The Importance of Job Descriptions and How to Prepare Them

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Consider your current hiring and evaluation processes. Do you incorporate job descriptions as part of these processes? If not, you may want to review your policies. A job description may be one of the most important legal documents in the organization. A common fear, that job descriptions may limit an employee's production, pales in contrast to a legal battle for breach of contract.

If written properly, a job description can enhance an employee's contribution within the organization. Whether you have applicants/employees complete personality profiles, written tests or other aptitude testing, is irrelevant. In today's legal environment, the question is whether or not these methods will withstand a legal challenge.

A simple approach to predicting employee performance is to use job descriptions as the criteria for future performance. If a candidate or employee has successfully fulfilled your job criteria with past employers or past positions, this will assist in your hiring and promotion process. Job descriptions should be free of references to gender, and items listed must be objective and relate to the position.

Below are some steps to help you prepare a Job Description.

  • Job Title: This should be the first part of your description. This is a very important part of the process since it will reflect how and where this position will fit in within the organization. Don't use fancy titles to entice applicants or employees; take the status of the position into consideration and build from there.
  • Management Reporting: Who does/will this candidate/employee report to? Use the department name rather than a manager's name. By establishing this relationship early on, you have given the manager of that department responsibility over the candidate/employee and also over evaluating the performance of the employee. It is also important for employees to know to whom they are accountable.
  • Job Purpose: The next step is to document the reason the job exists. Address the organization's overall need for this position. A very common reason for a lack of employee motivation is the fact that many employees know what to do and how to do it but lack a vital understanding of why they are doing it. This step will also assist the company in looking at redundant positions and help keep hiring costs down.
  • Key Objectives: Objectives are defined as what is to be done rather than how it will be done. There can be up to six or seven objectives associated with any job. This part of the job description will assist with selection of candidates when comparing backgrounds or achievements.
  • Duties/Tasks: This process covers the day-to-day tasks, routines and other duties required to achieve the objectives of the position. The list may contain one or more activities that should provide suggestions and ideas on how to achieve the objectives. It is critical that the activities are portrayed as suggestions to ensure candidates/employees are focused on the objectives rather than these activities. This will allow more creativity in coming up with effective alternatives to achieve the objectives.
  • Key Relationships: This section deals with both internal and external relationships that will have to be established by a new hire or employee in order to succeed in the position. To ensure an employee's success, it is critical that he or she be aware of the players other than the boss who will directly impact the successful completion of the job objectives. Another reason to document the key relationships is to let the new hire know that these relationships must be made - failure to do so cannot be an excuse for missing objectives.
  • Decision-Making: Make sure you document the decisions that must be made as part of the job. Do not remove this element from the job description. If there are no decisions to be made, indicate this clearly in the description. Documenting the decision-making responsibility sends a clear message to potential employees that decisions must be made and are part of the performance evaluation.
  • Problem-Solving: This is a critical area and must be stated plainly. Reducing the risk and controlling organizational entry is the objective. It is smarter to find out before they are on payroll that they are not prepared to deal with the job's problems. Those who do accept the job also accept the fact that these problems must be solved and are part of the overall performance review.
  • Formal Education and Training: This should document the minimum level of education required for the position. This is a very important part of the process. By setting the requirements too low, you may get unqualified candidates; set requirements too high and possibly no one will apply. For example, for a receptionist position, company managers may decide that oral and written communication skills and multi-tasking abilities are required to carry out the typical day-to-day activities. The hope is that a high school education will be sufficient, but employers can lower the risk of getting an unqualified candidate by requiring applicants to pass grade 12 oral and written English exams from the local high school.
  • Experience: This describes the desired work history that applicants should possess. Remember, the key to lowering the risk is to predict future performance from past-demonstrated experience. This does not mean that applicants who do not have this experience will not be capable of performing these tasks successfully. You do not have to subjectively judge whether applicants are better than others; you can use past performance and experience in gauging their abilities.
  • Other Key Skills or Knowledge: This should include the types of systems, software, equipment or processes that are required to perform the job. This is complied from the systems and equipment that the employee will be using on the job. If two equally qualified applicants are available, the one with direct past experience with these systems will be the lower risk.
  • Measurement Data: This area of the description highlights how this job will be measured and assessed. For example, if this was a staff accountant position, one measurement could be total billable hours for the year. A Sales Manager's measurement could include a pre-determined amount of sales per month. A budget can also be used as measurement data. Remember, every position can be quantified to provide this data.

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