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Job Descriptions in the Construction Industry - Who Needs Them?

Companies need to ensure they employ good calibre staff in order to complete the work they win and to succeed in making a profit. Over time staff leave and need to be replaced, and many more need to be employed in boom times. 

So here is the conundrum – if recruitment of good calibre staff is so business critical, why do such a surprising number of the construction contractors, subcontractors, consultancies and developers in Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and around the world, not prepare good quality job descriptions (or at times any job description at all)?  Maybe they aren't needed?  Let's take a look.

The Role of the Job Description/Job Profile
Thinking about the entire recruitment process, it is hard not to see the job description as being at the heart of the recruitment process – it is arguably the dossier that keeps all ‘stakeholders’ in the recruitment process aligned and pulling in the same direction.  Incorrect, incomplete or excessive information in a job description will only impede progress and waste time & resources.

Who is Responsible for the Job Description?
Often the answer to this is unclear which may be a problem that can be easily rectified.  People who can take ownership of the job description could be the line manager, their secretary/PA, the HR department, an internal recruiter or even an external recruitment consultant – it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that the person who creates it takes charge of it and understands it – both what it means, but also what a suitable candidate will look like when they (hopefully) start to present themselves.

What is Essential and What is Flexible in the Job Description?
We would all like to recruit the ideal candidate (& sometimes at Maxim Recruitment we do!) but in reality, having a list of essential features and of flexible/negotiable features is a pragmatic way to get a' longlist' of candidates to review.  Bearing this in mind, a list of the job duties, experience required, qualifications and personality characteristics can be compiled – and carefully considered to ensure they accurately represent the actual needs of the business and of the job role – rather than them being there just for the sake of it. 

An example to illustrate this would be whether being a Cantonese speaker in a Hong Kong quantity surveying construction job is actually essential or not.  If your role is working for a main contractor with responsibility for handling local subcontractors, then it probably is. However, it may not be essential if you are responsible for administering the contract (in English) and liaising with the client or client representatives (in English). Subsequent job descriptions should reflect these two different needs accurately.

Competences: "Able to"…..rather than…."Must have done"…..
There is a wealth of training courses and information on ‘competences’ and ‘competence based’ job descriptions & interviewing available on the internet. Much of it is very sensible, although at times this area has been presented as a dark art only able to be practiced by professionals in the HR & staffing sector. It is worth noting however, that the idea behind competence based recruitment is to look at the competences the job requires (eg. ability to manage people, ability to handle contract claims, ability to complete method statements etc) and match these competences with candidates who apply for work.  However, this is where things can really come unstuck – especially when using badly briefed junior HR staff, internal colleagues or recruitment agencies.  Not all CVs of Project Directors or Commercial Managers for instance, will state their management experience although it will in most cases be clearly implicit in the roles they have performed.  Also ‘experience of a major bridge project’ written in a job description may leave the competences implicit in this requirement unclear and therefore untapped in candidates who have worked on other major civil engineering structures which would demonstrate the same underlying abilities.

Job Description Exclusivity & Deadlines
If a job is live, it must by definition (in my view) have a start date for the person to be employed.  It is amazing how often the person notionally responsible for the recruitment process has no idea of the start date needed – not a good sign!  This can imply that the role the job description describes is either not live in any meaningful sense, or has been vacant so long that hope has almost been lost that it ever will, or can be filled.

The way to avoid this is to set deadlines; draw up a shortlist; set specific dates for interviews to take place and set a target date for the successful candidate to start.  If anyone thinks recruitment agencies don’t earn their money, giving them a hard (but fillable) job description with a challenging deadline to work to will see if they have selected the right supplier.  If it’s a really hard to fill role that needs dedicated research, why not commit to a headhunt or search assignment which is likely to give a win-win outcome for both the employer and the agency?

Outline the Feedback, Shortlisting & Interview Process
Once the deadlines have been established, the feedback, shortlisting and interview processes can be agreed.   Perhaps the person with the responsibility for ‘owning’ the job description could be the one responsible for giving feedback on the candidates presented?  In my view, the time taken to give meaningful feedback is time saved not having to look through piles more of unsuitable candidates in the next batch submitted. (If this is not the case in your experience, then change your recruitment consultant!).

One of my favourite client comments over the years was the "complaint" that having submitted only one CV for the role, who they quickly employed, that I wasn’t worth my recruitment fee.  When asked how many other (less suitable) CVs they would like to see before I would become worth my fee, they realised the value of a good job description, feedback, shortlisting & interview process that we had agreed upon right at the start.

Job Offers, The Probation Period & Employee Retention
The chance of a job offer being accepted, the probation period being successfully completed to mutual satisfaction and the long term retention of staff employed can to a large extent be attributed to the expectations established by the employer and the employee.  These are likely to have been negotiated or explicitly set, to a great extent, by the job description written, read and discussed at interview. 

In a study it was found that in 6 out of 10 cases, the job taken turned out to be different to that described to the applicant.  39% of these people were given different responsibilities, 37% were working different hours, and 22% believed the details of the salary package turned out to be different to what was agreed.  If this data is accurate, this is worrying.  If  employees have good reason to be unhappy, they may resign thus creating a vacancy and the whole recruitment process then needs to start all over again......

Job Descriptions in the Construction Industry - Who Needs Them?
I think there is a conclusive case for good quality job descriptions being the starting point and the focus throughout the recruitment process.  When your job descriptions match your needs, and your new employees match your job descriptions, you can be confident that you are well on the way to winning the desired work and making a good profit from it.

To discuss ways in which Maxim Recruitment can help with writing job descriptions & ensuring a successful outcome to the recruitment process, please get in touch.

Best wishes,

Steve Thomas
Maxim Recruitment
Hong Kong & Asia Region

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