Creating an Effective Job Description


Most employers recognize the value of job descriptions, but not all human resources professionals understand what constitutes an effective job description – one that can serve as a basis for recruiting, performance evaluation and promotion. Think of it as a snapshot of the job in its current configuration.

It’s not quite as simple as clicking the shutter of a camera, but creating a job description doesn’t have to be a daunting task, even the first time around, if you take an orderly approach. Once accurate job descriptions have been developed for the key jobs in your organization, it is much easier to establish what tasks are being carried out, which of them are desirable and which ones need changing. From there, you are well on your way to an ongoing system of review and analysis that will provide critical information on a range of HR issues.

First Things First

The first step is to read any and all existing information about the job, including want ads and pertinent information in recruitment brochures produced by your company.

Next, determine the reporting relationships between this job and related jobs within the same department and in other departments. If the position is a new one, interview the supervisor to whom it reports to ensure that you understand why the position was created and what it is expected to accomplish.

Free Download: Example Employee Handbook

Then, ask the incumbent, if there is one (or the supervisor, if the job is vacant) to list the duties of the position and then rank them according to their importance to the organization. Then ask which five or six tasks they spend the most time performing – these will not necessarily be the same as the ones they believe to be most important.

This is the basic procedure most companies use to develop a job description, but a more comprehensive method may be desirable, especially in organizations which have a strong developmental or training component, in highly regulated industries and in particularly complex or technically oriented jobs. In such cases it is a good idea to add in other methods of data gathering to augment the description of the activities involved in the position.

Data Gathering Methods

Observation. This technique is most effective in manufacturing jobs and jobs in which the key activities are physical and thus easily observable.

Review of Records. Reviews of maintenance requests, repairs and computer troubleshooting can yield valuable information in technical and mechanically oriented jobs.

Desk Audit. A good method for analyzing clerical and technical jobs, this method involves going to the work location and asking the employee to walk and talk you through their activities as they are performing them.

Interviews. A one-on-one interview generally yields more information than a written listing of key duties, and allows you to ask questions. Group interviews are also useful for positions with multiple employees, especially in the supervisory and management ranks. For maximum effectiveness, get a group of the best performers together in a room where they can’t accept phone calls and ask them to explain how tasks are performed and why some tasks are more important than others. This technique is highly desirable when the job description is to be used for recruiting, as the quality of information tends to be very high.

Questionnaire. This approach is especially effective when it is not feasible to bring employees together for an interview, and in conjunction with other techniques.

Diary. Ask the employee to keep a diary of duties, noting the frequency with which tasks are performed.

Brainstorming. Ask one or more incumbents to brainstorm with you about the critical elements of the job, including problems and opportunities, as well as the desired behaviors in such situations.

With all these techniques available, what kind of questions should you ask? What kinds of data do you need to gather? In addition to a simple listing of tasks, you might want to ask for:

  1. A list of key decisions
  2. Amount of supervision received
  3. Number and kind of personnel supervised
  4. Diversity of functions performed by supervised staff
  5. Interactions with other staff
  6. Physical and technical requirements of the job
  7. Participations in/contributions to work teams

The more time that is invested in gathering data for a job description, the more likely it is to be effective as a recruiting and evaluation tool. A satisfactory job description should tell the reader the basic concept of the job as well as the general working conditions, skills and knowledge needed to perform key tasks and minimum qualifications needed to perform satisfactorily in the position.

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Angela Cordle

Angela Cordle

Angela Cordle is the EVP of GoSmallBiz and Tarkenton Financial. In this role, she serves as the Human Resources Director, overseeing the provision of HR services, policies, and programs for the company. She brings practical and experiential knowledge of HR best practices to small businesses. Angela is also an Investment Advisor Representative and Executive Vice President of Tarkenton Financial, LLC. In addition to working with advisors throughout the United States, Angela works with clients exclusively in the Atlanta area to educate and assist them in preparing for retirement. Angela holds a BBA from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, her Series 65 investment license as well as being insurance licensed in all 50 states.