Recruitment for Startups and Scaleups: Defining the Role

It’s time to take your startup to the next level or keep your scale up scaling. To do this you know you need talented people around you. But the very thought of going out looking for that perfect hire gives you that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. The thought of getting it wrong is even worse.


If there’s one thing you need to get right in the whole process, it’s successfully defining the role and the person you’re looking for. This is probably the most crucial part of any recruitment process. Everything else you do hangs off the work you put in here and how you shape the job description and person specification. Get this wrong and it’s like building a house on dodgy foundations or as the saying goes


“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four

sharpening the axe” - Abraham Lincoln

To kick things off, the following points highlight some of the key considerations that come together to help set you, and your future hire, up for success. Have a quick ponder over these before diving into the detail of each step.


- How does this role link with the wider business and the business strategy? Why do you need someone, what challenges will the role solve, what is the purpose of the role?

- Who will be involved in the hiring & interview process?

- How will it fit into the organisations’ structure?

- Who will the job holder report into?

- What will a candidate need to have in terms of knowledge, skills and behaviours?


This last point is what we’ll concentrate on most now as we have a look at how you bring the job description and person specification together and head off looking for that perfect fit.


Job Description


This is where you pull all that information together about the role itself and the business. It’s also your chance to attract the right talent to your business and starts to create a picture of your company for the candidate. A good JD is so much more than a list of roles and responsibilities. Studies and research tell us that salary is no longer the main driver for someone looking for a role. Autonomy, job satisfaction, purpose, making a difference and growth are some of the important things people now seek. Think about these and other aspects of what people are looking for in their dream job, how you provide them and try and weave them into how you describe the business and the environment the lucky new hire will be joining. Paint a compelling, but honest, picture of the workplace and the role.


Person Specification


Now we’re talking about the person themselves; the skills they have, knowledge they come with and what kind of person they are i.e. how will they behave, what their values are etc. This KSB (knowledge, skills, behaviours) framework is really useful for working through the person specification. Behaviours are sometimes referred to as attributes so it might be KSA. Here we’re going with KSB.


Knowledge; this might be industry knowledge/experience, it could be academic or practical but whatever it is, you need to have a clear idea of what this person really needs to know, what is desirable but not essential and what they can learn on the job. TOP TIP: think carefully about what you define as essential. Is it really essential, or can they pick it up as they go. Too many people are looking for the finished article when learning a little on the job is incredibly powerful for a sense of growth and engagement for the new hire. That said, you don’t want to be babysitting when work needs to be getting done. It’s a balance.


Skills; a small crossover with knowledge perhaps but this is more about HOW they apply the knowledge. They might be a skilled developer or have excellent sales skills. Think about how each candidate is going to evidence this during the selection process. There is also a bit of a crossover with behaviours here, so let’s look at the difference now.


Behaviours; quite literally, how will this person behave on the job. This is THE most overlooked aspect of the person specification. Most businesses hire on knowledge and skills, but most hires tend to fail on behaviours. Do you need someone outgoing and sociable or more measured and analytical? Perhaps someone able to operate independently, or maybe someone more compliant? Culture is a big one as well, huge in fact and closely linked. Most start-ups and scale-ups would say that getting culture right is a key focus for them and crucial for success. Achieving cultural fit though is tricky. You want to bring individuals into the business, but most people tend to look for cultural fit on gut feeling and end up with clones of themselves or their team. Diversity is an essential element of innovation and high performing teams, so finding that balance of core, non-negotiable values and behaviours and diverse people is worth it.


To get behavioural and cultural fit right, you need to get to the bottom of exactly what the culture is and what the behaviours are that you are looking for. If you get these core values and behaviours right and know how you’re going to select for them, it doesn’t matter what else a new hire brings, but it will probably be a bonus not a hindrance.


Behavioural assessments are an excellent way of shaping the behavioural profile of the ideal candidate. It’s not everything, but it’s good for instigating discussions amongst the key stakeholders, creating alignment and allowing you to go out looking for the right things. Behavioural fit works both ways too. The business gets a new hire who behaves in the way you would need them to, and the new hire finds a job that requires them to behave in a way that they would want to, and that equals motivation, engagement and retention. Win, win.


You may want to consider your company values and what you want your culture to look like. Culture is the result of lived behaviours and values within a business so spend time thinking about this as a good culture is key. Getting to the bottom of cultural fit in an interview is tough, but there are ways (coming soon in a blog).

