We all know job descriptions are important. In addition to defining the scope of work for a position, a well-written job description will also outline the skills needed to perform the job, the type of candidate you’re looking for, and an appropriate compensation range.
Inadequate or out of date job descriptions are a breeding ground for poor performance, miscommunication, and employee dissatisfaction. They also make it much more difficult for managers to complete employee evaluations and Human Resources to recruit and hire effectively.
What does a good job description look like?
Job descriptions should paint an accurate picture of the current job, while appealing to the kinds of people you will be looking for when it’s time to re-hire.
Here’s a basic, six-part format you can use to build your description around, and some tips for maximizing each key section.
An outline of the job that includes title and location, as well as the purpose, function, goal and primary responsibilities. The summary should be clear and easy to understand, and written in such a way to appeal the kind of people who will excel in the position. Pay attention to language and tone. A dull, dry job description won’t help you find your next Creative Director.
Specific and essential tasks, listed in order or importance or based on the approximate percentage of time that will be spent in each area. If particular equipment is to be used on the job, you can include it in this section (Examples: forklift operation, managing CRM data, operating POS systems). No need to include the minutia here. Keep this section focused on core job duties. Additional details (Wash your own dang coffee cups, people!) can be discussed during subsequent interviews.
Requirements necessary to perform the job (or to be considered). Often used for screening applicants, these items are sometimes considered “The deal breakers.” Be sure to consider this list carefully. In a competitive market, you may need to re-think how you’ve been evaluating candidates. Does the job really require a Master’s Degree or is that just the cherry on top?
Additional skills, education, or qualifications that would be nice to have in an ideal candidate. A wish list, if you will. Should not be considered mandatory or be used to disqualify applicants. Examples might include advanced degrees, experience with particular software programs, foreign language proficiency, or excellent air guitar skills, depending on what your company culture looks like.
Salary should be determined by the skills required for the job and the ability to attract quality candidates, not by the person currently doing the job or a candidate’s previous salary. The questions to ask yourself here are, “Does the compensation reflect the scope of the position and the duties within?” and “What salary range will attract someone with these capabilities to this area and my company?” A variety of things can affect the salary range, including shift hours, the nature of the skills required, availability of candidates, job location, and cost of living.
What benefits are included with the position? This is key information for both current employees and potential new hires, and an important part of the employment contract. A desirable benefits package can entice candidates and to join your team and help keep them around longer. Medical, dental, vision, PTO, work from home options… these are the kinds of things candidates and employees want to see in writing. Plus, they help you define and manage expectations.
Note: Job duties, qualifications, and compensation can change over time— or even overnight! It’s important to update job descriptions regularly to make sure they are accurate on all counts.
Don't forget company culture!
In addition to the basics, you’ll want to include key information about how each position fits into the bigger picture: Why it’s important to the organization and how it reflects company goals and values. Organizational culture should be built into every job description, both as a reminder to current staff and as a tool to attract new employees who are a good fit.
Getting down to details
If you want to be even more thorough (and help protect yourself legally) you may also want to consider the following when writing and using job descriptions:
- Official job title
- Position supervisor/manager
- Status: Exempt vs. Non-exempt
- Any physical demands required
- Managerial responsibilities as applicable
- A statement about “other duties as assigned”
- The date the description was revised or prepared
- Any references to age, sex, or appearance
- Gender specific titles such as Waitress or Salesman
- Non-descript job titles such as Guru, Ninja, and Fixer
- Overuse of industry jargon or acronyms (spell them out)
- Words that are subject to interpretation such as “sometimes” or “several”
If you can’t describe it, you’re in trouble
It’s been said that if you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t know it well enough. This may be okay for existential discussions on poetry night, but not for defining your business.
Taking the time to create and maintain accurate job descriptions throughout your organization will help you reinforce company values, manage and reward your staff, and find great talent to fill spots as needed.
It’s almost like having an HR helper in your back pocket.
Photo by Georg Henrick Lehnerer