A job description is a communication tool that describes the duties and responsibilities of a job and the qualifications required to be successful in the job. It is the foundation on which candidates determine interest and decide to apply to your organization.

The benefits of writing an effective job description

A well written job description will:

  • Help attract the right candidates
  • Be a template for writing outside job postings and advertisements
  • Serve as a guide for formulating your interview questions and candidate evaluation
  • Set realistic expectations for the new hire*
  • Assist managers/supervisors in conducting performance reviews and identifying areas for training or development
  • Prevent future legal problems with federal agencies in the event of a discrimination allegation

*Jobs in a small to medium size company can shift depending on your growth and direction.

Jobs are subject to change due either to personal growth, organizational development, and/or the evolution of new technologies. Flexible job descriptions will encourage your employees to grow within their positions and learn how to make larger contributions to your company. Your organization’s job descriptions should be concise, clear, but also flexible. When writing a job description, keep in mind that the job description will serve as a major basis for outlining job training or conducting future job evaluations. It is good practice to review your job descriptions periodically to make sure they accurately reflects what the employee is doing and your expectations of results from the employee.

Steps to writing an effective job description—what to include

Gather the appropriate people for the task. The manager to whom the position will report might be the best person to take the lead in developing the job description. If there are other employees performing similar jobs, they can also contribute. Additionally, if the position is new and will relieve current employees of work load, they should be part of the discussion.

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 online or offline highlighting similar jobs, an analysis of the work duties, tasks, and responsibilities that need to be accomplished by the employee filling the position, research and sharing with other companies that have similar jobs, and articulation of the most important outcomes or contributions needed from the position. The more information you can gather, the easier the actual task to develop the job description will be.

Write the job description. The format and style for writing job descriptions might be different from any other type of writing that you do in your job. Writing job descriptions is not a complex process, but it requires following a basic format including specific components. Your job descriptions should follow a consistent format when possible. The basic components should include:

  • Job Title
  • Title of the Individual the job reports to
  • Job Summary
  • Key Responsibilities
  • Minimum Job Requirements
  • Physical Requirements and Environment
  • Disclaimer

Job Title

The job title should accurately reflect the type of work performed. For example- “clerk,” “processor,” or “analyst”. It should also indicate the level of work being performed– “senior analyst”, or “lead accountant”.

Job Summary

The job summary describes the primary reason for and function of the job. It also provides an overview of the job and introduces the job responsibilities section. The job summary should describe the job without detailed task descriptions. Its length should range from one sentence to a paragraph, depending on the complexity of the job. It is sometimes easier to write the summary once you have completed the more detailed information.

Example: A job summary for a Human Resources Director

“Manages the human resources function and day-to-day human resources management activities throughout the organization, including employee recruiting, orientation, compensation, benefits, and related programs. Manages all HR functions, staff, and the HR department budget.”

Key Responsibilities

Begin each job responsibility with a present tense action verb and describe the area of responsibility in action terms. Normally, there will be 7 to 10 responsibilities, depending on the job. Examples:

  • Develops marketing programs directed at increasing product sales and awareness.
  • Writes programming code to develop various features and functionality for commercial software products.
  • Designs and develops user interfaces for commercial software products.
  • Supervises technical support employees in providing technical support to organization clients.
  • Manages development of advertising and various marketing collateral materials.

Minimum job requirements

This section describes the minimum knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required to perform the job. This information helps determine if the candidates are minimally qualified. Avoid arbitrary requirements that are difficult to validate.

Include only the minimally acceptable requirements. Do not inflate requirements.

Be specific and realistic about the necessary requirements.

Do not consider the particular education, experience, or skill level of current jobholders. Include only what the job actually requires.

Ensure the requirement relates to how and why the job is done

Requirements should include:

  • Education —the type and minimum level, such as high school diploma and/or bachelor’s degree.
  • Experience —the type and minimum level, such as three to five years of supervisory experience, five years of editing experience, and two years of experience with content management systems.
  • Special skills — such as languages spoken and computer software proficiencies.
  • Certifications and licenses — such as industry certifications and practitioners’ licenses.

Physical requirements

This section describes the physical demands and environment of the job and lists the basic physical conditions needed to perform the job. This section should list specific physical requirements such as lifting heavy objects and standing for long periods of time. Examples include:

  • Requires ability to lift large and heavy packages
  • Must be physically capable of safely lifting a minimum of 50 lbs. without assistance
  • Requires the ability to work flexible shifts
  • Must be able to travel 50% to other job sites
  • Able to meet tight deadlines in a fast-paced work environment

Disclaimer

All job descriptions should include a disclaimer that clearly states that the description is only a summary of the typical functions of the job, not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of all possible job responsibilities, tasks, and duties. Disclaimers should also state that the responsibilities, tasks, and duties of the jobholder might differ from those outlined in the job description and that other duties, as assigned, might be part of the job. This disclaimer is most important in a labor union environment where the document can be literally interpreted.