Thursday, 3 July 2014

What do you actually do?

I have a terrible time with forms that ask me what my occupation is. I do a lot of things that (to a greater or lesser extent) earn me some money but I usually say that I'm an interactive media and database consultant. That works apart from when the form is full of drop-down menus and I have to fit it into someone else's idea of an employment taxonomy.

According to Richard Branson; when asked, Google's Larry Page said "I help people find things". Good description of the original core business there while not being particularly all-encompassing: but certainly short and very sweet. Richard didn't say what he does, probably because the list is too long, but he did ask for user comments. The first one on the page is one I particularly like: photographer Conni Freestone simply wrote "I capture memories & preserve moments". Lovely.

That got me thinking about job descriptions. What lies behind that shorthand title. The UK government, of course, has a standard list. They're very interesting to read, and well thought out. I looked at the one for web developer (a Word or ODT file).

There are skills and requirements, a brief raison d'ĂȘtre for the post and job responsibilities. This last list is particularly interesting because it contains these two items alongside the kind of competencies you'd expect for such a job:
  • Being involved in the wider web development community, identifying good practices we can adopt and sharing our experiences
  • Sharing knowledge of tools and techniques with the wider team, both developers and non-developers
So you're expected to keep in touch with the outside world and to share your knowledge internally. I approve.

Another set of sample job descriptions comes from Kate Matsudaira on the Dice web site (June 19 2014). These are more conversational than the British ones but no less interesting. The key, as Kate points out, is that "A great description can not only help boost the quantity and quality of your applicant pool, but attract candidates that are a good cultural fit for your organization.".

Similar advice comes from Business 2 Community (June 24 2014). They agree with Kate about including the company's culture in your thinking but also point out that you must "Use the most searchable job titles that the right candidates are most likely to search for". In other words, considering what the role is known as within the industry. I would add 'outside' as well - might as well cover all the bases - but if it's experienced people you're after then the insider name will be important. There is a slight risk, especially with new kinds of job, that the title might not have settled down, so do your research to find out. Ideally you should be able to ask your existing staff, especially if they have been "involved in the wider web development community".

So we come, briefly, to the Register ... a regular haunt of mine. They're looking for a sub-editor (July 3 2014), noting that "this is not a job for those with overly delicate sensibilities" but that the applicant should have "an affinity for the noble art of tabloid-style headline writing". That's my boy!

And finally ... what is the best job description? I once read a suggestion (I think by C Northcote Parkinson ... he of Parkinson's law) that the ideal job advertisement should only attract one applicant, and that person would be the ideal person for the job. This was illustrated by a sample advertisement for a security guard (or thereabouts). After several requirements it ended with words to the effect that candidates should attend for interview at a certain gym at 3 o'clock in the morning ... and bring their own boxing gloves.

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