Career Advice, Interviews

Unqualified? Don't Believe The Job Ad

At coffee with a headhunter friend of mine, I was railing about idiotic job postings. “Can you imagine Jane that a company would post a job ad for a VP of Sales, and include in the posting, ‘Must have Salesforce.com experience?'”

A VP of Sales has the company’s future riding on his or her shoulders. Who would say to a Sales leadership candidate brimming with talent and gusto, “Your background is great and we love your approach, but you don’t have Salesforce.com experience, so forget it.” ?

You could teach the Sales VP how to use Salesforce.com in half a day. It’s incomprehensible that an employer would let a trivial item like that be a yes/no gate in a hiring process.

My friend Jane one-upped me with her story. “Listen to this,” she said. “I was sitting in a client’s office last week, while the client typed up a job spec to give me. One of her co-workers walks up to her office, leans in and says ‘Don’t forget to include SPL certification in that job spec.’ My client looks up from her keyboard and says “What the heck is SPL certification?” The guy standing in her doorway says “You got me, but it seems to be the hottest thing in our field.” The guy didn’t even know what the certification stood for, but by gosh, he wanted one!”

Job spec-writing is just as broken as every other part of the recruiting-and-selection process. Job specs represent some of the worst writing to be found in contemporary American life, worse than the text messages my teenagers fling about and my seven-year-old’s hand-lettered tattoos.

It’s shocking how badly we describe what we need when we sit down to write a job spec.

Instead of talking about what’s really going on in our companies and our departments, we start listing skills and requirements, and we don’t stop. “Let’s say that the ideal candidate should speak Greek, tap-dance and have a taxi driver’s license,” says some manager with too much time on his hands, and we do. We think we can ask for the world, and the universe will magically supply candidates to fulfill our wishes.

How Can Jobseekers Get Beyond Job Ad Specifications?

I advise jobseekers not to focus their efforts on addressing the items in job specs. They’ve got to shoot higher. Most of what’s in the job spec is made-up garbage. Some of it came from HR, and some of it came from the job spec that was sitting on someone’s hard drive, left over from the last time this job was filled. We can’t write our resumes and cover letters with the job spec in mind. We’ve got to focus on something bigger: the pain behind the job ad.

Let’s say the job spec says: “Inventory Control Specialist. Experience in SPL, JXQ and WTF essential.” HR screeners will be screening for those acronyms, so we’ll avoid those screeners and write directly to the hiring manager. We’ll find his or her name on LinkedIn or by Googling the company name plus

the boss’s most likely title. In our Pain Letter, we’ll talk about the pain, not the goofy job spec. For example the pain letter could read:

“Congratulations on your new distribution deal with Able Electronics. “I can imagine that your new, national distribution is putting pressure on your talented Inventory Control team. When I was at Agile Systems, we had to build a national warehousing program from scratch, and got it done in four months to keep our products on retailers’ shelves throughout the holiday shopping season. We earned $25M in incremental revenue that year.”

Forget the fussy job-spec requirements, and forget the Black Hole of HR. Companies are full of hiring managers, regular people like you with real problems that you can help them solve. Don’t be cowed by the alphabet soup and the lists of impossible qualifications in the job ads you see. Look just beyond them, and you’ll see people in pain who need your help.