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The devil is in the details

Features - Business Management

Leaving out the finer points of a job description can open you up to get burned by a hire.

Phil Sarros | May 1, 2013

In doing research for this article, I stumbled upon the following job ad:


Landscape Maintenance Supervisor

  • Residential Landscape Company seeking Crew Supervisor. We are a high quality company that has been growing and seeking quality team members.
  • The applicant must have a VALID DRIVERS LICENSE.
  • The applicant must speak English.
  • The applicant must have a CLEAN driving record.
  • The applicant must have landscape maintenance experience.
  • The applicant must show a work history, referrences and job history will be verified.
  • We are a drug free workplace and the applicant must pass a pre-employment drug test.
  • EMAIL WITH A RESUME OR WRITE AN EMAIL EXPLAINING YOUR QUALIFICATIONS. WE WILL CONTACT YOU WITH THE OPPORTUNITY TO FILL OUT A JOB APPLICATION.
  • ONLY SERIOUS AND QUALIFIED APPLICANTS ACCEPTED.



This ad is awesome! Seriously, did I just say “awesome?” Yes I did! You know why? Because I’m pretty sure this ad is for a local competitor of mine and I’m guessing he’ll spend the next two weeks being bogged down by hundreds of applicants who will be predictably disappointing. He’s looking for bodies and this ad will attract just that.

An ad like this does nothing to weed out the “average” people and lure in the best and brightest talent. It says something more along the lines of “if you’ve managed to function somewhat normally in this world, then come work for us.” It also says that paying attention to detail is not important and yes, “referrences” is spelled wrong. IT EVEN USES ALL CAPITAL LETTERS TO LET YOU KNOW WHEN THEY’RE REALLY SERIOUS. This company sends the message that they are mediocre at best. What message does your company send?


Be clear. A great job description will engage, inform and create a strong call-to-action. Every position in your company should have a job description, especially that of the owner. Company owners are notorious for neglecting themselves in just about every way, and defining their own job is not an exception. Most of us don’t feel worthwhile unless we’re wearing every hat. Don’t we brag (or whine) about that as we lean on the counter at our local vendor? “I can’t keep up,” “I’m so busy,” “I need five of me” and the list goes on and on.

We say these things because we’ve experienced profound disappointment when people don’t make decisions like we would. When people we hire to be innovators don’t innovate, when creators don’t create, when thinkers don’t think and when doers don’t do, then, without giving it a second thought, we resign ourselves to a paradigm that says “employees just don’t care like the owner” or “if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself.”

I’m going to suggest that we don’t get the results we want out of employees for two main reasons. First, we haven’t defined what results we want. Second, we haven’t defined what type of person it takes to achieve those results. Defining these then becomes the foundation for which a job description is formed.

When writing a job description, speak from the heart and please remember this is the green industry where real people use real words.

Job descriptions can begin on scratch pads before graduating to typed text. The most important thing to know in order to make the description successful is that it is written by the right person. It may have been a long time since you rode a mower, drove a Bobcat or pruned a hedge.

For this reason, involve your operations manager or crew foreman in the process of defining the position.

Your initial list of bullet points might be long, so take time to whittle it down and focus on being clear and concise in the final draft.


Be creative. Boring descriptions will again speak to the masses. Many applicants have spent weeks or months combing through job ads. Thinkers, creators and innovators will be drawn to a challenge and a story, so use your description to laser in on your target candidate. Compare the description to people in (or outside of) your company that are doing a great job. For owners, that may even be ourselves.

Document what makes that person so great and put it into the job description. Perhaps a line that says “looking for a winner that can do their best work even when the situation around them is hectic.” The point is to be creative.

If you’re a do-it-all owner looking to get out of the rat race and bring in top talent and perhaps you just don’t know where to start, begin by journaling. Keep track of what you do, every hour of the day, and at the end of each day, assign a role to each task.

For example, you might show that from 9-9:30 a.m. you ordered materials and from 9:30-10 a.m. you made sales calls. You’d assign the first task to the role of an operations person and the second to a sales person.

You’ve just begun the process of forming a job description. You’ve also created a great tool for identifying how you spend your own time. The point is that a great job description is going to attract great talent. It begins by writing and re-writing the duties of each role and once you have a list, turn it into a compelling, call-to-action, story. And by all means, please include a job title. Begin by simply beginning. Just getting started is half the battle.


Recruit the right way
If I were given the opportunity to re-write the job ad on pg. 80, it might look something like this. Keep in mind, while it’s not a full description, it does a great job of engaging, informing and creating strong call to action. Just a side note, do you think with an ad like this that it’s still necessary to tell people they need to speak English?


Job Title: Landscape Maintenance Foreman
(I hate the word supervisor)

At XYZ Company, we’ve spent years working with clever, creative people. Some come to us with years of experience and others are new to the green industry. Look, we don’t present our potential clients with a resume and expect them to hire us … we show up and wow them. We’re going to invite you to wow us. We’re expanding our team and looking to create a career path for the individual that can make the most difference to our company and who is most aligned with our values.

At XYZ Company, we serve our employees by placing value in the following areas:

  • Cross-train employees so they can be prepared to take on additional leadership in the future
  • Create a team culture so that no one individual can make the company or break the company. We will learn together, laugh together, work hard together and make money together.
  • Our company embraces life outdoors and the value of hard physical work with the joy of maintaining impeccable properties for our clients.
  • If you’re the best, you won’t ever have to worry about being paid above industry standards.



Experience Required

  • Minimum 5 years experience overcoming challenges.
  • 1 great story of how you helped someone else succeed.
  • Able to work in, and appreciate, very hot days, very cold days, rainy days, beautiful days.
  • Must demonstrate an insatiable energy to learn and be challenged. We are the best at what we do and are only prepared to invest in the best people.
  • Valid license and clean driving history.



How you will serve us

  • Keep our clients’ properties looking fantastic using an established system.
  • Bring suggestions for improvement to every weekly meeting.
  • Communicate with our clients regularly, and constantly “check-in” with them ensuring that our service is exceeding their expectations.
  • Operate mowers, weed eaters, blowers, edgers and all tools and equipment according to our safety guidelines.
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