How to get value from job descriptions

Shawnee Love   •  
January 21, 2010

Job descriptions are aptly named because they are supposed to do just that- describe the job. A good job description will include the following content:

  • A job title,
  • Who the job reports to,
  • The department it is in,
  • A summary of responsibilities,
  • Key duties and tasks,
  • Job requirements such as certifications, education & experience, knowledge, skills, abilities and characteristics, and
  • Important working conditions such as requirements to travel, or for physical fitness or use of own vehicle.

I personally like to organize my job descriptions in that order, but order isn’t as important as the content. I often see ideal levels of education, experience, knowledge, skills, abilities and characteristics included in job descriptions as well. Those are helpful for recruiting purposes to help you choose the best candidate.

But if you are like most small businesses, you don’t have job descriptions. Or if you have a few done, they are usually in different formats because they were made by different people for different purposes. Rare is the business that has a job description for every job that is updated and complete. Who has that kind of time in today’s business world?

Read on to find out why your business might benefit from having simple job descriptions in place.

Here are some first to mind examples of how good job descriptions can be useful to business owners and managers:

  1. You know what each job is responsible for.
  2. You can share job descriptions with your employees so they know what they are responsible for. In fact, a job description plus some carefully crafted goals will give your employees a road map for success because they know where they are going and how to get there.
  3. You can use the job’s requirements to help you select the right candidate to hire.
  4. You can use the job’s duties and tasks to support your efforts to coach employees on performance.
  5. You can use the job’s duties as a training tool to help get new employees up and running.
  6. You can use the job’s requirements and duties to help employees understand what they need to do to get promoted or explain why they didn’t get a promotion.
  7. You can use the job description to defend your position on why an employee didn’t work out.

I hope by now you are starting to see the value of a job description and now you might wonder how to go about developing one. An HR purist would advise you to analyze the job via various information gathering techniques like interviewing, observation, measurement, etc. and then incorporate the information into a job description. That method would certainly be correct, but it can be time consuming, difficult to manage with limited resources and often costs more than the value you will see in the short term making it difficult to justify the expense.

A more practical way might be to get your employees to provide you with the information. Explain the benefits of job descriptions to them, give them a template, and ask them to fill in the blanks. If you go this route, it is important to review each one with your employee after it is done to ensure:

  • The descriptions have consistency of content through your company,
  • Duties for the entire year are included (often people forget what they do at year end or only once per year), and
  • The requirements are realistic.

I have seen many employees record that the job needs the same education, experience, knowledge, skills, etc. as they have themselves, but there is a vast difference between what is required to do the job and what is needed to be a superstar. The superstar requirements may be your ideals but they aren’t what are absolutely necessary and they are unlikely to be found in the same quantity and quality if you have to replace your superstar.

I’d love to hear from you about your experience with job descriptions. Please join in the discussion by commenting.