, markets, business and politics to provide a view of the economic outlook for different countries around the globe.

The introduction proclaims:

“Previous industrial revolutions have been driven by rapid advances in automation and connectivity, starting with the technologies that launched the First Industrial Revolution in 18th century England through to the exponential increases in computing power of recent decades. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is based on the same two forces. The first is extreme automation, the product of a growing role for robotics and artificial intelligence in business, government and private life. The second, extreme connectivity, annihilates (interesting choice of verb – Ed.) distance and time as obstacles to ever deeper, faster communication between and among humans and machines.”

So far, so what? If you have been alive and awake at all in the last few years, this is as obvious as the fact that night follows day. And as anyone who has followed this blog from the beginning knows, I have being banging on about this for over three years.

They continue:

“These changes will have very different effects on nations, businesses and individuals. Automation will continue to put downward pressure on the wages of the low skilled and is starting to impinge on the employment prospects of middle skilled workers.”

It isn’t starting guys, it’s been happening for the last ten years at least (But I know, you’ve been a bit distracted).

But wait, there’s good news (sort of):

“By contrast the potential returns to highly skilled and more adaptable workers are increasing.”

Interesting that the word ‘potential’ is used here. This is a word bankers love, because it’s a get out of jail free card. “Highly skilled and adaptable” is also code for willing to move anywhere, accept work on any terms and be able to do the work at a pace and level of excellence beyond our that of our peers. Good news for all you wunderkinds. Not such good news for everyone else.

“Among corporations, a wide range of traditional businesses – especially those that act as intermediaries – can be expected to suffer. Many labor-intensive firms should be able to boost profit margins as they substitute costly workers for cheaper robots or intelligent software (my emphasis).

Now we are getting to the real problem. So called “traditional businesses” are ones that have successfully grown over many decades and employ(ed) lots of people. And yes, they are shrinking, automating and collapsing faster than ever. Those that are still alive are seeking to slash costs and boost profits through more and more deployment of technology.

But don’t worry, it’s all going to be okay because:

“… a range of entirely new companies and sectors will spring into existence. For nations, the largest gains from the Fourth Industrial Revolution are likely to be captured by those with the most flexible economies, adding a further incentive for governments to trim red tape and barriers to business.”

The key to economic success for nations and individuals alike in the future is flexibility. I agree with UBS on this point. But this is also where the whole hopeless vision falls apart. Because we can’t even keep up with the pace of tech change today, let alone tomorrow; as anyone familiar with Moore’s Law also knows, these changes are only going to accelerate.

How many Ubers, Googles, Trip Advisors, Air B’n’Bs does it take to create just a million jobs? Every single one of these ‘disruptive innovators’, (or whatever MBA style label you wish to put on them), ‘work’ - at least for a short time - because they need very few employees relative to their revenues and capital. Unlike traditional businesses, their capital is not in human assets, it is in tech assets. Robots are not paid a salary. And they don’t go shopping.

Worse, the traditional industries that they disrupt are people heavy. It’s a double whammy of the job-lite businesses destroying the job-heavy ones. This is the horrible economic reality of disruptive business models.

And neither UBS nor any commentator I can find, has any practical remedy for this cannibalization of jobs. The only glimmer of hope is that as costs of living continue to fall, the strangulation of household incomes will effectively be loosened.

The trouble is that achieving this flexibility is fraught with difficulty. And making it happen quickly enough is almost impossible when we consider the different speeds at which technology and our people, organisations and institutions are capable of moving.

UBS can see that they will do very nicely if their vision or anything like it actually materialises. There will be many more super rich in the world, but also a great many more who used to be comfortable, becoming very uncomfortable. The first group matters to UBS. The rest of us do not.

Happy New Year.