A key employee has just given notice.
How do you assure you hire the very best replacement?

Most of us would start by dusting off the old job description, giving it a quick update, and posting it on a job board. A good job description serves an important purpose in that it defines the role and primary functions and duties for the position, clarifies reporting relationships and responsibilities, and outlines the key skills and abilities required. Education, experience, and technical skill requirements are also spelled out. But the job description doesn’t help you find the best employee because it doesn’t specifically address current realities.

To find the best employee, you need to be clear about job expectations. Examples might be targets for a new salesperson you will be counting on to expand into a new geographic area or industry; a new manager to revitalize a struggling team or inspire new, high-potential employees; or to gain efficiencies by spearheading operational improvements. To get the best new employee, you need to be clear about your job expectations and factor them into screening and interviewing procedures. These are the things you will use as measurements in future performance reviews and they will impact decisions about promotions and terminations.

How do I define job expectations?

  • Begin by defining your culture as it is today and whether it is what you want it to be. How does this role contribute to supporting your current culture or moving it where you need it to go?

  • Consider your current business goals and challenges. For each item, establish specific measurements for minimally acceptable and exceptional performance. Example: Improve through-put in your department by at least 8 hours, and any gain above 12 hours is ‘exceptional’.

  • Consider current problems with staff and customers. What would the ideal person in this role do to eliminate or reduce those problems? Example: reduce turnover, improve customer retention, or improve wallet share.

  • Think about what your best (or ideal) employee accomplished; quantify what they produced or facilitated that made them so valuable to you. Example: they worked independently and did not require constant feedback.

  • Think back to past performance reviews. Write down the opposite of the problems you discussed. Example: if the development of team members has been an issue, write, “Reduce your team’s turnover rate by __ and improve the productivity of your team by __.”

  • Think about things that are important to you about this role; things you often think of or complain about to your colleagues but have never written down. Do it now!

  • Review the job description. For each responsibility or requirement, describe in your own words “minimally acceptable” standards and “exceptional” outcomes.

Defining job expectations brings other benefits

This list is meant to spur your thinking about how to be more thorough in defining the role for which you are hiring. It is important for two reasons:

  1. Your list of job expectations gives you specific things to discuss during the interview and defines standards for testing the candidate.
  2. The successful candidate won’t be surprised during their first performance review. They know exactly what you expect and how you define success. Retention and productivity will both improve.

It’s essential to have a complete and current job description that accurately describes the job and its requirements, and a complete and thorough list of job expectations that measures the required performance. With both pieces of information in hand, you will be able to develop a targeted advertisement and useful questions or exercises for screening and interviewing candidates.

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