Employers: Get a Grip on Your Job Descriptions

by Tom Adelstein

Two days ago, I received an inquiry from a Fortune 500 company looking for a contractor to perform system administration work. I read the email and sat befuddled trying to figure out what this employer wanted an applicant to do. This solicitation read "LINUX Admin Wanted". Perhaps you can figure it out. Here's the job requirements.

Looking for UNIX candidates only. Skills: Sun and/or HP expierence; Solaris 10 experience; Clustering experience, Veritas or Sun Cluster; Domain experience, preferably on a larger sun system; Back up experience - HP/Solaris; EMC a plus; LVM Tools.

Here's the job description:

Responsible for installing, configuring, and maintaining operating system workstations and servers, including web servers, in support of business processing requirements. Performs software installations and upgrades to operating systems and layered software packages. Schedules installations and upgrades and maintains them in accordance with established IT policies and procedures. Monitors and tunes the system to achieve optimum performance levels. Ensures workstation/server data integrity by evaluating, implementing, and managing appropriate software and hardware solutions. Ensures data/media recoverability by implementing a schedule of system backups and database archive operations. Supports media management through internal methods and procedures or through offsite storage and retrieval services. Develops and promotes standard operating procedures. Conducts routine hardware and software audits of servers to ensure compliance with established standards, policies, and configurations as defined by Customer.

Now, I must lack something because I couldn't do this job. In fact, I cannot even guess how many people the employer would need to do this job. My guess: many people.

Aside from the the items above, the letter also had this information request:

Please complete the details below to enable us to submit your resume:

1 Primary Contact Number:

2 Secondary Contact Number:

3 Citizenship (If non-US, please indicate work status):

4 Please confirm if 12 months contract (extendable) duration is acceptable:

5 Please confirm if 44.1/hr (W2 hourly and all-inclusive rate) pay rate is acceptable:

6 Availability to interview (pls. indicate 2 days with 2 time slots each day):

7 Please confirm if you are willing to work at the following address: 2501 S. State Street, Lewisville, TX 75056 OR 100 Witmer Rd., Horsham, PA 19044-2319

Click here to get directions to the above location. This position does NOT offer TELECOMMUTING.

8 Earliest possible start date:

Anyone who wants this job can have it. In fact, if you want it, you can fill out another lengthy database form that will take you somewhere around two hours. I won't fill out those ridiculous forms where recruiters accumulate data and spit out forms to send potential human resource customers.

Here's some advice from someone who lives and breathes this business. Figure out in a sentence what you want a candidate to do and ask that. Stop sending out form letters and make a call. You stand a better chance of finding the person you want.

Also, stop putting in the key word "Linux" when the only thing you have listed says Linux experience a plus when you really want a Microsoft MCSE. When I get letters from recruiters like that, I also see some phrase like "if you know someone with these credentials, please refer them to us."

I wouldn't do that and I don't know anyone else that would. The top IT people in the world - and they're not in India - have suffered over the past four years from the incompetence of employers in the IT field. Don't expect those people to re-enter indentured servitude again.


2006-05-01 19:05:14
I may say, "well said". It is time that we all stop blaming job seekers being dummy for a time being or fudging facts to get a job interview. I suspect that some employers lied. Did I said "lied"?. Yes, I did. You see when a job position is in such a mess that no one wants it(read "burnt-out") or folks stayed for such a short time, or a dead-end, employers typically sexed it up to look challenging and engaging to look "important". Also, they sprinked it with a long list of unrelated technologies or skillset that will never be used. Example: Unix/Linix, Perl, Python, C/C++, Java, JSP/Servlet, J2EE, C#, ASP.NET, XML,...(you got the idea), bad cosmetics for an ugly face.
The idea is to get job seekers salivate like Karpov dog at the ring of a bell.
Tom Adelstein
2006-05-01 20:04:29
I think you got it. :)
Joe Klemmer
2006-05-02 12:10:52
Hallelujah brother Adelstein.

It has occurred to me over the last few years that the biggest problem in the IT/IS world is the HR departments and recruiters. If we got rid of them and had the techie recruits interface directly with the techie business unit they would be working with it would go a LONG way towards improving the situation for both the employees and the employers.

I, myself, have been a victim of this for the last two years. I've got 20+ years experience working with high-end systems but there's no chance of me getting a job. I'm disabled and can only work part-time. I've been in this situation since '99 but was able to get a job that lasted for 5 years only because I was able to talk to the engineers and IT people first. They were the ones who pushed management and HR to create a part-time position so they could hire me. Now that I'm on the job market I can't even get anyone to give me a look. The recruiters and HR people see "part-time" and dismiss me out of hand.

