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How to Write an Effective Job Description

By June 18, 2014July 23rd, 2018Human Resources

By Laura Pokrzywa

Attendees to ECRM’s HR webinar, “Hiring the Right People, the Right Way”, will remember that a successful hiring process begins with a well-written job description. As our presenters explained, these important tools aid in recruiting, interviewing, determining salary levels, conducting performance reviews, establishing titles and pay grades and creating reasonable accommodation controls. In addition, you will find them invaluable for career planning and training exercises. They even play a role in protecting your company from discrimination claims (more on that later).

A good job description should describe the tasks, duties, functions and responsibilities of a position. It outlines the details of who performs the job, the specific type of work, how that work is to be completed, and the frequency and the purpose of the work as it relates to the company’s mission and goals.

A job description gives an employee a very clear and concise resource to be used as a guide for job performance. Likewise, a supervisor can use a job description as a measuring tool to ensure that the employee is meeting job expectations.

A good job description starts with careful observation and a little research. Here’s the best way to approach it:

1.  Gather information (Job Analysis) about the job’s tasks:

• Interview employees currently in the position to find out exactly what tasks they are performing.
• Observe how tasks are performed.
• Have employees keep a “journal” or log of tasks for a specific period. Or have them fill out questionnaires or worksheets.
• Collect data on jobs from other resources such as salary surveys.

Be sure to have the employee that is currently in the position review your results—to verify the requirements and descriptions of each aspect of the position.

2.  Consider essential functions: These will help establish ADA requirements and bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs) which are essential for many reasons, not the least of which is defending your company against any discrimination claims. To establish the performance standard:

• Ensure that the tasks are truly necessary in order to perform the job.
• Determine the frequency and duration of each essential task.
• Determine the consequences of not performing the function and whether this would be detrimental to the company’s operation.
• Determine if the tasks can be redesigned or performed in another manner.
• Determine if the tasks should be reassigned to another employee.

This will help you determine whether the functions are essential or marginal. The use of the term “essential function” should be part of the job description, and it should explicitly state how an individual is to perform the job. This will provide future guidance as to whether the job can be performed with or without accommodation.

CAVEAT: Though you want to be specific about the essential functions, be careful not to go overboard with details. This is a job description, not a “how-to” manual. You don’t want to be rewriting the job description every time there is a change to your equipment, vendors, customers or processes.

3. Standardize the information for each position: All of the job descriptions within your company should follow the same format. Be sure to include the following:

• Date when job description was written.
• Position title.
• Job status – exempt or non-exempt under FLSA, full- or part-time.
• Primary focus—what the position is supposed to accomplish, how it affects other positions and the organization. Keep this brief and to the point.
• Job summary – an outline of job responsibilities.
• Organizational scope and relationships: outline the reporting structure and highlight key internal and external contacts.
• Skills and Qualifications required to perform the job. This includes education, licenses and certifications, and experience required.
• Quality and quantity standards—minimum levels needed to meet the job requirements.
• Time spent performing tasks—percentages, if used, should be distributed to equal 100%.
• Physical factors—type of environment associated with job: indoor/outdoor.
• Working conditions—shifts, overtime requirements as needed.
• Unplanned activities—other duties as assigned.

4.  A few extras to remember:

• Disclaimer: add a statement that indicates that the job description is not designed to be a comprehensive listing of activities, duties or responsibilities that are required of the employee.
• Signature lines: Signatures validate the job description by showing it has been approved by all levels of management and that the employee understands the requirements, essential functions and duties of the position. Signatures should include those of the chief operating officer, or highest ranking officer, the supervisor and the employee.

Job descriptions should be kept in a secure location and copies used for job postings, interviews, accommodation requests, compensation reviews, and performance appraisals. Employers may also wish to post them on the company’s intranet. Each employee’s personnel file should include a signed copy of their job description.

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