Writing a Job Description

Conveying the Meaning of the Job

Writing a Job Description - Conveying the Meaning of the Job

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The HR department at Pedro's company has asked him to produce a set of job descriptions for his growing team.

Some exist already, and they just need to be updated. Others have to be written afresh, and one is required for an upcoming set of interviews. But Pedro isn’t relishing the task. To him, writing job descriptions – ticking off competencies, listing skills, mapping team goals onto functions, and so on – is just a box-ticking exercise and a real grind.  

But maybe it’s time for Pedro to think differently about job descriptions.

A good job description lists the requirements of a role and gives each team member a clear, precise idea of what you expect from them. It can also act as a framework for managing performance, evaluating people, and giving feedback.

But perhaps more importantly, a good job description is also a dynamic, “live” document that enables you to align individual roles with your team’s goals and your company’s vision, even in environments where those roles can change quickly. In other words, it conveys meaning and a sense of purpose.

Done well, a job description will answer these questions: "What are my key responsibilities and priorities?", "What are my critical success factors?", and above all "Why does my job matter?"

Reasons for Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are an essential part of managing the work of any organization. Use them to do the following:

  • Provide meaning for people, so that they know why their job exists, and understand the value of their work.
  • Give a set of clear expectations for workers, so that you can manage people's performance in line with these expectations.
  • Give people and clear sense of priorities, so that they know what to concentrate on, and what not to waste time on.
  • Define organizational structure, and plan human resources needs.
  • Advertise jobs, and recruit candidates.
  • Establish career progression.
  • Identify training requirements, and train new staff.

Where to Start

To begin writing a job description, you'll need to gather data. The following are common sources of information:

  • Mission statements for departments and the overall organization.
  • Interviews with people currently in the positions.
  • Postings used to advertise for positions.
  • Old job descriptions.
  • Competency lists and performance criteria.
  • Performance goals.
  • Organizational charts.
  • Regulatory requirements

Basic Parts of a Job Description

When you've gathered the information you need, start to organize it. Include these five key sections in the description.

1. Position Identifiers

What is the title, and what is the reporting relationship?

  • Use a brief phrase/title that captures the overall purpose of the position, bearing in mind that different titles mean different things to different people. For example, in some organizations a secretary the person who does everything related to office administration. In larger businesses, you may have an Office Manager, a Corporate Secretary, a Sales Secretary and a Receptionist. Try to create a meaningfully descriptive job title.
  • Include department information.
  • Specify who the position reports to (the boss), as well as which other people may report to this position (subordinates).
  • Indicate the date you created or revised the job description.

Position Identifier
Example

Job Title: Drafter

Department: Engineering

Reports to: Drafting Head

Updated: January 1, 2010

2. Position Purpose

This is what sets the position's direction and focus. It is the mission and vision for a particular job.

  • Start by thinking about why the position exists.
  • Adopt a "big picture" view of the job.
  • Limit yourself to one sentence, and describe what this job really does for the organization and for its customers.
  • Think in terms of a performance review and ask, "What does the person in this position need to accomplish, above all, for me to say that he or she fulfilled my expectations?"
  • Remember to describe the "position," not the "person" who currently fills the role.

Job Purpose
Example

The drafter helps the drafting head produce the high quality work drawings needed to build production plants for our cancer-treatment drugs.

3. Description of Duties

This is the heart of the position description. In this section you outline specifically what is expected of the person fulfilling the role. This area helps the reader identify priorities and understand what he/she has to accomplish to meet the stated purpose.

Start by identifying the essential areas of activity. These are the things that the person must do really well in order to achieve the job purpose. Thinking of these as critical success factors is a great way to start defining the vital results this role must accomplish.

  • Start with the most important key result or responsibility.
  • Include outcome measures that indicate how to meet expectations and reach goals. Use key performance indicators to express results in terms of the position's critical success factors.
  • Describe how the result is accomplished. What does the person in the role actually do to fulfill the responsibility?
  • Note: Some job descriptions include a percentage of time allocated to each key responsibility. This helps new staff determine their priorities and manage their workloads. Not all positions can be evaluated this way, so use your judgment.

