Managers find few phrases more irritating than “that’s not my job,” especially if the manager thinks that the activity in question is indeed part of someone’s job.
That’s why it’s important to mitigate confusion from the start by writing clear, effective job descriptions when hiring or promoting employees. Writing a clear and concise job description can also help speed up the hiring process and attract better job candidates. Either way, one great benefit is that all parties involved know what’s expected from the position from day one.
Of course, you have to know how to put together an effective job description first. Here are a few tips.
1. Remember What Your Description Is Trying to Accomplish
The objective of a written job description is to describe the major responsibilities and day-to-day duties of your open position. You shouldn’t spend it warning potential employees about the consequences of failure. You also shouldn’t sugarcoat job descriptions with half-truths or embellishments to make the position appear more attractive to candidates. Job descriptions should convey the raw, sometimes hard truth about what the job entails. If not, you run the risk of hiring an employee who can’t handle the job.
2. List the Basics
The basics include the position’s job title, the job location, the typical work schedule (including days and hours), the salary range, any relevant information about union status and a listing closing date, if applicable. Contact information for questions regarding the position is optional, but you should consider including it, as this will demonstrate your company’s seriousness in looking for the right candidate as opposed to a warm body. If you believe that you might be inundated with potential candidates, however, contact information might be best left out.
3. Describe the Tasks Involved
The first step is to list each task involved with the job. This should be done, if possible, using bullet points or a numbered list for easy readability. Your listing’s length should be limited to a page or two. If the position’s listed demands exceed two pages, then that might be a sign that you need to restructure the job description into a more concise list of only the most important tasks. Secondary tasks can be talked about during an interview and can be a great way to distinguish between seemingly similar candidates.
You’ll also need to note how the employee should complete these tasks. Instead of writing, “analyze sales trends for stores in the Southwest region,” consider writing, “using data from Salesforce and the company’s accounting system, use Excel to analyze sales trends for stores in the Southwest region.” This gives employees a better idea of the process as well as the task. If you’re not sure how the employee should go about completing the task, then specify that they will be responsible for that too: “develop processes to analyze sales trends for stores in the Southwest region.”
4. State the Purpose of the Job
People—especially smart, creative ones—aren’t robots that follow orders blindly. If you want an employee to become emotionally invested in your company, then explain how those tasks add value to the organization. In our example about analyzing sales trends, this might be done by explaining who uses the information and why:
“Using data from Salesforce and the company’s accounting system, use Excel to analyze sales trends for stores in the Southwest region so the Regional Manager can determine which store managers will receive recognition, which stores need extra marketing support and which stores should remain open.”
Bringing on an employee that is encouraged to think beyond the task at hand is a great way to foster their professional development to your company’s benefit.
5. Explain Whom the Employee Will Work With
People don’t work in a vacuum. Neither do departments. All too often, new employees get on the job and find themselves blindsided by constant requests from positions and departments that the job description didn’t bother to mention. Avoid this confusion by explaining the position’s ties to other departments and other positions within his or her department. You can do this by providing a simple list of collaborators (e.g. supervisory positions, subordinate roles and other important working relationships) that the employee can reasonably expect to spend a lot of time with, or you can weave that information into task descriptions:
“Using data from Salesforce and the company’s accounting system, use Excel to analyze sales trends for stores in the Southwest region so the Regional Manager can determine which store managers will receive recognition, which stores need extra marketing support and which stores should remain open. Employee will interact with and report to Director of Sales and Controller to obtain necessary data on a weekly basis; subordinate Sales Associate will assist with data retrieval and analysis.”
6. Reiterate the Qualifications Necessary for the Job
If you need someone who knows how to use Excel, say so. If that person doesn’t need to be an expert in Excel but instead just needs to know how to build a pivot table or use filters, say so. If you need someone who has accounting experience with Fortune 100 companies, say so. The important thing is to be transparent and accurate about what skills are required and which ones aren’t. Remember to indicate what licenses are necessary for the position, if any. Nothing erodes morale and job performance more than hiring someone who isn’t able to get the job done.
It’s important to note that schooling and experience aren’t the only qualifications necessary for a job. Personality factors are also important, and you should list those on your job description as well. For example, if you need someone who is thick-skinned or doesn’t have a problem taking work calls at home, say so. By briefly describing your workplace environment and culture, you have a chance to weed out poor fits before taking the next steps in the hiring process.
7. Remember to Hedge
This may appear glib, especially after all of our recommendations, but it’s always a good idea to include the phrase “and other duties as necessary.” While this is meant to avoid instances of managers hearing “that’s not my job,” we recommend it because there are times when employees are asked to temporarily assist with other duties, especially when another employee is on vacation, gets fired or suddenly quits. Your business may also evolve over time to provide more services, or a client request may mean that one of your employees may need to add or delete tasks temporarily or permanently. Your job description should include hedges that can accommodate these types of common organizational changes. Though there are lots of implications for dramatically changing an employee’s job duties, this phrase helps avoid problems down the line.
Above all else, writing an effective job description is meant to find you the best employee for the position you’re filling. But the best fit for a list of requirements doesn’t solely guarantee that person’s fit at your company. While the description will help narrow your available applicant pool, it’s your responsibility to ultimately hire someone that will fit with your company’s culture while contributing to overall productivity.