The description dance

industry, job market, job descriptions, and recruitment
Mary Poppins, 1964

Disclaimer: what follows is a set of disturbing personal observations and disturbing personal ideas. Reader discretion is advised… I guess.

This past month I’ve been thinking about a subject that is dear to everyone in the Testing craft (and likewise in the Development craft)… I sincerely think it’s “dear” to all of us:

Job descriptions

Also known as the beginning “stepping stones” of most of all adventurous roads towards a chance at working with that next company or project that we all day-dream about.

Why is it that every job description looks the same?

I’m sincerely lead to believe, based on personal experience, both mine and of colleagues I work with, that almost all job descriptions have the same (or similar) “lorem ipsum” generated text.

Speaking for example as a tester, I can at least confirm the following: Be it for a “QA Engineer”, or a “QA something”, these descriptions are lengthy, look the same and never seem to explain important and singular details.

They change a bit sometimes. Maybe the title is slightly different. Maybe in Company A they like programming language Y or W better and use automated checking libraries related to that. Maybe they use some weird flavor of NoSQL persistence solution for their projects. Maybe the application under test is some set of APIs built with some commercial famous and amazingly perfect framework that has its own tens of thousands of extremist followers. Or maybe the application is built on some opensource state machine-like library to process tons of messages asynchronously. Maybe they want testers to use a generic but famous automated checking framework, that requires no lines of code and works by connecting pictures of funny cats instead because they read it’s cool on a 2011 advertisement in the form of a blog post in a famous website. Who knows for sure.

The point is - the descriptions “feel” the same. For Startups. For massive companies. You get this feeling that they’re all a blob of homogeneous redigested and repurposed text. A homogeneous text that I as a potential candidate will consistently ignore and skim through, the same way maybe IT sourcers will skim through candidates CVs, and in the same quick and abrupt fashion a good adblocker will block “blue-pill” ads.

Like with an adblocker, I’m a bit “afraid” to admit: the candidates don’t care.

There are just too many possibilities for not caring. For example, I’m going to try to express in a more crude, down-to-heart, close to the heart way, what I think many of us, both the caring, loving, passionate, honest and also the “dress-the-shirt”, the greedy and the mercenary developers and testers might think, from a candidate’s perspective:

Life is incredibly short for the most of us, and for a lot of the geeks who do most of the practical keyboard-typing, be it alone or in diverse groups, it is short for us to care deep within our souls about these topics. We might always say and pretend we care. But at the end of the day: our souls don’t give a pencil about all that, we’re more worried about life.

Most of us, say, the potential candidates: the people who are the geeks, or the nerds, or the techies, or the n00bs, or the oppressed, or even the privileged, to the core of our souls:

Pssst, and I think we DEFINITELY care about money, more than we’re most times willing to openly and publicly admit, at least to a point where we’re mature and money is no longer the pressing “survival” issue in our lives.

At the end of it all, and again, this is based on personal observations, it appears to me that a lot of recruiters or people in charge of recruiting or making job descriptions are missing these crucial points, by practically still bombarding us with the aforementioned dull job descriptions, and maintaining the trend for years.

If it’s all the same, why do we still abide by it?

You want to know how we as job candidates do it? How we currently tackle this part of the “job hunt” lifecycle?

I believe, precisely measured with my finger in the air, it goes a bit like this (for the most of us, for a part of our lives):

We open the job description. We quickly search for a few keywords. We may like it. If we do, we open the candidate form - and if the form is not a piece of trash that doesn’t force us to register and manually input every single tiny thing we’ve already compiled into a pdf file that is our resume and also in our LinkedIn accounts, we will, painfully, fill out the form, and hopefully we’ll get a good, precisely measured with a finger in the air, chance of getting a good automated answer back, just for starters.

And this dance is going on while some smart folks are already profiting from the idea that “the big bucks” are to be made on using the fact “our interest/attention” is cultivated and captivated through simple “fight/flight” like designs: you swipe in a direction if you like, and in another if you don’t. But for some reason, it seems for this section within tech recruitment, “job descriptions”, be them in a static page, or one of those same-old Linkedin direct messages, we’re still stuck in unnatural and inhumane ways of reaching out, of presenting, of “selling a job role”.

Interested candidates, whom will later in stages be considered fit or unfit based on some tiny set of criteria that is almost never properly underlined and transparent in a lot of job descriptions - they don’t practically care about the job description: they just want the juice. “The good stuff”.

We don’t read job descriptions. We open one up, then a few seconds later we open another tab on the browser:

1) We go through Glassdoor and other sites and see if the reviews for the company are any good. We skip most of the good reviews. We want to see the bad ones, with the same intent and desire we get hooked watching a criminal documentary: we want the ugly details, so we can see if the down-to-earth honest details of a company environment are just about decent enough that we can tolerate being there and working with the other party.

