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People Management

Write a Better Job Description

By Wendy Werner

Why can’t we get hiring right? Why does the interview process so frequently fail? It’s not that you intend to misrepresent your job offering — or that candidates really want a job for which they will either be overqualified or over their head. When you make a bad hiring decision, it is usually because you don’t really know what you are looking for. What can you do to make sure the interview accurately reflects the nature of job and reveals the candidate’s suitability?

Figure Out What You Really Want — From Scratch

One of the biggest problems organizations have when they begin the hiring process is that they don’t know what they want. You may have a basic job description and a pretty good idea of what the person will be doing, but you probably lack clear consensus on the job’s priorities, including:

  • What skills are most important?
  • What tasks will take up most of the employee’s time?
  • What must the person know how to do to be successful?

Another common mistake is to write job descriptions to counteract the errors you made the last time you tried to fill the position (“No MBAs answering the phones!”), rather than affirmatively for the position you are trying to fill.

It is not enough to simply revise the job description you used last time. Start writing it from scratch. Use the drafting process to reach consensus before you post the job. Consider:

  • What does the firm need now?
  • What skills are required for the person to succeed in the position?
  • What activities will the person perform in the role?

This may not be as simple as it looks. For example, if the new hire will be working for multiple supervisors, each may have a different idea about what matters most.

Prioritize and Weight Job Requirements Before You Write the Job Description

Don’t stop once you agree on the job’s major responsibilities. Prioritize the skills and experience that you are looking for and indicate the weight that each set of requirements should be given. Six or seven generalized statements are not nearly as helpful as a prioritized list that shows the approximate percentage of time you expect to be spent in each area. This will help candidates decide if they are truly qualified for the position. And, it sets the stage for interviews that focus on the questions you have agreed are most important.

Taking the time upfront to create an accurate and detailed job description is likely to attract a better set of candidates for the job you really are looking to fill. It will help you to be more confident that you will be able to hire someone who truly meets expectations.

Categories: Law Firm Hiring, Law Firm People Management, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published May 25, 2011
Last updated February 9, 2020
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Wendy Werner

Wendy Werner was an acclaimed photographer, a sought-after career strategist and social justice advocate. A longtime career coach and practice management consultant at Werner Associates, Wendy most recently served as ArchCity Defenders’ founding board chair, stewarding the organization for over 12 years as it became an established force for justice in the St. Louis region. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and served on several ABA Law Practice Division boards, including as chair of the Publishing Board. Wendy died at her home in Saint Louis on January 3, 2022, after a long battle with cancer. She was 69.


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