Jumpin’ Jehosophat! First there’s a job opportunity, then there is none. Then there’s a custom-made job… but to get it, this reader has to crawl down in the hole… From this week’s Readers’ Forum in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter:

I came in second — didn’t get the job. But the company interviewed me again for a unique new position based on my unusual set of skills. They want to create a job for me, but prior to interviewing with the company president, I’ve been asked to write up the job description. I think this is genuine, but my research on the president indicates some issues. I’m worried he’ll use my job description to create the job and then make me compete for it with others. How can I structure the document to protect myself?

For the Forum: Is this job candidate digging her own grave, or planting the seeds of success? What should she do next?


  1. She should inquire to those that interviewed her about what skills does she have that they believe the company could use. To my mind this is a rather obvious move as all of us have thousands of different skills but employers usually want to make use of some of these, not all of them. My ability to cook Kraft Dinner has nothing to do with my software development skills to give a rather extreme example to illustrate the point.

    Once she has the skills they want to use, then she can write up a job description that is slanted towards that and then submit it to the president. She may have to re-compete to get the job, but why would it be so bad for her to do that? Is the fact that she is writing the job description supposed to somehow make her be the only choice? Sorry but I don’t think most of the world works that way or plays by that rule.

    If she devotes every waking second to this for the next week, then she is digging her own grave as while this may be a great opportunity, one shouldn’t go overboard on trying to make the most of it.

  2. I would have a real problem with this. Why would an employer ask a non-employee to write up a job description? Unless they’re going to pay you a fee to do it. After all, aren’t they asking you to do consulting work? Shouldn’t they be writing up their own job descriptions? You don’t say what the issues are with the company president, though based on the discussion, it sounds like this president perhaps lacks integrity. Are you sure you want to work for a company like that?

  3. If you really want to work for the company, sounds like a great opportunity to design a job for yourself… write the spec to YOUR strengths, capabilities and interests. If your skills are that unusual, it doesn’t sound like you’ll have a ton of competition. And it really won’t take that much more time than thoughtfully applying for another open position at another company where they don’t already know and like your skills. You didn’t get the other job, so what have you got to lose?

  4. I agree with Kristin,

    Similarly, and as Nick knows, I was involved in an interview recently, did not get the position, but was asked for permission to forward a copy of my resume to the highest level of the food chain for further consideration…….patiently waiting now….(but being proactive about it too….thanks to advice from Nick)

    If you are unique, and the institution recognized the capacity and capability that you have to offer them something that they cannot find in another prospect, then by all means create the job description. However do it carefully, look at the “action” words they use for similar positions, and also review positions with greater responsibilities….then just like a resume or cover letter, tailor the description such that you fit, like a key to a lock…..this also will create a unique situation from a compensation perspective.

    If they as an organization base pay on responsibilities, then you have applied due diligence in ensuring that you are described as having advanced skills and capacities, and are not something that falls out of a mold, cookie cutter style….

    Go for it.

  5. This is sort of how I got my current job. I interviewed for a lower level part time position that I saw as a chance to change fields and make contacts. The interview panel told me I was over qualified but liked my rather unusual skill set and offered to show my resume to the head of the organization for a different position. I was not asked to write the job description, however it was written to my skills and it was competed – which I knew up front and was fine with that as it ensured there would be no question that I was the best candidate. As expected, no one else who interviewed came close to having my skill set or experience and I was offered the position – and it has been mine for nearly 5 years.

    I am only contemplating a job change now due to changes in senior management and subsequent policy changes which are negatively impacting my ability to do my work.

  6. I’ve had clients hire people from me for whom new jobs were created because of who they are and what they can do. And some were asked to help craft the job description.

    There is indeed a risk here, and we all know what it is. But what of it? At worst, the candidate does the work and loses the job. As JB points out, as long as she doesn’t invest too much time in it, this gives her an unusual shot at a job – as long as the employer has integrity. If the president turns out to be a cad, then she can move on.

    An alternative is to keep the description sketchy and short, but that might open the job up to more people. On the other hand, if they really want HER, that won’t happen. On the other hand… just decide whether it’s worth your time and be ready to “walk” if they mis-use what you give them.

  7. I am the author of the orginial question and wish to thank all of you for your replies. After some thought,I realized that the potential employer had not literally asked me to pen a job description. What was asked for was something on paper summarizing our discussions that the “powers that be” could look at before meeting me. Instead of a description, I wrote a letter thanking them for the opportunity and highlighting the company’s needs, as we had discussed, and the unique ways I could address them. This is similar to what Kat wrote. In this manner the document was customize for me and the potential for digging my own grave averted. The meeting with the firm’s three partners is this Friday and I remain “cautiosly optimistic.”

  8. Good luck Michael. “Cautiously optimistic” is a good way to approach the situation.

  9. Or maybe HR doesn’t have the skillset to write the job description?? :-)

  10. “Or maybe HR doesn’t have the skillset to write the job description??”

    Many job postings leave the reader wondering exactly what is one supposed to do if hired. Some of the worst ones ask for countless forms of technology, software programs, TLA’s (Three Letter Acronyms/Abbreviations.) Yet nothing tells how you’ll actually use these.

    So in the case of the original question, you can author something that reflects what you can do and will do for the organization. That would be exceptional, especially because so few employers and candidate actually talk about the job in today’s OverQualified/OverComplicated job tangoes.

  11. like some of the other respondents, I am of two minds here. On the surface, it is flattering that the company wants to create a position with my skill-sets to (presumably) bring me in (right fit and all that stuff). Asking you to define major functions and/or show how your skills could/would fit the new mold seems like a valid request.

    On the other hand, the actual writing of a job description requires an intimate knowledge of the inter-dependencies of the company’s branches, units and/or departments and to leverage that knowledge in preparing a document that could be defended in court.

    Personally, I’d be talking to the person who asked you to do this and
    explain that in the first instance you could do this with a few one-on-one meetings with the company executives; while in the second instance it would take an xx-day contract at $800 a day to research and write up the SOW. You could also say, it would be less expensive if they hired you and made the SOW your first deliverable, and thereby ending your probation period (get that in writing too).