Job analysis is the foundation for many HR functions including selection, performance evaluation, and training. Yet many organizations make little differentiation between job description and job analysis. If this is the case in your organization, take heed – you are missing an opportunity to improve your organization’s productivity, the quality of your work force, the satisfaction of your employees, and the turnover ratio in key positions.
Landy describes job analysis as “the systematic collection of data describing the tasks that comprise a job and the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that enable a person to carry out those tasks.” When given the attention it deserves, it will help the organization to better understand the duties and responsibilities assigned to a position, describe the resources needed to perform effectively in a given job, and clarify what can reasonably be expected of job incumbents. In turn, this information can be used to:
devise selection procedures that better discriminate between those who are likely to succeed and those who are not;
clearly define expectations for new hires and job incumbents;
design training programs for new hires and incumbents that are clearly focused on job requirements;
design work flow so as to avoid “gaps” or confusion about assigned responsibilities, and
develop performance appraisal systems which reward based upon job performance in specified areas.
The question one should ask is, “What can my organization do to begin to reap the benefits of thorough job analysis for our positions?”
Start With What You Have
Any examination of position should begin with existing documentation. Pull out the job postings you have used to search for new hires, the job description created by HR, the materials used to train a new hire, etc. These can be used by the individual who will be conducting the job analysis to begin to get an understanding of the scope of the position being examined.
Collect Quantifiable Data
One of the keys to successful job analysis is the collection of quantifiable data related to the position in question. Early efforts at job analysis focused attention upon direct observation and, in some cases, having he analyst actually do the job to get an understanding of the position. Careful documentation was used to quantify a position, improve upon the processes being used, and to set expectations. However, job analysis was largely being used for time and motion studies in factory positions that involved a great deal of repetition and mostly overt actions.
Many of the positions being analyzed today are less concerned with “time and motion,” are far more complex, and involve a great deal of cognitive activity which is not directly observable. While the scientific approach to observation used in the early days did set the stage for systematic analysis, direct observation has largely been replaced by scientific collection of quantifiable information from individuals identified as “job experts.”
The job analyst will provide a written survey of job characteristics to be completed by job experts. Respondents will typically be asked to assess the frequency and/or importance of specific tasks, knowledge, skills, abilities, or characteristics required in the position. Since a survey with a large number of items may unduly tax the respondents and introduce error, the analyst would make an attempt to balance the need for information with the time demands of those who will be completing the survey. A careful examination of the motivation of those completing the survey should also be considered. Consequently, using the average across respondents to define a position may not provide the most accurate picture. We maintain that the data collected from a survey in incomplete until it is cross-referenced with a one-on-one interview with one or more organizational representatives(s).
Provide Access to Job Experts
Identify “job experts” who may be interviewed by the job analyst. These may be job incumbents, supervisors, and/or department managers. Multiple sources will always provide a better picture than any single source. While individual interviews conducted either in person or by phone can be helpful, discussion groups with individuals from multiple levels within the organization can be extremely valuable resource.
In such discussions we have often found a mismatch between what a manager thought he needed in a new hire and what the position actually allowed. For example, managers often state that they want someone who will make decisions and act on their own when in reality decision authority in the position is severely constrained by lack of opportunity for independent action, clearly specified rules, and/or consequences for deviating from procedure. Seeking a new hire that had a great deal of strength in the qualities the manager thinks he is seeking would be counterproductive. The individual would likely be dissatisfied fairly quickly and become a risk for early turnover.
Use What You Learn
The bottom line is, allow the job analyst to develop the picture of the position from as many perspectives as possible and then use the information in as many ways as possible. Work with the analyst to set a profile that will provide the greatest likelihood that a new hire will be able to do the job, will be satisfied in the position, and will make contributions to the organization for a long time to come. Develop orientation and training materials that will aid new hires and job incumbents to maximize their potential through strengthening knowledge, skills, abilities, and characteristics that are truly required in their positions. Set realistic expectations and evaluate performance more accurately by focusing on those things that have been found to be important components of the job in question.
The “science” provided by the systematic collection of quantifiable data and the ”art” provided by a skilled expert’s interpretation of the quantitative as well as the rich qualitative information provided by observing, listening, questioning, and interpreting what job experts are truly saying when they say “we want somebody who will…”
In this current economic climate, employers will likely have a surplus of candidates from which to choose. This further begs the question, “What can be truly learned about a prospective candidate in terms of potential for success from a pre-employment interview?”
The short answer is not much. Findings consistently show that interviewing is a 50/50 proposition, a “coin-flip” in terms of selecting the best fit candidate. Conversely, comprehensive psychological assessment, done properly, can increase predictability to well over 90% – saving a small business considerable time and money by getting it right the first time.
