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The Position Description

The purpose of the Position Description is to provide a detailed analysis of the position so that an outsider, such as an executive recruiter or an interviewer, can grasp the purpose of the position, how it fits within the organizational structure, the key responsibilities, preferred personal attributes, salary range, benefits, and career path. Think of this document as a bigger picture or a 30,000 foot level description. External executive recruiters will always want to start by preparing a Position Description (they may call it a Position Specification) but you want them to use what you prepare so you can hold them accountable. Be willing and flexible to add or modify content if they suggest changes.

Whether you will be conducting the entire recruiting process internally or using external recruiters, you will be able to take better control of the overall recruiting process if you create this document yourself.  If you plan to engage an executive search recruiter to conduct a search for candidates, they will tell you they will prepare the Position Description for you. My advice, having managed an executive search firm for several years, is the company needs to take direct responsibility for preparing the Position Description. This document will be a critical tool that interviewers, potential candidates, and external recruiters will use to understand the role within the organization.

Assign the responsibility for completing this document to someone within the organization who can coordinate with others at a senior level and make sure it gets completed within a reasonable time. Your Position Description should include the following:

1. The Company

Describe the company, its products, market, and its position in the industry in comparison to its competitors. (Make sure the words are consistent with how you would describe it in a marketing context. Do not include proprietary information that you would not want others to see in print.)

2. Location

Describe the location of the company and separately for the position, if it is different. If appropriate, include any pluses or minuses about the location. Mention other locations that might be of interest to a prospective candidate.

3. The Position

State the position title along with a conceptual title for the position if it is not obvious, such as:

  • VP – Finance and Administration is the company’s chief financial executive.
  • Regional Sales and Marketing Director with full responsibility for the company’s sales and marketing in the [define the region].

Since organizations often use different titles for similar positions in other companies, this helps others gain a clear understanding of the role and the breadth of responsibilities.

4. The Position’s Mission

Describe the purpose or mission of the position in a paragraph. Why does the position exist or what purpose does the position fulfill. The mission needs to be conceptual, not a list of specific tasks. This paragraph may force you to take a step back to be able to describe what the organization needs this position to accomplish.

5. Reporting Relationships

Identify who this position reports to, peer positions, and the direct and indirect positions that report to this position. Include numbers as appropriate so others will understand how this position fits within the organizational structure and the magnitude of the role.

6. Expectations

List senior management’s expectations that the person needs to accomplish with clearly-defined milestones. Add only the most important tasks that are critical to success in the position. You will want to prepare a separate more detailed job description reflecting time expectations that you can share with only those short-listed candidates you are seriously considering.

7. Experience

Describe the critical skills and experience you believe a candidate must have to be successful in the position. If you will have a preference for candidates with additional skills and experience or you would consider candidates with other skills and experience, list those separately. Don’t insist on including X number of years experience because that criteria will be different for each person depending on how and to what extent they gained that skill or experience. Your interviews can probe the extent of their skills or experience.

8. Qualifications and Certifications

List specific qualifications, certifications and education that candidates must possess to be considered. Follow that with those that “would be nice if they had them.”

9. Personal Characteristics

List the personal characteristics or traits you think candidates must possess to be successful in the position and be able to adapt to the company’s culture. Identify issues or challenges the new person will confront that require those personal characteristics. Recruiters and interviewers will need this information to explore whether candidates possess those characteristics or be able to screen out those who have not dealt with those issues in the past. These will all be soft skills so you will need to include the context in which they need that skill. Saying “Good communication skills” will not be appropriate unless you include the context in which they will need that skill.

10. Compensation

Describe the salary range and other forms of remuneration, such as allowances, bonuses, stock options, employee benefits, etc.

11. Future

Describe the career path for the position and the company’s procedures for performance reviews.

12. Other Issues

Describe any other issue that might affect someone’s interest in the position or may be a factor in their accepting the position. Outstanding legal cases, funding shortfalls, refinancing considerations, relocation, management reorganization, or a potential change in ownership must be disclosed.

Finalizing the Position Description

When you have completed a draft of the Position Description, review it with the person this position will report to and with those peers who need to interact with the new person. Make sure there is a consensus that it accurately describes what they think the business needs and does not disclose any proprietary information that you would not want those outside of the organization to read.

How to Use the Position Description

If you will be working with external recruiters, give them a copy so they will have a clear and mutual understanding of the organization’s expectations. You will want them to clarify any questions or concerns they might have before you decide to engage them. Giving them the Position Description means you can now hold them accountable for presenting only those candidates they have determined have the skills, experience and attitude that match what you want. The interviewers will need a copy and will need to be familiar with its contents so they will be able to respond appropriately to questions from candidates. They should not, however, share a copy with candidates.