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Part 2: Compelling Position Descriptions = Compelling Candidates

Over the past twenty years, I have worked with hundreds of organizations seeking to hire senior leaders. Most of my clients are colleges and universities, and I am retained because my clients think that, on their own, they will not be able to attract the best pool of candidates: a pool that possesses the talent, experience, credentials, and personality that will advance the institution’s goals.

My clients are making a good investment in retaining me: a good search consultant is a proactive researcher who identifies the top talent in the field and aggressively networks and woos that talent, converting prospects into candidates. A search consultant understands that it is not about hiring, it is about recruiting.

A good search consultant is also a good “story teller,” who prepares and communicates a compelling narrative about the hiring institution, the position, and the opportunity.

Oftentimes when I begin work on a search I am handed the “position description,” a detailed outline of job responsibilities and qualifications the institution is seeking. These descriptions usually include phrases like:

  • Manage daily activities to ensure work flow within the office is efficient and priorities are known
  • Provide vision and direction
  • Ensure effective communication
  • Effectively balance projects using time management skills

Most of the time, the position descriptions provide very little in the way of context for the role. Sometimes the description fails to mention the reporting structure, so that candidates would not know to whom they would report or how many staff they would supervise. In my experience, institutional position descriptions fail to mention goals or projected outcomes for the position.

The descriptions very often have a laundry list of required and desired qualifications. I have seen requirements like “the candidate must be able to navigate difficult relationships and competing demands, while reducing costs and improving morale.

As a search consultant, I help a client prepare an interesting, attractive position description that tells a story: about where the institution is at this point in time; that describes why this is an important hire; that explains how this person will be both valued and supported, and to show how the position is a great opportunity to consider.

A well crafted position description is a first, and very important step in attracting a great candidate.

Part 1: Storytelling and the Candidate Interview

Last summer, while vacationing on Nantucket, I was looking around for something to do on a rainy day when I read a vague listing in the local paper for a storytelling workshop to be held that morning. Curious, I showed up at the workshop location to find out that it was being offered by The Moth. I also learned that it was an eight hour class to be held over two weeks, culminating in a story slam in front of a live audience. Over the course of the two hours, I went from being completely convinced I would not participate to being totally committed that I would do it – including the performance…..in front of a live audience……under the lights…..with a mic.

The workshop was one of the best experiences of my life. Storytelling, The Moth way, is very personal – you are the central character of your story. It is spontaneous – there is never a script and no telling is ever the same. Done well, it can move an audience to tears, or laughter, or to a deep place of reflection. An expert storyteller is his or her authentic self, sharing in vivid detail something that really happened, and the learning – the aha moment – that resulted.

As a search consultant to higher education institutions for the past twenty years, I have prepared many, many candidates for interviews with search committees. In addition to the usual advice about dressing professionally and doing their homework about the hiring organization, I also encourage candidates to have a few stories “in their back pockets.” I advise them to reflect on their professional accomplishments and workplace challenges and to think of those examples in terms of stories. At the Moth workshop, I learned that five or six minutes is a good length for a story; in an interview setting three minutes is probably about right. You need enough time to provide some context and background, then move into the meat of the example, and a minute or so for reflection – what did I learn; how did I grow; how did I help my organization to succeed? An interview story is not a time to share intimate personal details, but it is an opportunity to show your authentic professional self. A well-thought-through, clearly presented, and properly delivered story can clinch an interview. Check out storytelling tips on the Moth website, and try to adapt them to your next interview situation.

Part 2 – next installment: To get the right candidates, organizations need to tell their story the right way, too.