Tom Adelstein
2006-05-02 12:59:38

The HR people and recruiters appear like a barrier to entry. I'm sad about your situation. I know people without disabilties that can't get an interview because they can't account for their time over one, two or three years. Being laid-off doesn't seem to qualify as current experience.

2006-05-02 15:48:28
See this link to support the above observation:
2006-05-03 22:58:23
Yeessssss! As a long time techie - much spent supporting HR and Staffing companies - I have been on both sides of the fence, and both are scary. I see recruiters who know NOTHING about a job trying to recruit folks who have one word on their resume that matches the job, while candidates who would be a perfect fit are ignored because they are lacking a skill that they could learn in 3 days.

I know that recruiters will bulk up a job posting, knowing that they will likely need to hire 2 or 3 people to actually cover the skills needed. They seem to think it'll save them a couple hundred bucks of posting fees. Instead, they scare off the folks who would be ideal, leaving only ones whose pay scale is way out of range, or those who are as dishonest as they are.

My favorite though: We had a client that wanted a junior salesperson they could train up. My manager insisted that we make it flashy (and, in fact, re-wrote a perfectly good ad). The result? Not a single junior salesperson applied. However, we got lots of resumes from Sales Directors and even a couple of CEOs. The client was not amused.

Tom Adelstein
2006-05-04 06:27:11

Thank for sharing your experience. On one contract, the HR team asked me to interview and review applicants. The vast majority listed skills along with projects that were impossible to have accomplished. To make that clearer, they claimed they used tools that did not fit the project. They HR people hired them anyway and turned down others.

Then bench stayed full. They could not place those contractors once the client got the resume.

2006-05-05 08:55:53
Vee and Tom, you both put it so aptly.
One theme that stands out is: **EXPEDIENCY**.
HR or employers often lament about job candidate's dishonesty, lack of "fit" post-hiring or even during interview.
Fudging or "sexing up" a job description is dishonesty in itself that backfired by attracting wrong candidates or pushing away good candidates at the same time. May be we should have a web site dedicated to discussing "hiring ethics"?.
2006-05-05 18:16:40
Here's a reasonably good link to be a good recruiter/interviwer by Scott Berkun: http://www.scottberkun.com/essays/essay39.htm
May I quote these lines from above link? Here it comes under section "A word about candidates"

"There are many ways to improve candidate quality: the problem is they require time. The three basic things to consider are these. First: You and your organization's reputation, through both the things you make, and the way you present yourself to the world, significantly impacts who will choose to apply for your positions. Invest in developing your reputation. There is no shortcut here. Just realize that if you have difficulty finding good applicants, based on the reputation you and your organization has, there might be good reasons the best candidates aren't heading your way. Deceiving people into making your organization seem different than it is rarely works: they'll find out once they're hired, and might not stay around very long."

Need we say more?.

2006-05-09 04:47:46
Tom, I can't believe you missed the most important part of any job spec a recruiter puts up!

The leading line being:
"A Market Leader" or other equivalent tripe. Seems like every company is the leader in it's field. And yet there are *so* many companies...

Keith Cash
2006-05-09 10:17:33

Good Article.
My two cents.

I have noticed over the years that in Computer Admin/Network support, companies request many skills.
Unix/Linix, Perl, Python, C/C++, Java, JSP/Servlet, J2EE, C#, ASP.NET, XML (ETC......) for a job.

If you do not have one skill set of the list they will not talk to you. Very frustrating.

Then when you get the right fit for a job they Work you more than average employees and do not Pay for the abundance of skill sets.

Most other jobs like accountant has one skill set accounting.

Tom Adelstein
2006-05-09 10:41:49
Just so you'll know, I receive all of your comments, so if I don't answer immediately, it has to do with the quantity not the quality.

In my experience, Linux workers have a better bead on technology than Microsoft MCSE's, for example. So, employers are not use to the nimbleness of Linux people. We're mostly self taught and that creates some interesting phenomenon. We don't get stuck in one specialty like managing DDNS.

First, we have to search for information to fix stuff or learn to use it on our own. Though the people who write documentation for projects should be so respected, usually their work lacks a lot. They don't have the benefit of an managing editor, copy editors, etc. and they usually cannot keep track of the changes to the project. Linux documentation needs fixing often, just like the code we download.

But, here's the point. Linux people have more technology savvy than the people for whom they usually work. I eventually got tired of working for people I knew were less capable than me. Thus, my racket as a freelance writer and part time sys admin.

I did a two day seminar, a couple of years ago, with a bunch of co-workers when Linux started working on mainframes. The technology differs greatly. If you want a Linux administrator and you use large IBM systems, your guy will have to know mainframe architecture and use terms like DASDI for hard drive storage, IPL for booting up the system, a catalogue for directory and command list for a shell script.

