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Job description etiquette: Please don’t ‘just guess’

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Job description – Companies looking to hire engineers and scientists regularly hamper their own efforts with clumsy mistakes and downright idiocy in job descriptions. Here are some common blunders to avoid, writes Erin McDermott


Rumors indicate that job openings are starting to rebound in physical product development. From R&D to manufacturing, my sources say they see an uptick in activity. I myself was recently flooded with engineering referral requests. That’s all great news! On the other hand, the disastrously worded job descriptions for which I’m asked to make referrals also abound.

So consider this column an open letter to those recruiters, human resource representatives and managers who don’t understand nerd tools: I beg you, on behalf of all the other nerds, engineers and scientists, please put in a tiny bit of extra effort.

Don’t worry, though – what I ask isn’t hard! The biggest, most glaring mistakes you folks make can be resolved with a simple search engine query. For example, how is that tool that we use spelled? Are you sure about that? No, but are you 1,000% sure?

Most of these jobs for which I’ve been asked to help find pros require experience in tools that don’t exist. I’m sorry, but I don’t know anyone fluent in ‘catiav 5’ or ‘Light Tools’ or ‘Zeemax’.

As a human, I can sometimes suss out that Catia V5, or LightTools, or Zemax is what was actually intended – but a search engine cannot. So when the pro you’re looking for types in the correct spelling of the software that they use every day on a job board, the post you created with a phoned-in level of effort will not pop up.

Aside from conveying disrespect for our treasured tools, with which we have a sacred love-hate relationship, your misspellings additionally make you ineffective! Fixing these errors after Googling a fat-fingered spelling you invented would be a giant leap in the right direction. Now, if you’re ready to attempt advanced levels of job post writing, read on.

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Warning: Exclusion zone ahead

While the above instructions will help you to reach the pros you intend, are you inadvertently doing things that exclude who you want from your organisation?

For example, it would be nice if you’d take into consideration the bounds of the space-time continuum when stating required experience in a tool. It is difficult, if not impossible, for most humans to have more years of experience in a thing than there have been years that the thing existed.

I even heard a story of an engineer being turned down for a job because he didn’t have enough years of experience in the tool that he himself created!

If, however, you wish only to employ intergalactic beings, I request on behalf of other humans that you state this clearly at the top of your job post.

Next, when a specific tool proficiency requirement didn’t originate from someone who actually knows how to use that tool, are you sure you need it? Might you be asking for a skill that could be irrelevant?

I see some companies specify proficiency in tools that I would never purchase for the work they need. They specify the worst choice! That’s why I advise either talking to a technical expert to understand your project’s needs or omitting that made-up requirement altogether

Yes, the answer to that last question is ‘yes’, in case it wasn’t clear.

Often, I see companies ask for credentials they don’t need. Someone heard in a meeting once that someone else said Tool X was “the best,” whatever that means. From there, the job post creator decides that the pro that they hire must have experience in Tool X, without even knowing what the tool does.

Job description – Please don’t ‘just guess’

These kinds of mandates might actually prevent you from hiring someone who has expertise in a tool that’s much more suited for your application! Different tools are used for different industries, niche specialties, stages of production and volumes. If you don’t understand how the tools on the market align with your development, don’t guess.

This is the same for 3D design as it is for optical engineering and other specialties. Some software can be used to hack a multitude of things; other tools you would never use for certain applications. I see some companies specify proficiency in tools that I would never purchase for the work they need.

They specify the worst choice! That’s why I advise either talking to a technical expert to understand your project’s needs, or omitting that made-up requirement altogether.

In general, it’s also best to make sure you don’t say categorically idiotic things. If you see ‘C++’ on a CV, it’s always best to stop and think, before berating the CV holder to their face for being proud of such a terrible university mark.

That’s because C++ is a programming language, not a mark. I mention this hypothetical situation precisely because it’s not hypothetical. Someone I went to university with was mocked in this way by a person in charge of hiring.

I know all this is a lot to take in. So, go slowly when attempting these advanced-level job description guidelines. When you get stuck, ask for help. Find a pro who performs the role for which you’re writing a job description.

Then, once you’ve given the first draft your best shot, have that pro make sure you didn’t write anything bonkers on it. You can do it!


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