Writing Job Descriptions

A qualified pool of applicants is the key to finding the right candidate to fill a job opening.  Hiring managers start the process by writing good job descriptions.  Once written, the document can be posted internally to see if a qualified candidate already exists in the company, or posted externally to bring new skills and knowledge into the organization.

In this article, we're going to cover the topic of writing effective job descriptions.  As part of that explanation, we'll start by talking about why writing one is so important in the first place.  Next, we'll outline a process that can be used when developing the job description.  Finally, we'll provide a well-written example.

Job Descriptions

The purpose of a job description is to relay to the reader the important facts about the position.  In practice, they can be used both when attempting to fill an opening as well as providing existing employees with a clearer picture of what's expected of them in terms of performance.

Over time, companies evolve, as does the expectations the leadership of an organization have for their employees.  This brings to mind a very good reason to not only write a job description, but also to keep it current.  As the company evolves, so does the supporting organization.  Having an up-to-date document can be essential to survival in today's workplace.

Elements of a Good Job Description

Writing an effective job description starts with understanding the purpose of the document, which is to identify the truly critical functions of the position.  Understanding these functions then allows the writer to:

  • Create the foundation for recruiting qualified individuals.
  • Compose interview questions that allow the hiring team to accurately assess the competencies of a job applicant.
  • Establish the appropriate pay or classification of the position.
  • Set the correct performance expectations.
  • Determine the elements of a good job description.

This last point is an important one because the document needs to identify:

  • Roles / Responsibilities:  also referred to as a purpose statement or position objective, this is a relatively short statement of three or four sentences describing the role the position plays in an organization, as well as the responsibilities of that position.  This section of the document answers the question:   What does this employee do?
  • Processes:  these are the specialized tools or methods the position uses to achieve goals.  Here the writer is trying to answer the question:  How does this employee attain their results?
  • Results:  this section is used to identify the outputs expected from the employee.  This part of the job description will answer the question:  What are the expectations of this employee?
  • Qualifications:  finally, the document needs to establish the qualifications of the candidate.  This is especially important if the position requires a license or college degree in addition to the work experiences of the individual.  Here the writer is addressing the question:  Who is capable of working in this role?

We're going to get into more detail for each of the above elements in the paragraphs below, as we begin to outline the process for putting this document together.

Roles and Responsibilities

This statement should convey to the reader the overall objective of the job.  As mentioned earlier, it's typically three or four sentences long, and should contain the essential roles and responsibilities of the position as well as the objective of the work.  This statement should include reporting relationships and the most important functions of the person in this career.

When developing the roles and responsibilities it's helpful to go through an exercise that lists out:

  • Major functions of the job as well as sub-functions.
  • Principal duties as well as responsibilities to other departments or organizations.
  • Percentage of time the person in the position should spend engaged in each function or activity.

The roles and responsibilities statement will focus on major job functions; however, the information gathered in this step will be used later when writing the Results section.  It's good practice to start each functional description with an action verb.  This will be demonstrated in the examples provided later on.

Processes

Once the job functions have been identified, they need to be expanded by adding to each one the processes used in that function.  These are the tools and / or skills that the person in this role will need to possess in order to accomplish their objectives.  Processes can include specialized knowledge, skills, or experience.

At this point, the writer should have a list of all the major functions as well as sub-functions.  They should be listed in order of importance, which should translate into the percent of time spent on each.  The writer should have also listed out the processes that will be used to fulfill each function.

Results

When talking about results, this is another way to think about the purpose of the position.  The writer needs to answer the question:  What results do we expect this person to achieve?  This could be as simple as assembling a given number of widgets each day, or as complicated as ensuring a $160M budget is not exceeded.  When the results are added to the above information, the outcome is a more complete statement.  The writer has identified the function, the process for completing it, as well as the expected results.

Process Steps

To summarize the steps necessary to complete a job description:

  1. Summarize Major Job Functions
  2. Identify Functions of Lesser Importance (Tasks)
  3. Assign Timeframes (Percent of a Day or Week) to each Job Function
  4. Reorder Job Functions Based on Timeframes
  5. Remove Functions that are Insignificant

Once the above steps have been completed, it's easier to determine the skills, knowledge, and experience required of the position.  Finally, the writer now has enough information to create a position title and summarize the general purpose of the job.

Job Description Example

Now that the entire process has been outlined, it's time to put this information into practice using an example.  In this case, a project management position was chosen, which involves a complex installation of a customer system.

In this simplified example, the project manager will have only three major functions that relate to cost, quality, and schedule, including:

  • Reporting Project Finances
  • Establishing System Test Protocols
  • Creating and Maintaining a Project Schedule

Next details are added to these functions by supplying the roles, processes, and results:

  • Project Schedule (50%):  create and maintain project schedule using Microsoft Project.  Ensure dependencies are identified, resources are secured, and project is delivered within 30 days of the scheduled Go-Live date.
  • Testing Protocols (30%):  establish system testing protocols, load test scenarios into Quality Center, and ensure 100% of functional enhancements have passed testing before moving transports from the test environment into production.
  • Project Finances (20%):  maintain monthly budget status spreadsheets, report results to the project management office (PMO) including forecast, actual results, as well as variance summaries.

Now that the expectations of the position have been identified, it's easier to develop a summary statement, choose an appropriate title for this job, identify the skills, knowledge, and experience required of the position.  That's exactly what was done in the complete example we've put together and made available for download:  Sample Job Description.


About the Author - Writing Job Descriptions - (Last Reviewed on March 16, 2016)