Don't sell a Linux administrator short. After that two day seminar we went out the day after the class and started deploying Linux on IBM zSeries computers.

If Linux people have anything to offer, they learn quickly, adapt quickly and have a broad knowledge base you will not find with other technologists. They can learn to run your Microsoft boxes in 10 percent of the time it takes a MCSE to learn a single Linux task.

That said, I don't care if some manager wants me to know Python instead of Perl. Give me a few days and I'll either start doing maintenance programming and fixing bugs or I'll transfer my knowledge. Most big employers make decisions that create massive down time for emloyees. Linux guys will either use that time to get their skills where they are needed or learn it at home.

2006-05-10 14:00:23
That's got to be a credit card/financial or pharmaceutical company. Recruiters that do specialized hiring for them are the worst! I've even returned resumes annotated "No pharma positions, please" and they continue spamming me for 3-month contracts somewhere in the North Jersey woods. The only way I know to get them to clarify what they want, or take me off their email list, is to indicate that I think the job is worth at least $80/hr as specced.
2006-05-14 17:46:46
Hah I work in Horsham near Witmer Rd, this job descriptions from GMAC :) (I recognize the address)
2006-05-14 22:49:27
Hah. I know that place, but besides that, i'm going to have to agree, that's a bit convoluted, but expected of lewisville. ;)
2006-05-14 23:18:13

Here is the company that this advertisement is for.

Craig M. Rosenblum
2006-05-15 00:41:17
Oh god this is so true...

I'd get emails from recruiters, never read my resume, and offer jobs in no way related to what I can do..

I agree the system really sucks...

Part of the problem is job titles and job descriptions...

Maybe we should have w3c or some great organization standardize job titles, then when they need to hire an xyz person, they can say and be clear as to what they're hiring for...

2006-05-15 02:10:09
the job description is okay. It is exactly what i am doing in Germany. The problem ist they are kooking for a "UNIX HA Admin" not Linux.
2006-05-15 04:59:30
The worst job posting I've ever seen was in 2001. A company posted on a job board that they were looking for a Java developer with ten years of Java experience (required).

I wish the problem was just the HR department. I've been back contracting the last couple of years, and I've had a couple of positions where they wanted senior people to do junior work. The worst example was a company that required years of experience in EJB, JMS, XSLT, web development, etc. The job ended up requiring developers to copy one object to another. They didn't even have anyone in that office that did the high level work. Just ten senior programmers copying objects because of a bad architecture.

2006-05-15 05:13:02
@ Ben: Karpov was a chess champion. I think you're looking for "Pavlov"
2006-05-15 10:35:39
Employers do this to cover themselves so they can't find any "qualified Americans." They posted the job, have a 1000 resumes, none of which matched perfectly, so they can bring in an H1B for 70% of the average IT wage. If you ever see a posting like this, don't even bother... they just want an H1B and posted the job as a formality to prove no Americans qualified.
2006-05-15 11:49:15
Never been employed at a consultancy firm, haven't you? They "forget" to tell you will have to work over hours filling numerous time-tracking forms where there's no entry for time spent filling those same forms. Your average coworker will be a friendly young (wo)men finishing his studies, learning on the job and thinking he will learn to do what you do in a couple of months. You will desire most of your bosses (will have several) where as smart as Dilbert's boss. Forget about 19" LCS, 17" CRT are cheaper and last longer. If you think this is hell wait for the fifth year without any salary increase.
2006-05-15 14:32:13
Just for the record I am an accountant and we too have a very wide range of skills, I can't just walk in and say I have accounting experience, I have to have used ADP, SRC, SAP, Oracle, Excel, Acquire, Great Plains, be a CPA, or a CIA, etc...It's a problem in every industry. Employeers want people with certifications and specific experience instead of wanting people who are smart and can learn.
Tom Adelstein
2006-05-15 15:35:19

I too am a CPA and practiced for a good while. I started a firm and grew it to one of the largest in Texas. I think that you're kidding yourself if you think you have to have a range of skill sets such as you listed. The problem in the financial world is very simple. CPAs want 30 year olds with 5 years experience for $35,000 a year. That's plain and simle.

To say that a CPA's problems parallel an UNIX system administrator is wishful thinking. You have no idea about the skill sets required to do this work. A CPA's working life doesn't come close.

Chris Vail
2006-05-15 22:51:33
I got a phone call today from a recruiter who had a very thick, almost incomprehensible, accent wanting me to take a job in Colorado, moving from Dallas at my own expense. The job was at IBM in Boulder, and they wanted somebody with 10+ years Unix experience. I've been doing Unix for 23 years (anyone remember TRS-Xenix?) and so qualified. But when he mentioned that he wanted me to work for $18/hour (my last contract was $45/hour) I laughed and laughed until he hung up. I really didn't mean to be cruel to him.