That so, interviewees can raise “red flags” when it comes to what they say or how they say it. While many may simply be having a bad day and thus not giving the best or truest account of themselves, some stylistic patterns can emerge as possible “deal killers.”
Some individuals experience considerable difficulty providing a “Cliff’s Notes” version or sound byte. When queried, they engage in lengthy accounts of past successes chocked with non-essential details.
While such communications may simply be the nervous ramblings of a person trying to impress (completely convey all he/she can about past experiences and accomplishments) it could also be a signal that succinctness in responding is not a strength. Nor is full consideration of the needs of the listener.
If this tendency persists, through multiple interviews with different questioners, it may pose real concerns in terms of moving forward. If chosen, such individuals may monopolize group situations and kill both constructive discourse and morale over time in the process. People can and do lose their jobs over such propensities. Consultants hear these kinds of stories all of the time.
The tell-tale sign of an egoist is her/his overuse of the words “I” and “me” when describing career successes. In small business settings, few, if any, best result scenarios occur in isolation. Even if the person did largely work alone, he/she likely benefited significantly from collaboration in some fashion.
If they cannot articulate how they were helped along the way, it can speak to a real lack of collegiality. Moreover, if selected, these individuals may be too focused in on their own advancement at the expense of optimally preparing subordinates and peers for possible next steps professionally. It is hard to work for, with, or under those who are blatantly and intensely self-serving.
The Guarded One
By its nature, job interviewing is, to a large extent, a “put your best foot forward” endeavor. Nevertheless, candidates should possess enough self-awareness to effectively articulate strengths and weaknesses beyond the generic “I’m too impatient” or “I expect too much out of myself” responses.
Additionally, they should be able to describe how they were instructed in the past-how someone actively mentored them from a “green” to “seasoned” performer. Moreover, they should also demonstrate recent, ongoing learning experiences. If they cannot give voice to the above, it may indicate concerns regarding coachability. Responses to questions such as “tell the last time you learned something and from whom,” can speak volumes.
Finally, if past experiences did not pan out as envisioned, it should not always be someone else’s fault. Applications with a “reason for leaving section” for previous jobs can provide further information as to how a candidate viewed her/his role in things not working out as anticipated. Again, a lack of objectivity may be at play.
The Career Explorer
Amazingly, some people enter job interviews not knowing what they really want to do professionally and actually convey this uncertainty to the interviewer. Incredibly, they openly give voice to considering going back to school in a new field or starting a business while at the same time trying to sell themselves and their experiences/abilities to a prospective employer.
From their comments and demeanor, the position they are applying for seems to be little more than a stop gap or settle for type scenario, not a destination job. This may be more prevalent, pronounced in the present economic cycle. While re-inventing oneself vocationally can be tremendously satisfying to an individual, no small business benefits from taking on someone who doesn’t know what he or she wants to be when they grow up unless the position is, in fact, limited in duration and all parties agree to timeframes.
At its best, interviewing alone is a dicey proposition. The above can help screen out undesirables, but offer little in terms of identifying those right for a particular position. This puts further impetus on the need for psychological assessment. Gut feelings and hunches are best given credence when supported by hard data.
Sometimes, organizations put “a hard press” on hiring managers to get people on board quickly with little or no thought given to if these individuals are a good fit or not. However, just because a candidate held a related position(s) for an extended period of time doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she was actually successful. Some managers and leaders simply let underperformance persist much longer than they should. Moreover, in the initial hiring stage, they often ignore red flags in a desire to get positions filled expeditiously.
Carr Assessments was involved in such a situation. We met with the client selection committee to review candidates for three sales positions. The committee had chosen to build a pool of candidates and then requested that Carr review the finalists. Carr provided reports based upon the candidates’ responses on the assessment instruments and provided a rating as to the likelihood that each would be successful.
A morning was set aside to make decisions. However, the problem was that, in the analysis by Carr, none of the candidates was seen to be qualified. At this point, the senior executive entered the meeting. The results were explained. Upon hearing the results, he stated, “let’s at least hire one of them.” Unfortunately, the individual selected never became productive to the point that he would offset his own expenses. The only positive thing that came out of this was that the aforementioned senior executive gave Carr’s assessment process much more credence the next time the company had openings.
In conclusion, the central message here is: Don’t Settle for Less. Impulsively making hiring decisions, especially in the face of considerable objective information strongly suggesting a reconsideration, is not a strategy for success. “Warm bodies” don’t always turn into strong performers.