What is a job?

What is a job?
Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

I've been thinking about and having conversations about jobs recently, with people leaving jobs, searching for jobs, hating jobs, loving jobs, finding jobs, the whole recruitment process thing, the anxiety around starting a new job, the whole thing really. I've come to some conclusions.

Jobs are odd things aren't they. Jobs are both conceptual, potential, actual and at the same time non-existent. Job descriptions are even odder! they're like this bit of art by René Magritte

The treachery of images by René Magritte

The job description is not the job. Job descriptions are an attempt to conceptualise something that doesn't exist. Or rather that exists in multiple forms in multiple peoples minds, and also doesn't exist. And yet, everyone involved spends an inordinate amount of time and effort maintaining the illusion that this is not the case, for a purpose i'm unsure of.

Every job is a conceptual lump of clay to be moulded both by the organisation, the 'boss', the changing demands on the organisation, but also importantly, by the person doing the role. Taking this metaphor further, we could see the process of getting a job really as a process of the jobseeker trying to confirm to the recruiter that they can fit into their conceptual lump of clay. Often this can involve some painful contortions, often this can involve a load of introspection, 'imposter syndrome' and pain.

In reality, when an organisation, a line manager and a candidate are going through a recruitment process there are a multitude of lumps of clay at play:

  1. The lump that the line manager described to the business in order to get funding for the role
  2. The lump that the line manager has in their mind about what they need the role to do
  3. The lump that is the line manager's attempt to describe the role e.g. in a job description, person specification
  4. The lump that is the candidates understanding gained from the JD/person specification
  5. The lump that is what the candidate would actually like the role to be
  6. The lump that is what the candidate can actually do
  7. The lump that is what the candidate will actually be able to do when they are in the role
  8. The multiple lumps for each stakeholder/team member that will be working with that will have either read or not read the JD, or heard about the role from the line manager or someone else

So there is never a single job, there is an overlapping mangle of different peoples perceptions and ability to convey what the job is.

Here is what I believe. Every job moulds to fit the person doing the job.

Every job moulds (or is moulded) to fit the person doing the job!

Because no single job description or person specification or interview process is going to nail down specifically and explicitly what the reality of the job really is, and guess what, even if it could, it'd change within the first month because the world, market, organisation and demands will have changed.

So what? well, if we all just started accepting this, rather than continuing to perpetuate the current charade, wouldn't it be so much more freeing and empowering? for example, for a new starter or a candidate to think, ok, i've got this rough lump of clay thing called a job, its now my 'job' to mould it into the shape that most accurately represents my understanding of what is required. Equally, for a recruiting manager to accept that their role is not to perfectly describe the indescribable and find the perfect match for this imperfect description, but instead to find the person they are confident that has the ability to take the imperfect lump and shape it to be useful.

[Update] After writing this post, but before publishing it, I had a good conversation with someone that reminded me that for certain jobs and certain sectors a job description carries much more weight than my flippant writing here gives it. For example there can be legal or even criminal ramifications. I think the conversation was a useful reminder for me of the privilege I carry with my through my own career and also that my flippant POV expressed in this post is very much bollocks in the context of a lot of regulated, sensitive and essential jobs