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How to Write a Job Description Page
How to Write a Job Description

If you want to find candidates who have zero percent learning curve, fit into your organization, get the job done, and exceed your highest expectations, then don't underestimate the importance of knowing how to write a job description.

Think of the job description as the recipe for creating the candidate. If the recipe is flawed, the end result will be flawed.

What happens if you don't write a job description well? Candidates can't do the job. New employees don't fit your corporate culture. Poor performance materializes down the road. Employee turnover increases. Key business objectives are missed.

Sounds bad, but have no fear — here are some tips for writing a job description that gets the job done!

First Things First
It's crucial that you make writing job descriptions part of your overall business planning effort. You can't simply start thinking about job descriptions every time you have a specific search to conduct for a hiring requisition.

Approaching job descriptions casually on a perodic basis leads to non-standardized job descriptions. It also leads to some positions having job descriptions and others not having job descriptions. Essentially, this says you don't know what people in your organization do or what they are expected to do. More importantly, you don't have a road map for the future as to how roles and responsibilites will evolve. Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

You need to embed preparation of job descriptions within your human resources group as a central and fundamental basis for running HR. Take the time to write job descriptions for every position in your organization, not just the ones you are currently hiring for.

Internal Job Descriptions Versus External Job Descriptions
A second key concept is that there are internal job descriptions that are for insider use only and there are external job descriptions that will be read by prospective candidates. The former is very thorough and complete. The latter is an abridged version of the internal job description, typically with more of a marketing slant to it.

High Level Objective of a Job Description
What are we trying to accomplish with a job description? A job description is used by many different people, but the main objective is that it should provide a comprehensive picture of the purpose, requirements and context of the job. To do that, it needs to be written clearly in simple language, contain information but not opinions or judgements, and avoid using words with “company specific” meanings. A well-written comprehensive job description for a management position might typically be about three to five pages in length.

What's in a Job Description?
A thorough, detailed job description should contain the following components:

  • Administrative Information
  • Reporting Structure
  • Metrics
  • Job Functions and Contributions
  • Required Competencies
  • Interaction / Impact Matrix
  • Other
  • Sign Off and Routing

Part 1 — Administrative Information
This section includes basic information about the position: job title, a short description of the job and its purpose, company name, geographic location, branch or department, supervisor's name, supervisor's job title, salary target, special benefits, relocation reimbursement status, special requirements such as drug testing or security clearance, and a revision date for this particular draft of the job description.

The most important part of this section is a concise statement of the purpose of the job, which should be a single-sentence statement indicating what the employee is expected to achieve and how he is expected to achieve it.

Part 2 — Reporting Structure
This section includes an organization chart that shows exactly where the position fits in the organizational hierarchy. Any “dotted line” relationships should be clearly delineated. The position of the job in the organizational hierarchy gives valuable information about its significance and the ability of the employee to make progress and influence decisions.

Part 3 — Metrics
This section includes metrics that are relevant to the job. These will vary considerably between jobs but might include: annual budgets; annual revenue targets; number of staff supervised and direct reports; number of customer accounts; number of contracts responsible for; and number of brands managed.

Part 4 — Job Functions and Contributions
This section briefly describes the functions of the job. Statements should be phrased in terms of the purpose and the result to be accomplished, rather than the manner in which the function is performed. For example, “Responsible for monthly consolidation of affiliate forecasts and communicating identified inventory shortages to demand planners” is far better than “Diligently perform forecasting duties”.

Itemize the key job functions for a position and record them in a matrix. In a separate column, record the percentage of time the function is performed (should total 100%). Do not list non-essential job functions if they are done less than 5% of the time. In another column, note when the function is performed (e.g. daily, monthly, quarterly). In a final column, put a check mark if the function is essential (i.e. fundamental duties that the individual holding the job must be able to perform.

Part 5 — Required Competencies
This is where you define the knowledge, skills, abilities, and attributes that the candidate needs to have. We recommend you create a matrix that includes the following information: the competency; the experience, education or certification that is required; the function which the competency supports (going back to the functions matrix you prepared in Job Functions and Contributions above); and, finally, checkboxes as to whether the competency is a Minimum Requirement (i.e. they can't have the job if they don't have it) or if it is a Preferred Requirement (nice to have but not essential).

Part 6 — Interaction/Impact Matrix
Create an exhaustive list of relevant interaction entities (e.g. Marketing, External Customers, Administrative Assistant, Use of Wireless Technology, etc.) in one column. Then, where appropriate, apply check marks for the following interaction types, each of which has its own column in the matrix: Performs Services For; Negotiates With / Influences; Provides Recommendations To; Supervises; Provides Directions To; and Develops Strategies For. This provides a good understanding of the position and how it will interact and influence other entities within your organization.

Part 7 — Other
This section captures other elements of the job. Include a short narrative section that gives incremental insights into the context in which the employee will do the job. Important aspects of the environment (e.g. “The plant in which this employee came to our company through our recent acquisition of ABC Company”). This catch-all section might also be used to address the decision-making powers of the position. What types of decisions can be made autonomously by the employee and which will require consultation with senior management? This section completes the job description such that it is fully described in all important respects.

Part 8 — Sign Off and Routing
There should be a formal approval process for the job description before it is transformed into an official active hiring request. At the end of the job description, include space for Submitted By, Submission Date, Approved By, and Approval Date information. There should also be a standard list of departments to whom the description needs to be routed (e.g. Supervisor, HR Compensation, ISO 9000 Coordinator, etc.) with circles around those who need to receive a copy.

Getting Started — Collecting the Information
Now that you understand the core elements of a job description, you're ready to get started! Putting the job description together ultimately involves collecting information and determining the important functions and requirements of the position. Once this is done, writing the posiiton description is relatively easy. Key ways to collect the information include observing tasks as they are performed, observing behaviors, having jobholders write a self-description of their positions, conducting structured questionnaires about the roles and responsibilities for a position, interviewing jobholders, or researching job descriptions for similar positions posted publicly by third-parties.

Writing the Job Descriptions
Collect all the relevant information, write the job description, accept feedback from others, revise the document, and, finally, it will be the perfect job description that lets you attract and retain a highly talented, diverse workforce.

Efficiency Hint — Create Templated Job Descriptions
There's no sense reinventing the wheel every time you write a job description. We recommend that you create templated versions of job descriptions for certain job types. For example, you might create a generic job descriptions for Clerical/Administrative positions and these can be slightly modified based on the specifics of a given position, rather than starting from scratch.

Final Words
Follow the steps above and you'll soon have excellent descriptive positions of the jobs you are recruiting for. This will result in your enhancing the effectiveness of your recruiting parties, hiring the best candidates, and ensuring that all employees have a clear understanding of their role in your organization and the link between their contributions and the overall mission of the company.

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