Importance of a Job Description (JD) in a job interview process


This article aims to relate importance of a Job Description (in short JD) in an interview process for both recruiting managers as well as candidates. It also addresses benefits and drawbacks of having JD available beforehand for an interview both from interviewer and interviewee's perspective and finally hints how the candidate can interpret and use JD wisely for the interview.

Job Description (JD) definition and its necessity

I am sure most of you who have professional experience and have attended few job interviews will be very well aware about what a Job Description is. Still, let me reiterate. Job Description, nowadays popularly called JD, is nothing but point-wise description of skills, roles and responsibilities which is expected by a company for the particular position they are hiring for. So when an organization floats JD for any position, it will expect the candidate being interviewed to possess most of the skills (if not all) mentioned in the JD.

Question now comes why at all JD is required? Why not conduct interviews without JD for the position? After all the company will get to know the skills and experience of the candidate during interview rounds. Simple answer is that it is up to the company if they want to have JD available before interview or not but making it available to the candidates before interview shortlisting poses certain advantages to the company. In the same way, the candidate is also benefited by getting JD for the position he/she is applying. It would be worthwhile here to have a look at pros and cons of having JD in place for both employers as well as employees.

Benefits of having JD for an employer

  • From the employer's perspective, the very first purpose which JD serves is that it helps them to filter out candidates who are applying for the position as candidates will go through the JD given for the position and most likely only apply for the position if the skills mentioned in JD match their profile. Imagine if no JD had been there and only generic position title, for example "Senior QA role", had been mentioned. Then all possible candidates would have applied and it would really become difficult for the employee to filter out the resumes from such a vast pool. On the other hand if there is JD available, mentioning what particular skills and experience are required for QA role then candidates who do not fit the role are likely not to apply. Well, here also there are exceptions as many candidates apply for the position even if JD does not match but nothing can be done about this.

  • Second benefit employers can derive from having JD in place is that they can expect the candidate to study the JD before interview and this makes it easier for them and saves time during interview in explaining what is expected from the candidate. In this way the hiring manager, for example, can directly ask the candidate "Well, I hope you have gone through JD sent by HR properly. So now let me know how do you fit in there and how this role interests you."

  • Third advantage what I can think of is that if JD is in place, then the candidate will come to the interview being mentally prepared as regards to the expectations from hiring manager for the role he or she is being interviewed for. The candidate will not have any unrealistic expectation and suspense in mind as what kind of role it's going to be and will they fit in there.

Benefits of having JD for a candidate

Now let's shift our attention to advantages of JD from interview candidate's perspective and here it seems to pose one huge advantage as detailed below.

When a candidate gets JD before attending the interview or even before sharing the CV to the consultant or directly to company HR, it's a golden opportunity to tailor the CV, so as to reflect skills mentioned in JD as foremost and lay emphasis on them. This sometime makes it easy for the CV to get shortlisted for the interview. Also, as required skills and expected roles and responsibilities are mentioned in JD, the candidate can best use the JD to prepare for the interview and brush up those skills mentioned in JD. The candidate can also prepare answers to general behavioral questions as per the roles and responsibilities mentioned in the JD.

All this I feel would make the candidate a bit more confident and aware while attending the interview compared to case where no JD was there, which would keep candidate wondering as to what the hiring manager might be expecting from them. On the other hand, if a candidate finds that JD does not match his profile then he can straightaway decide not to apply for the position and save time as it will really not make sense to attend the interview if at all called and waste time and energy on something you know is not fit for you and you are not going to get through.

Drawbacks of having JD

But can having JD for the position sometimes become a drawback for either the candidate or hiring managers? Well, this looks to be an odd question but still let's deep dive and find out few possible drawbacks of having JD in place.

  • For the hiring managers, sometimes having JD for the position places them at a disadvantage because candidates will tend to highlight their skills and roles and responsibilities matching with the JD and so sometimes hiring manager may not get the real picture of the candidate. Candidate will always try to modify his/her answer as per the JD and try to hide the actual facts. For example a candidate may have earlier played a role of a manager in a previous organization where he might be handling only managerial responsibilities and not involved much into technical hands on contribution. Now if such a person is appearing for interview where the role is of individual contributor wherein he is expected to perform hands on role, then this candidate after seeing the JD for this position will try to modify his answers to the panel to show that even if he was a manager in previous company he spent good amount of time in hands on contribution while the truth might be that he was only performing managerial responsibilities. So candidate can always show that he has worked on the skill mentioned in the JD. Of course, he will be technically quizzed by the panel for whatever he says but it is always possible to prepare on the topic before interview on that particular skill and then satisfy the interviewer during the interview.

  • For the candidates one possible drawback I can see of getting JD beforehand is that it is possible for them to fall into what is called the "JD trap". Many companies do not frame the JD very seriously and they can just put some generic points in it so it may not necessarily mention what the role requires. It is also possible that what is mentioned in JD is not the prime requirement. It may be something else which is not mentioned in the JD. Some company purposely do it as they do not want candidate to come prepared as per the JD during interview and answer accordingly. They want to see the actual picture of the candidate as to what really he has done in his past company. So if a candidate solely prepares on basis of such kind of non specific or misleading JD then he or she is likely to spoil their chances during interview. So it is required that candidate should not blindly follow the JD given but should keep himself prepared in all areas. Yes, JD is for their guidance during interview but they should not solely depend on it.

Handling interview without a JD

Towards the end I would like to touch upon one more topic which is how to handle interview without a JD.

Yes, it's a reality. Many companies do not float JD at all for their open positions as either they are short of time or they do not want JD to be shared to candidate as there are chances of candidate manipulating their answers to suit the JD. Good companies always want to assess candidate during interview in a natural way and want to listen to what are the skills and responsibilities handled by the candidate in past in a very authentic way. They want true picture of the candidate in terms of their competencies.

So when JD is not available, the candidate should approach the interview very cautiously. Their answers should be well planned and thought out beforehand as any unexpected answer in terms of roles and responsibilities may lead to rejection. When asked about roles and responsibilities handled with no JD in place, the candidate's answer should be very balanced in terms of the different kinds of roles handled like managerial, technical, people management etc. It's always safe to reflect a wide variety of roles as nowadays companies are mostly looking for all-rounder candidates rather than ones who are skilled in particular area. In this case it is equally important to research the company website and their careers section. This would give the candidate a fair idea of what kind of competencies will be expected during the interview.

I will conclude with an example now -
Suppose a candidate is currently working as manager in his present company and is only handling people management and project management responsibilities with his involvement in technical hands on work almost nil. This candidate now appears for an interview where there is no JD given. Only thing told about the position is that it's a "Senior QA / Testing role". So definitely candidate would be confused here as to in senior QA role what is expected? Is it a managerial role or individual technical contributor role? How should this interview be handled now? In such situations, to be on the safer side, the candidate should convey himself or herself as a person who has been manager but handling both managerial and technical responsibilities equally well. They can give some proportion like 60% of the time into managerial and 40% into technical contribution. Technically sound persons and those who have hands on capabilities to do technical work are always valued by the companies nowadays as they can be an asset. So even if company is expecting managerial role, if candidate is also technically hands on it would be good value addition to the company.

Conclusion

To sum up, we can say that though JD may pose certain advantages to the candidate in terms handling the interview, it should not be something which the candidate should overuse and be too dependent on. While there is no harm in doing so, I would advise candidates to prepare on other areas outside the JD as well and not be over dependent on JD. If it's there, it's well and good and if not, there still it should not matter much. So to conclude, JD or no JD, it should not dictate your interview outcome; rather, the interview outcome should be dictated by your skills, your confidence and your presentation.


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