Key Responsibilities, Actions, and Results
Example

(50%) Create and maintain facility graphics to ensure the integrity of plant records.

  • Analyze field engineering sketches, specifications, and supporting documents to create accurate, legible, uniform graphics that meet our quality standards.
  • Upon completion of projects, update and create new drawings as necessary.
  • Audit drawings and maintain an accuracy standard of at least 98%.

(30%) Establish and maintain a verification system to ensure plant records meet quality standards.

  • Work with engineers and construction supervisors to analyze and summarize information required for sketches.
  • Examine plant records for discrepancies using a systematic method of data collection and analysis.
  • Report findings immediately and confer with engineers and other personnel to resolve.

(10%) Protect the Graphics Database.

  • Establish and maintain regular backup systems to ensure critical information is preserved.
  • Coordinate with IT as necessary to ensure backup standards and capabilities are met.
  • Test backup systems regularly.
  • Ensure that backups are stored and available for use as required.

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4. Job Qualifications

What combination of education and experience is needed?

Identify the:

  • Necessary job skills.
  • Technical skills, if any.
  • Work history and experience needed.

A few tips to remember:

  • This is NOT a list of qualifications of the person currently in this position. Ask yourself what you need for a new person to meet the job requirements
  • You may want to consult your local labor laws and regulations to make sure your job qualifications don't discriminate in any way.

Job Qualifications
Example

  • CAD certification (AutoCAD or Pro/Engineer preferred).
  • Knowledge of engineering design principles.
  • Excellent numerical and computer skills.
  • Basic understanding of manufacturing and construction processes.
  • Two years' prior experience.

5. Personal Characteristics

What type of person would be a great fit for this position and this organization?

Identify:

  • Desirable personality traits and values.
  • Interpersonal skills that fit into the current corporate culture.
  • Preferred educational and/or technical background, above the minimum requirements (these are the "nice to have" things that you can use to evaluate applicants).

A few tips to remember:

  • The "qualifications" and "personal characteristics" sections are often combined.
  • You may need to disclose work conditions. Are there shifts? Is the work outdoors? Is it extremely hot or cold? Are there tight spaces?
  • List special regulations associated with the position.
  • Will the applicant need a background check or security clearance.

Personal Characteristics
Example

  • Good communication skills.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Creative flair.
  • Ability to solve problems independently.
  • Ability to meet tight deadlines.
  • Ability to work in a team environment.

Style Tips

Consider these style guidelines when writing job descriptions:

  • Use clear and concise language.
  • Use precise action words.

    Vague: study.
    Better: analyze, audit, estimate, review, observe.

  • Avoid jargon and slang.
  • Spell out acronyms (or define the acronym before you use it a second time).
  • Use simple sentences, and remove unnecessary words.

    Wordy: Ensures that the fleet of automobiles is in good condition.
    Better: Maintains automobile fleet.

  • Use job titles, not names of individuals.
  • Avoid gender/sex identifiers or qualifiers.

    Restrictive: He will...
    Better: This person will...

Key Points

For many organizations, preparing job descriptions isn't a high priority. Descriptions tend to develop over time, based on the position holder's skills, abilities, aptitudes, and interests. These descriptions create little value and, therefore, preparing them may be seen as an ineffective use of time and energy.

By contrast, a strong, effective job description is not just a list of specific duties and tasks. It is a description of key results expected from a position that conveys the overarching purpose of the position, empowering workers to find solutions and meet expectations.

Spend more time analyzing the positions in your company and understanding what the key results and success factors are. By creating thoughtful job descriptions, you'll have a document that can be used for planning and recruiting as well as for evaluating individual performance and improving organizational efficiency. This will definitely be worthwhile for all involved.

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