Several months ago a recruiter friend of mine sent me an e-mail stating that she was trying to fill a three-month contract graphic design opening, and she wanted to know if I could recommend anybody. She provided the job requirements, and they were rather Herculean for a short-term gig.

As I recall, the client wanted three-to-five years of agency experience, the ability to design and code web sites, demonstrated high-level skills with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, the ability to oversee a print production project from conception to the time it arrives all boxed up from the printer, and a lot more (and I do mean a lot).

In my experience, when a company needs a short-term contract designer, it’s for a specific task that no one on the full-time staff either has the time or experience to complete, or the folks who work there are so busy with other projects that they need someone to tackle some smaller tasks to keep all the work caught up. The designer who takes these short gigs is a master at them – as experienced and precise as a hitman (or hitwoman). They do the gig, collect their (sometimes sizable) pay, put another notch on their laptop case (or line on the resume), then move on to the next job.

This short-term gig, however, was looking for someone to do a full-time load of work.

The hourly rate for this one? $15.00 to $17.00 per hour. Depending on experience (the dreaded DOE), of course.

I replied to my friend: “Are they serious? They want the skills of someone who could run an ad agency, but they want to pay a rate less than what some art school greenhorn would make?”

I could hear the exasperated sigh in her reply back to me. “Yeah,” she wrote. “Welcome to my world.” She has since moved on to another company where she’s a lot happier and the recruiting is a lot more targeted.

In a piece for Design Shack, Speider Schneider (yes, that is his name) asks, “Have you wondered why job ads for designers have become a laundry list of impossible requirements,” all of which “demand full experience and job requirements of an experienced designer.” Many of these job descriptions are concocted by HR staffers who base the descriptions on the skills current team members have or what someone previously in that position had.

I found that out several years ago when an instructional design job opened for a company here in town. I didn’t apply for it because one of the requirements was “a minimum of three-years membership in American Society for Trainers and Developers” (now known as the Association for Talent Development). I’m not a member, nor have I ever been.  But a few weeks later I received a call from a manager at the company asking if I’d be interested in applying. He had found my resume on Monster and had looked at my LinkedIn profile.

“I’m not a member of ASTD,” I said. “Isn’t that a requirement for the job?”

“No,” he said. “The HR person put that on the job description because the guy who left that role had been in ASTD for three years.” He confessed that they were having problems filling the role because of that one requirement, which wasn’t really a requirement at all.

Perhaps the best job descriptions are created by the firms that know exactly what they want, a list of “need to have” skills as well as “nice to have” ones. And these firms would probably never have DOE on the description when describing salary range. To be sure, a company wants to get the biggest bang out of their buck, but if they settle for a cheap hire they’ll either get someone who has the bare minimum of their “need to have” skills and none of their “nice to have,” or they’ll get someone so desperate for work that they’ll take a lower-paying job and be miserable the whole time they’re doing it.