In summary, the job description and person specification perform essential functions such as:


1. Explains the requirements, responsibilities, and objectives of the role.

2. Gives clear information about criteria that is desirable, and essential for the role in terms of knowledge, skills and behaviours.

3. Provides a basis for future development and performance assessments

4. Serves at the basis for an employment contract

How does it all come together?


There is no ‘right or wrong,’ but typically, job descriptions follow this format:


1. Job title

2. Overview of the company

3. Purpose of the role

4. Responsibilities and tasks to be performed

5. Knowledge, skills competencies

6. Relationships

7. Salary, benefits and hours


Job Title


The job title is the main keyword people will search for when looking for a role so it needs to speak to the right people. Have a look at what else is out there for similar roles, don’t just make it up because it sounds good. No one is searching for ‘Culinary utensils cleansing and logistics manager’ if they want to be a pot washer. It should be simple and easily portray what the role is. Have a look around on jobs boards to see what else is out there that portrays the role.


Overview of the company


This is your opportunity to really bring things to life! What makes your business so great? Why would someone want to join you? Where is the business heading? You want to attract the top talent out there and candidates will be selecting you as much as you’re selecting them.


Purpose of the role


Tell the reader what they’ll be doing, how they’ll be supporting the company and where their skills fit into the business. Why are they important to the business? This is where that initial planning around the business strategy and how the role fits in comes in to play. People like to see how the hard work they will put in on a daily basis impacts the business.


Responsibilities and Tasks to be Performed


This section should outline what the person will be doing in the role on a day to day basis. Use bullet points to make it easy to read. Each description of a task should be no more than 2/3 sentences long and should contain an objective, an action and a purpose. For example: ‘As Operations Manager you’ll be responsible for compiling monthly progress reports for the Board and shareholders which will be taken into consideration when seeking further investment.’


Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours


This is where the person specification comes in. It’s important to remember knowledge, skills and behaviours are different. Knowledge and skills can be grouped together but behaviours are best kept seperate. Knowledge or skill is something a candidate has learned in the past from experience or has from a qualification, a behaviour is a trait you expect someone to display in a role. Remember, a skill can be taught and many job descriptions are now weighted more towards behavioural competencies such as communication, leadership and adaptability. As a startup or scaleup, would you rather have someone with heaps of experience that might not be quite relevant to your new and innovative business, or someone who is adaptable, curious and resilient? It’s a tough one, but definitely something to carefully consider.


Relationships


Quite simply, reporting lines. Who will this person be reporting into and perhaps managing? Where does the role sit in the wider organisation and hierarchy? How does information flow? This isn’t about creating hierarchies or chains of command, it’s about creating clarity round ways of working and where knowledge and experience lies in the business.


Salary, Benefits and Hours


You don’t need to list every single benefit and if you’re still a fairly young business, it’s likely you won’t have a huge range of benefits just yet. Consider using a salary range too instead of one fixed salary and if you do use a range, remember to put ‘DOE’ or ‘depending on experience,’ after the salary.


It is important to avoid bias in your wording and to make your job description, person specification and job advert, inclusive. Please note, it's usually against the law to discriminate against a job applicant based on what are known as protected characteristics. These are outlined on this handy ACAS page and there are various tools you can use to check your wording such as Textio.

Finally


We’ve helped lots of clients and businesses to write job and person specifications and want to leave you with a few key pointers to remember:


1. Keep it clear and concise. Use short sentences and bullet points that get the point across.

2. A job and person specification will be the foundation for employment contracts, performance & progress and professional development

3. It’s a chance for you to really bring your business to life! Get creative with it.


Remember, there are thousands of businesses competing for the talent you want, what is going to attract someone to your business over another?


And that’s it! You’ve just created a job and person specification. Next up, advertising and attracting talent (blog coming soon).

About us


Circle Consulting is a management consultancy specialising in talent acquisition. Working alongside brilliant people growing innovative businesses is what we thrive on. Seeing them succeed through their people is what makes us tick.


We help businesses build and develop high performing teams and cultures

To us, great places to work and successful organisations are the same thing


We combine over 20 years’ experience in recruitment, leadership and people performance. This means we see the bigger picture, we go further than finding future leaders, we build high performing teams and a culture to envy.

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