I got one job descritption that was so lengthy that the only part missing was:
- faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.
- will work for minimum wage in an unheated cardboard box
- is flexible about minimum wage.

2006-05-17 07:40:00
Oh man...you could not be more on the money with this. I just started looking for a job and the process is THE WORST!!! Recruiters are AWFUL and seem as if they are only interested in collecting as many contacts and resumes as possible much like one would collect stamps as a hobby. Do these guys actually ever find anyone a job? How can they expect to when they just list the 30 latest whiz-bang technology/methodologies as requirements for the job when NO ONE will ever use all that at once. Not to mention the fact that if you are proficient in only a small number of things you could probably very easily pick up the others. There is NO emphasis on people being quick learners or their ability to be adaptive. The *best* employees I have worked with can transcend almost ANYTHING within reason. Languages and technologies are tools for the job...they are not skills. Would you hire a carpenter with the post, "Looking for someone who is proficient with hammer, nails, screwdriver, drill, level." Wouldn't you want to ask them if they've ever built anything larger than a shelf such as an addition to a house?? Does it really matter what brand of drill they use? "Oh we need people with DeWalt drill experience...Sears Drill isn't the same."

This whole experience is frustrating at best and I realize that unless I have an "in" at a company I'm in for an uphill battle even though I *know* I'm qualified if not over-qualified for many jobs posted.

2006-05-18 16:33:39
Well said, Here in the netherland they use this method for some time too, or they are seeking supermen, or the job is so poorly described that even I with 20 years of experiance can make anything of it.
2006-06-21 12:54:56
Amen, brother. I am a hands-on IT director (read: I actually am a techie and a manager), who runs a large farm of E25K Sun boxes, hosting 15 Oracle VLDBs. I am lucky that my company makes me responsible for writing all requirements and job descriptions and, best of all, hiring all personnel. HR provides only support and a few hoops to jump through. I can tell you that there is no one in HR who would even know where to start hiring an IT professional. The recruiters know this, too, and will try to pawn off anyone to an unsuspecting HR manager. They couldn't care less about fitting a good candidate to the right gob.

There are two pest that the world would be better off without: cockroaches and IT recruiters. Until I put my foot down and told the switchboard to refer all recruiter cold-calls to HR, I would receive from two to 10 calls a day from these bubbly losers. Almost invariably they had "a incredibly qualified MCSE with three years in SQL Server....." It is a mistake to tell them that your's is a Sun/Oracle shop, because they also have "an incredibly qualified Sun-certified SA with three years experience as an Oracle DBA." Actually, they are talking about the same individual, but they are more than willing to reformat his resume with the Sun/Oracle boilerplate text. If you are foolish enough to actually interview this candidate, you'll find that two of those three years of experience in MS Windows and SQL Server were obtained surfing porn and doing a couple of CBTcourses, while unemployed and living at home. Yeah, he heard of Oracle a couple of times and one of his buds runs Solaris x86 on an old Dell and he's played with it a bit....

Tom Adelstein
2006-06-21 13:03:22
DK: People telling the truth. It's refreshing, I have to say!

To everyone saying so, GREAT!

2006-07-08 07:00:54
Hello Tom,
Regarding recruiters, well seems that they "do simiar business practices" everywhere. I sometimes think that maybe they get paid for every "human resource" they interview, wether or not they get the right person for the job offering they have been contracted to manage. Just think about it, those guys works full time doing that kind of work, maybe they need to justify their hours in some way, like "Look, boss, I've interviewed this huge amount of people, but they're all short of credentials". I mean, year 2006, relational dabatases, tell me how hard could be for some serious HR agency to do their job properly and save either our and their time and money. Just my two cents.
2006-10-02 20:50:48
How about the job you accept that has been described in posting and interviews as "... Design" for which you are eminently qualified and then you quickly realize that you are in Verification/Test.
Seth Janowiak
2007-12-17 14:56:29
That's an excellent point, Tom. One thing that struck me however is that while recruiters have taken to "spamming" out fictitious job postings to collect dozens of resumes to index, job applicants have taken the same tactic. Spamming a resume around to dozens of recruiters can take as little as 3 minutes. Ultimately it's all a waste of time for both groups. It's employers, recruiters, and applicants who take care in writing job descriptions, resumes, and cover letters that win the day. These spam-house tactics result in such a low percentage of actual hires that the only real players left are off-shore.

-Seth Janowiak

2008-01-18 03:12:59
sir, i have read the description,
i want a discription of Sales mgr