What are the reasons and rationales underlying the need to create well-written and effective job descriptions?   

Job descriptions are written statements that describe the duties, responsibilities, important contributions, and required qualifications of a particular position.  These descriptions are based on objective information obtained through job analysis, an understanding of the competencies and skills required to accomplish certain tasks, and the needs of the company. The following article will explain and help guide their creation.

Job descriptions may also include information about working conditions, tools, equipment used, knowledge and skills required, reporting relationships, and the relationship of a particular job with other positions within the company. They are living, breathing documents that are updated as responsibilities evolve and change over time.  They should reflect what is actually occurring on the job while at the same time encouraging employees to stretch their experience, grow their skills and develop their ability to contribute within the organization.

There are many reasons to have well-written job descriptions.  Written descriptions will help protect against potential legal claims and will serve as an integral piece of performance development and organizational planning.  The descriptions should be based on job-related criteria and accurately state the essential vs. nonessential job functions.

Job descriptions should do the following:

  • Ensure employees and managers agree on the responsibilities and scope of the job 
  • Help the hiring manager understand the skills, education, and experience needed 
  • Enable effective recruiting plans to be formulated (i.e. tailoring advertisements) 
  • Inform candidates about the essential job functions for the position they are applying for 
  • Notify staff who are assisting with the interview process about the questions to ask 
  • Protect you legally by demonstrating why one candidate selected over another 

Steps in developing job descriptions 

1. Gather appropriate people for the task 

  • The manager to whom the position will report can take the lead in developing the description as well as the employee, but other employees who are performing similar jobs can contribute to its development as well.   
  • Management together with human resources can develop the description on their own if it is a newly created position.

2. Perform a job analysis 

  • You need as much data as possible to develop a job description.  
  • The job analysis may include: the job responsibilities of current employees, Internet research and sample job descriptions highlighting similar jobs, an analysis of the work duties, tasks, and responsibilities that need to be accomplished, and research of other companies that have similar jobs. 

 3. Write the job description 

  • Find a format or template that works for your company and be consistent with all job descriptions across the organization. 
  • Ensure you are separating out the essential vs. non-essential functions as well as having a disclaimer that other duties may be added from time-to-time. 

Components of a Job Description 

  • Overall position description with general areas of responsibility listed 
  • Essential functions of the job described and a couple examples 
  • Required knowledge, skills, abilities, education, and experience 
  • A description of any physical demands and work environment 

Other Considerations of Job Descriptions 

  • Helps with employee development.  An effective job description establishes a base so that an employee can clearly understand what they need to develop in terms of professional and personal development.   
  • Helps provide clear direction.  If the goals and job accomplishments are tied to salary or bonus, you must take a look at where the employee is investing his time.  If the job description provides a wrong picture, change the description immediately. 
  • Helps communicate expectations.  Not having a job description or a poorly worded one may add to workplace confusion and make people feel as if they don’t know what is expected from them.   
  • Helps cover legal bases.  You will want to make sure the description of the physical requirements of the job is accurate to avoid disability discrimination or other claims of unfair or discriminatory treatment.  Descriptions should include what is essential to perform the job.   

The ultimate goal in developing job descriptions is to create balance – allowing descriptions to set clear expectations without taking away from needed flexibility (encourage employees to “work outside the box” and not think “that’s not my job”).   

It is critical to review the job description periodically to make sure it accurately reflects what the employee is doing and your expectations of employee performance.  If descriptions are vague and unmeasurable, they will not be very useful. 

Well-written job descriptions provide needed structure.  They will assist managers in making good hiring decisions.  In evaluating employees, they will be a key source for improving employee performance.  If termination occurs, it will be a document scrutinized by the court if the employee claims he or she was performing the duties and responsibilities of his job but was fired nonetheless for unlawful reasons. Protect yourself and your company and ask for expert advice if needed!