Five Job Description Phrases We Should Have Stopped Using Years Ago

Job description (JD) boilerplates are a double edged sword; on one hand they save a tremendous amount of time by providing crucial statements such as Equal Opportunity disclosures but if you aren’t careful, they can project a less than desirable image or even keep candidates away. Vu Le has an excellent post over at Nonprofit with Balls that tangentially connects to this topic that is well worth your time but in addition to his perspective, here are five phrases we could cut out of the field’s collective JD consciousness ASAP.

1) “The ideal candidate will possess excellent problem solving skills.”

Unless you subscribe to the notion that longer JDs attract unequivocally better candidates (they don’t), do we really need to include subjective qualifications? Unless you plan to include a problem solving exercise in the interview or accept Candy Crush scores as evidence of mastering increasingly complex problems in a high focus environment, this phrase needs an extended time-out.

2) “Only qualified candidates need apply.”

Perhaps the most egregious example in this list, it seems to find its way into musician openings more frequently than admin listings. The more amusing examples list the phrase in larger, bold font because clearly, unqualified applicants would miss it if only listed in standard body typeface.

3) “Knowledge of classical music helpful, but not necessary.”

Granted, there are positions inside orchestra administration where knowledge of classical music is completely unnecessary so what type of opening is this statement for? Is there a sea of candidates on the fence about applying to an annual fund manager opening due to fretting about how they may fare in a classical music Jeopardy! match? Having said that, my less than angelic side would love to see this appear in a musician opening advertisement just to see what sort of responses come back: The Ft. Fitzer Philharmonic announces the following permanent position: Principal Viola. Knowledge of classical music helpful, but not necessary.

4) “The successful candidate will have a [specific] degree in an appropriate discipline.”

So you’re willing to exclude potentially ideal candidates with impeccable real-work experience because someone else has a degree? Good luck with that. This ubiquitous phrase crops up for nearly every department and do we really need to discuss what qualifies as an appropriate discipline? If you want to know a candidate’s academic history, just ask.

5) “The audition committee reserves the right to dismiss immediately any candidate not meeting the highest professional standards of this audition.”

Not entirely dissimilar to #2, this is another obvious statement that reinforces the negativity associated with an outdated “greatest-art” approach. Imagine the same phrased used for an admin position: The interviewer reserves the right to end the interview at any time should candidate fail to meet the highest professional standards of the nonprofit performing arts field. Granted, there is some history behind the phrase thanks to some audition committees failing to provide an ethical audition environment, but those extreme cases typically produce master agreement language guaranteeing audition candidates minimum amounts of time to play for the committee. Consequently, there’s no practical need to include a statement like this in an opening.

What do you think, are there any other phrases that should be retired from contemporary arts admin and musician opening descriptions?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “Five Job Description Phrases We Should Have Stopped Using Years Ago”

  1. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with having an upper limit to the “years of experience.” I suppose I understand wanting to avoid having to hire people who are “overqualified” and thus “too expensive” – but no, I guess I don’t really understand that.

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