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 naïve 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.


  1. hahaha.. This is so great! Some JD's are really like that great looking vehicle crashing on a slippery road! Great tips.. just made my morning!Thanks Neil..

    1. Thank you Donna-Luisa. So pleased I gave you a laugh this morning. Somewhere there's a quote about comedy and tragedy being different sides of the same coin...but I can't recall it just now! ;-)

  2. Great tips on job description. Very informative and awesome.