2) Next, we go see and investigate some more on those websites and we track down the salary that people who work or have worked there say they usually earn for the kind of role we’re applying.

That’s it. Those are the main things we do.

Then if the company is “lucky”, we will search a bit more, to understand if we can live with knowing the evil things the company does overall (Examples: have there been massive layoffs in the past? Is the software product the company is releasing made and coded via evil means? Is the company taking a dump on humanity, for example, making something like privacy more dead? …).

Optionally, we might search for Twitter or Linkedin profiles of “influencers” who seem to “keep-it-real”, and who work or have worked in those companies, to see if we feel we identify with their personas.

Those I believe, from experience, are the main points of any flow any typical prospective candidate might take.

But it doesn’t mean we like or love the way all of this is processed. I feel we’d be better off with job descriptions that respect what the candidates are drawn towards, based on the core of themselves and how they breathe and live:

Simplicity

Keep it simple. We don’t want a 2-page job description that everyone seems to be using. And tell us the truth from the start - even if it’s an ugly truth. Just three (3) small paragraphs would do for me:

“But some parts of the truth are not sexy!”

Yes… but, do you really want to conceal the truth? Take into account that what you hide in the description - will only stay hidden in your “recruitment documentation and mind”. You’re setting a tone for the way truth is held in the company, without even realizing it. Plus, people are already spilling out the ugly truths via any communication means to other people who you want to be hiring, it’s a matter of time, so don’t waste time, just be plain honest, and straight to the point.

Humanity

Job descriptions are a lot of times our (the candidates) “first” impressions. So besides keeping it simple - make it relatable.

Give the job descriptions a truthful humane face. For example

here’s Jim and here’s Catty - they’re not pretty supermodels, they are regular folks, and they are some of the real human beings who you’d be working with or reporting to, and this is what they like the most and what they like the least about working with this company and this project.

That’s a 2-minute youtube video that can be recorded, edited and published in less than an afternoon. Done. You will have captured our interest as job candidates just enough that eventually the fish you want to capture in your net will be there waiting, eagerly ready to overlook the less good side of things and work with you on your projects. Another human being can speak so much more to humans than any words, slogans, pictures or standard promotional videos we’re constantly bombarded with every time we connect to certain (anti-)social media.

That humane factor is, I believe, part of why we’re firstly so much more attracted to the negative reviews about a potential future employer: as human beings we complain all the time about problems, it’s one of the few things we can relate with each other the most, no matter the culture or any other differences, if people say something like “management is incompetent or sits in high towers” - we are more inclined to believe something like that as being closer to the crude truth and reality of that potential employer than tens of positive comments saying “it’s awesome working here”.

Money: don’t waste anyone’s time

A lot of good companies, both big and small, are already doing this: Be up-front about “the money”.

The candidates who are “a good fit” (and also the ones who are less good) for your project will find out about the money question one way or the other before you even start calculating if the offer you’ll make them fits in the budget just nicely enough so… upper management can get a new car. Just kidding.

Most of us, the candidates, might be dumb on a lot of matters, but we’re not fools every time. We’re connected and our connections tend to expand. We don’t care about NDAs when we’re recommending (or not) a certain company to our friends. And the money values are already circulating the coffee pauses, Reddit, glassdoor, etc. before you can read out loud the first few characters of “fast-paced environment”.

Put the salary ranges there on the job description. Yes, right there. Don’t be afraid. We don’t care if you have the coolest office ever, or if you’re super duper respectful remote-only company - we want to know the same thing you want to know yourself: will we afford our current spending habits? Will we be able to have new ones? Will we be able to save some money after?

Bear in mind we, geeks and techies and testers and developers: we can’t buy food and clothes with pats on the back or some meta-sector-leadership words of order. Money is a key, if not the key, in our decision process to, for instance, send that “candidate form” over to you.

Wrapping up

Now, full disclosure: I’m not a “tech/IT recruiter”.

This just to say: I’m pretty sure about what I like, and what I would like, and I would like for job descriptions to be more straight to the point and way more humane, since life is too short for going through email “job” spam on Linkedin and other websites that most of us in the IT world have to deal with.

What I like may not be the same for everyone. But the fact myself and so many others are “marching” along with the status quo and the industry trend of something so simple and dull that is the “job description” issue, and of how we go through the birth of a single recruitment process, at the very least, made my technical and creative self want to share my experience and dreams and ideas in this post.

I mean no disrespect to anyone, and I sincerely hope that by reading this, I might have given you some food for thought and for discussion and new ideas. Who knows, this is a pebble for someone in a good direction.

Take care and thanks for reading!