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How to write a job description (and why it’s important)


Are you placing enough importance on the quality and accuracy of your job descriptions?           

It may seem like a rudimentary – and perhaps trivial – matter but knowing how to write a job description is crucial to the success of your employees and your overall business.

By having a defined process in place to generate, revise and update job descriptions, you can work more quickly and effectively to fill openings, keep employees productive and retool their responsibilities as needed.

So, when was the last time you thought about the following?

  • Why is having a well-crafted job description important?
  • What’s the anatomy of a job description?
  • What is the process for creating job descriptions?
  • How can you translate that more detailed job description into a job posting that attracts applicants who are a good fit?

Let’s break these four areas down.

Why you need detailed job descriptions

Why is a clear and accurate job description important, both for your company and for the applicant? 

It puts the new hire in the best position to succeed because they will have access to a clear definition of what is required. Their success works to the organization’s benefit.

Job descriptions play a key role in:

Conversely, a poorly worded job description can create obstacles for all involved parties.

Starting a new job is a challenge. If a new hire is unsure of what to do at the outset, it can impact their efficiency and that of the co-workers they ask for help.

Eventually, frustration and miscommunication could grow to a point where the new employee decides to leave, and you must start the expensive, time-consuming hiring process all over again.

Anatomy of a job description

A job description is lengthy, dry and thorough. It should include:

  • Essential and supplementary duties and functions
  • All qualifications (certifications, licenses, education, etc.)
  • Experience requirements
  • Supervisory responsibilities for the role
  • Core competencies
  • Information about the work environment (including noise level)
  • Physical demands of the position
  • A statement that the employee will satisfy other duties as required
  • An acknowledgement form that each employee must sign

With minimal additional explanation, you should be able to send a job description to an applicant and have them fully understand what will be expected of them if they join your organization.

How to write a job description

Job descriptions are undervalued and underappreciated, but they can be a real asset.

You don’t have to invest a lot of effort or time to implement and maintain a good database of job descriptions, and they can protect your organization and help you grow with the right people in place.

Here’s how to get started.

Step 1: Define who should be involved in the process

The first step is actively involving the right people to participate. There are four types of people who should weigh in on the process.

  1. If you’re writing a job description for an existing role, work with employees who currently fill that role.

    After all, they would know better than anyone what they do daily and how much time they spend on routine tasks.
  2. Always include the supervisor to whom the new employee will report.
  3. Consult an HR professional to ensure the job description is fair, accurate and complies with all necessary laws and regulations.

    An HR professional can also help determine the role’s Fair Labor Standards Association (FLSA) exemption status. This isn’t required to be in a job description, but it’s sometimes included.
  4. Select someone in a senior leadership position to confirm the job description ties to the company goals and aligns with the intended purpose of the role.

Step 2: Collect information to be used in the job description

You’ve identified who you need to talk to for information and approvals. Now it’s time to collect data.

1. Develop a job description questionnaire

It should request information about:

  • What the job entails
  • Supporting duties
  • A general idea of how much time is spent on each essential duty

Circulate these questionnaires among individuals currently in the role to mine their personal experiences for relevant information.

2. Consider doing a needs analysis of the position

A needs analysis should include:

  • What type of educational background should candidates have?
  • Is there a certificate program that could be substituted for that education?
  • How much total experience should applicants have? Do they need supervisory experience?
  • Is industry knowledge helpful, or even essential?
  • Should the candidate have prior training on specific software programs. If so, what level of expertise or familiarity are you looking for?

Step 3: Write and review the job description

Once you have this information, prepare a draft and circulate it among the supervisors, HR professional and the leadership team member for revisions and additions.

Do a final review to ensure the job description is in line with your organization’s core values and culture.

You might also consider asking a person completely unfamiliar with this job to review the description to see if they understand it. Their perspective will likely be the same as a candidate reading it for the first time.

Step 4: Update and revise job descriptions

At least once a year, it’s a smart and time-saving decision to revisit job descriptions because roles often evolve over time, especially in a growing organization.

A natural opportunity to review job descriptions presents itself when an employee announces they’re leaving.

Do some pre-planning to include a discussion on the job description during exit interviews. This can be a valuable source of information, especially as the outgoing employee will likely feel free to be candid and offer you a unique perspective on ways to improve the job description.

How to turn a job description into a job posting

Now you have a detailed, beautifully crafted job description in hand. Can you post that to the internet and await a deluge of applicants?

No, because a job description and a job posting are fundamentally different.

Job postings are public, while job descriptions are internal documents.

The longer an opening goes unfilled, the more the other members of the team are taxed and asked to do more than just their own job. You want to have job descriptions prepared in advance, so you can move quickly to turning it into an advertisement.

A job posting:

  • Will contain key elements from the job description
  • Will identify minimum qualifications
  • Is an advertisement

Like all ads, a strong job posting needs to be concisely worded in a way to incite a reaction from the target audience.

In summary

It’s important to know how to write a job description. It’s one of the most fundamental ways you can help and protect your employees.

There are many other ways your HR strategy can either benefit or hurt your business. If you’d like to learn more, download our free e-book: 7 most frequent HR mistakes and how to avoid them.