Some of the companies I've worked for have approached the whole process of finding the right new employee with a certain lack of rigour, often treating it as 'I'll know it when I see it'. But this week's experiences over at the RFU have brought home to me just how important it is for a company to approach the search with at least some of the basics in place.
A quick precis: the RFU were looking for an 'elite performance director', and issued a job description for the post. A number of people were linked to the post, including ex-England coach Sir Clive Woodward, who appeared interested. However, job description was then changed by the Chief Executive John Steele so that it didn't include formal responsibility for the senior England team: potentially to block Woodward by making the job much less attractive to him, or potentially protecting the job of the newly appointed coach Martin Johnson. But within a week the Board had voted to revert to the original job description, hopefully to bring Woodward back into the frame. He, however, has now ruled himself out, and the RFU has come in for serious criticism for their lack of consistency and U-turns.
So is a job description a flexible thing? Or should it be set in stone? On the one hand I can see that a job description is a clear outline of the role, and should help to define the qualities of the person who would fill it well. But on the other hand I can see that it's just a starting point - different applicants bring different approaches and more than one of them could fill the role well.
One thing I do know - the process of thinking about a role hard before advertising it is a good one. The act of writing a job description makes you think about what and who you are looking for. You may wish to change it slightly later in response to the candidates you see, but you do at least need a clear place to start the process. And a job description is a pretty good one.