What determines Job Complexity and why it is important?

In one of my previous posts on job complexity, I described constituents of job complexity (hierarchy, spread, geography, and budget) and the dimensions of organizations that impact it (processes, structure, culture). And even though I had left it vague (because anything more would have been too prescriptive), I was hopeful that it will be useful to some since it described where to look for. Also, I was confident that since job complexity changes are infrequent and slow, it is not too big an issue when handling career questions for an individual. However, how job complexity is becoming increasingly important factor was driven home to me recently, twice within 2 days.

On one occasion, I got the following note from someone on a remote continent:

‘I just applied for a vacancy within my organization which is three levels higher than mine. What surprised me is the fact that the job spec is 99% same as mine with only two additional points. When I asked whether this will be a promotion or a lateral move if I get this job, I was given a reply ” the job complexity of the positions are different”. How is the complexity of position different if job specs being similar.’

On another, I was asked this question by someone who was working on an important company-wide initiative and doing a tremendous job:

‘I understand that the work I am doing is teaching me lots of skills like running cross-functional meetings well, influencing different types of personalities without having formal authority, creating better emails and presentations for senior execs. However, I am not sure what I am going to write in my resume to reflect these lessons. Can you help?’


These are two very different questions; however, both deal with the fact that describing a job is no longer an easy task: neither for the employer when job spec is written, nor for the job seeker when he/she writes resume. While it is possible to write the appropriate keywords (influence, negotiation, presentation skills, etc) in a job spec and/or a resume, it is very hard to convey the degree of competency needed to succeed or how the candidate (or incumbent) is expected to apply these skills to the given job. These keywords are broad and multi-faceted enough to mean different things to different people and measuring competency in them in tough and ambiguous.

Job complexity is increasingly becoming an important part of the role definitions. In my opinion, this is caused by the fact that the dimensions I mentioned above for job complexity are increasingly being manifested in all companies (even in smaller companies) because of the impact of globalization (virtual and multi-cultural workforce, matrix organizations). Hence, the need to understand job complexity exists not only when you need to measure your career growth, but also when you need to evaluate a new opportunity as well as when you need to prepare your resume. Increasingly, the growth in a role happens only on the job complexity axis (the example above) and it will be tough to capture such a growth in resume format where traditionally the goal has been to list skills and job experiences.

Here are brief answers to the questions posed above, which reflect my thoughts on this topic of job complexity. I will describe my thoughts in more details in some subsequent posts, stay tuned.

  • (Job Spec Question): Frequently, job descriptions are not written down correctly and in detail because companies haven’t spent time in defining their career ladders and growth paths. However, many a times, there are some skills needed for a job that can’t be mentioned in a resume, either because it is not appropriate (‘candidate needs to understand and be able to deal with political undercurrents in this role’) or it is too vague to be useful (”applicants must be able to influence their peers to get their ideas accepted’). In your case, best way is to try and understand what these ‘different complexities’ are, by talking to the incumbent(s) and/or people around them (peers, reports, and bosses). Also, another good way of judging complexity during interview process is to ask questions that will reveal some aspects of this complexity. Some of the questions which typically expose such complexities are: what is a typical week in this role, who all this person has to interact with and in what way, how much of influence and persuasion (more complex job) is needed vs. authority and rules (less complex), what is the decision-making processes in this organization (political undercurrents), etc. Insist on examples to understand the responses better.
  • (Resume Question): It will be hard to describe these lessons learnt in a resume, you should mention some of these keywords of skills. Also, you should try to capture some of the impacts of the initiative (for ex: any revenue or customer sat gain because of the initiative) in the resume; this gives the necessary curiosity factor so that you can be called for interview and then you get a chance to describe the actual scenarios and how you performed and what you learnt. However, it will remain a hard thing to mention in the resume and you should be aware of this.

What do you think your answers will be? Do let me know by posting here or sending me a note.

2 thoughts on “What determines Job Complexity and why it is important?

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