Executive Recruitment: Composing the Position Profile

By David E. Perry, Mark J. Haluska

The job description for an open executive position for which you are recruiting explains what the position entails and what type of person would be a good fit. It’s about what you need.

No offense, but it’s not all about you and your needs. You also have to consider what your potential candidates might want. Why? Because unlike other types of capital — natural capital, manufactured capital, financial capital, and social capital — human capital in a free society has a say in whether you use it. That is, no matter how attractive a candidate may be to you, if you want to employ her, she can — and often will — say no.

That’s where the position profile comes in.

In effect, the position profile is a marketing tool. It’s like a corporate brochure. The mission of the position profile is to catch the eye of top candidates. Think of it this way: If your job description is a humble silver sedan, then your position profile is a flashy red Ferrari.

The position profile answers one key question: What’s in it for me? When you provide prospective candidates with the information they need to answer this question, you’re guaranteed greater success in attracting your ideal hire. In fact, we’ve seen position profiles foster a swell of interest in jobs that were less appealing than a bran muffin.

Creating a position profile demonstrates to potential candidates that your organization is serious; that your executive team has taken the time to paint a full, accurate picture of the ideal candidate; and most important, that you’re not just winging it.

So, how long should the position profile be? And what should it contain? The position profile should be brief — five to seven pages. Any longer, and you’ll lose your audience. As for what it should contain, here’s a rundown:

  • Cover page and opening statement: The cover page should feature the company’s logo and the job title, along with an attention-grabbing graphic that conveys the essence of the company or the role.

    The opening statement’s job is to tout your company as a great place to work. To that end, it contains five to seven paragraphs that describe the company, including its vision, mission, and products or services. It also provides pertinent stats, such as the number of employees, annual sales, industry accolades, and whatnot, and notes the position of the company within its industry.

    Above all else, the opening statement kindles curiosity. This is a tall order — which is why you should seek the help of a marketing professional for this part of the position profile.

    You might be tempted to include links to more information on the overview page. Don’t. All that does is distract the prospective hire. If you want to provide that type of info in the position profile, do it on the last page.

  • Position description and job details: The position description is a tightly worded — yet compelling — overview of the position, including its title, major responsibilities, and desired outcomes. This piece of prose should pique the prospect’s curiosity and provide enough info to qualify (or disqualify) him from consideration straight off.

    The job details offer more depth as to the roles, responsibilities, and objectives. As you write this piece, keep the job description handy. You’ll want to refer to it often to fill in these details. If you want, the job details can include a list of the future hire’s peers and an org chart for his department or division. Or, you can keep this info private until you’re down to your final selection.

    To make the position profile easier to read, use bullet points in the job details section (and anywhere else that makes sense). People automatically assume the first line they read is the most significant, so put the most noteworthy point at the top and list the rest in order of importance — especially if it contains more than five bullets.

  • Specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities: Here’s where you list any qualifications that are absolutely mandatory, along with those that are merely preferred. This list should include specific skills, years of experience, certifications, licenses, education level, and technical proficiencies.

    The laundry list of skills often present in job postings on job boards are designed to cast a wide net — which is exactly what you don’t want here. These catch-all descriptions do more harm than good.

  • The ideal candidate: This section, which may run a full page, cites the qualifications and core competencies required for the role. It should also note the desired personality traits and soft skills — think communication, work ethic, attitude, and values. Finally, it should list any accomplishments the ideal candidate will have achieved. These should be consistent with what you might expect from someone who’s held a similar role at a competitor.

    When citing accomplishments that pertain to growth, skip the dollar signs and go with percentages. For example, suppose someone oversaw a $5 million increase in sales. If the organization had only $2 million to begin with, that would be a big deal. But if it was a multi-billion-dollar company, then not so much. Conveying growth as percentages more accurately conveys the importance of the accomplishment.

    The depiction of the ideal candidate should be a bit of a stretch — something the ideal candidate would view as the next step in her career. Ultimately, the purpose of this section is to show the prospective candidate why she is qualified (or not) — and, for the eminently qualified, to see herself in the role.

  • Next steps: This section is for prospective hires who’d like to learn more about how to proceed. It contains detailed contact information, including a dedicated phone number and email address, as well as the best times to get hold of you or the recruiter responsible.

    One thing the section should not contain: a call for a résumé. Why? Simple. For most executives, the idea of updating their résumés is about as enticing as a root canal. In fact, they hate it so much that if they have to do it, they’ll probably skip contacting you altogether — especially if they’re happily employed elsewhere. Remove this blockage by inviting them to engage in a friendly conversation without supplying a résumé first.

  • Frequently asked questions: You can use the frequently asked questions section — which is optional — to anticipate what questions a prospective hire might have about the position and organization and answer them. (Don’t go too crazy — four or five questions and answers will do.) For example, you might include compensation information here. You can also use this section to provide links to the company website, newsletter, annual report, or whatever else you think might pique a candidate’s interest.

As you’ve seen, the position profile should use clear language and be neither too descriptive nor too vague. But there’s something else: a good position profile should reflect the company’s character and brand. That means employing a vocabulary and writing style that matches your company’s culture. For example, if your business is a start-up with a very distinct ethos, you want to communicate that ethos through the words you use, the feeling your writing evokes, and the visual appearance of the profile. If that means straying from the norm, so be it. In the end, your goal is to attract people who are right for the position and the company.

If your organization has a successful and widely read blog, consider using a similar style of writing in the position profile.