Better Than Employee Onboarding, Set Expectations in Job Descriptions

Make feedback a winning habit on your team.

Written By

Picture of Lauren Humphrey

Lauren Humphrey

Co-founder of Tandem

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The very first, and arguably the most important, place to set role expectations is in job descriptions. Often, in an attempt to get the best talent (rather than the best fit) managers sell the dream - the kombucha on tap, free lunch, and Friday happy hours. However, best-fit talent comes from candidates who understand the hyper clear role expectations in job descriptions, even if those expectations weed out some talent. Read on to learn how you can align role expectations and job descriptions.

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Role expectations 

Role expectations should align managers and candidates on what success in the role looks like. They should include all aspects of the role, even the nitty gritty, unglamorous parts. Managers will be setting, resetting and aligning on expectations throughout their relationship with their direct reports. Job descriptions are simply the first of these many rounds of expectations. The clearer managers can be in this step, the better talent they are likely to attract for the role and the better the relationship is set up for the future. 

Positive indicators 

Positive indicators are a crucial part of role expectations. They are the signals someone will succeed in the role. It is helpful to break down high level expectations into more detailed behaviors to ensure everyone  understands what success looks like in the day to day. 

For example 

  • Expectation: Operational management 
  • Positive indicator: Balances focus on operational details with strategic oversight 
  • Expectation: Risk management 
  • Positive indicator: Balances risk aversion and risk taking for growth 
  • Expectation: Team coordination 
  • Positive indicator: Balances focus on team with attention to individual needs 

Negative indicators 

On the other hand, negative indicators are signals someone may not succeed in the role. These can be as helpful, if not more helpful, than positive indicators since they will signal a gap in the ability to meet role expectations. 

For example 

  • Expectation: Operational management 
  • Negative indicator: Overly focused on operational details, neglecting strategic aspects
  • Expectation: Risk management 
  • Negative indicator: Overly risk-averse, hindering innovation and growth 
  • Expectation: Team Coordination 
  • Negative indicator: Overly focused on team, neglecting individual needs 

Using the Expectation Machine 

We’ve developed an easy tool to use to produce role expectations from job descriptions. Simply copy and paste in the job description and within 2 minutes the tool will produce expectations as well as positive and negative indicators for that role. 

Try out the Expectation Machine!!

Troubleshooting job descriptions

There are several reasons why job descriptions and role expectations may not align. We’ll troubleshoot some of the most common reasons. 

Selling only the dream

It can be tempting as a hiring manager to stay high level and only sell the perks of the role. It seems counterintuitive to write down the nitty gritty of the role expectations if you want to attract the best talent. However, by being detailed in the exact expectations of the role, even the unglamorous parts, candidates will self-select into the roles that are the best fit for them. If top talent only applies for and gets a role because they didn’t understand the details of the role, then the hiring manager, HR, company and talent will eventually pay the price of the bad fit – likely to attrition. It is better to get ahead on alignment through setting clear expectations up front in the job description even if it means some talent self-selects out of applying. 

Misalignment on level 

Sometimes managers are not clear on the level they need for a role so they leave job descriptions ambiguous and see what talent comes in. This is a surefire way to have a muddled interview and candidate experience as the interviewers won’t have clarity on what they are looking for or what success in the role will look like. The hard work of role clarity and expectations is the responsibility of the hiring manager to do before the job is posted. 

The payoff

The upfront work of job descriptions with clear expectations pay off for hiring managers, HR, company and candidates. It is the first chance for managers to show candidates (and eventual employees) what success looks like.  And afterall, the ultimate goal for any manager is to set others up for success. Clear expectations in job descriptions is the best way to start candidates off on the right track.