Job Descriptions – How and Why

Many employers underestimate the importance of having a full and accurate job description in place when they undergo a recruitment process. Understandably, it can be seen as a waste of time to spend 30-60 minutes writing down details you already know when there are far more important issues for you to deal with in your day job.

However, this advice will hopefully show the ‘bland job description’ in a whole new light once you are aware of the different benefits it can bring to you and your organisation.

Why do I need to write a job description?

1.     Clarification of your needs
Often the act of putting pen to paper and having to think through the details of what the job entails can clarify or highlight a requirement for the job that wasn’t so apparent before – level, background, qualifications, ambition, personality etc.

2.     Confirmation of expectations
Any potential new recruits, your manager, your staff, your HR/ resourcing team (where applicable) will not be in any doubt about what the job involves and what this new recruit would be expected to do.

These two points will reduce the time you spend recruiting whilst ensuring you minimise the chances of a new recruit walking out after a week – costly with both time and money.

3.     Organisational Structure
If everyone in your organisation has a formal job description, it will ensure all employees understand the reporting lines and hierarchical structure. Useful if you are bringing in new staff.

4.     Performance Appraisal
Ensuring everyone has a detailed job description for their role will hugely simplify objective and target setting for all staff across the organisation. These targets/ objectives should not be on a job description as they are prone to change depending on the commercial situation of the organisation.

5.     Legalities
Formal job descriptions can form part of binding employment contracts and can therefore assist in dealing with poor performance, disciplinaries or dismissals.

How to write the perfect job description:

There is a basic structure to the stereotypical job description:

1.     Job Title – try to make the job title accurate and interesting
2.     Function – which area of the organisation does this role fit into
3.     Reporting Line – Who does this role report to and what is their job title. Similar with any dotted reporting lines.
4.     Direct Reports – If applicable, are there any direct or indirect reports and their job titles.
5.     Company Overview – 2-4 lines describing the business this job falls within and its current economic situation – ideally selling the business (commercially and culturally).
6.     Job Overview – 2-4 lines describing the objective and overall aim of the role – ideally making the role sound interesting but keeping it accurate.
7.     Main Duties and Responsibilities – Bullet points stating the main focus areas of the job whilst trying to not be too specific on one-off individual tasks.
8.     Length of Employment – Permanent or showing length of contract/ temporary assignment.
9.     Person Specification – Breakdown of the experiences, qualifications, competencies, and any IT skills you want in the successful applicant. This can be split into ‘must haves’ and ‘advantageous’.
10.  Salary and Benefits – Fully list the company benefits (including courses, training and career advancement). This can help to attract the top talent.

Getting the content right:

When listing the duties and responsibilities, it is easy to produce a job description containing a huge list of individual tasks but this will result in a job description that looks decidedly dull and unexciting. Ideally a job description should be 10-15 points with each point summising a range of duties and responsibilities. 
Junior roles are likely to have job descriptions that are more aligned to being a list of tasks. This is because junior roles don’t have many other responsibilities other than the tasks themselves.

  • Start with as long a list of tasks as is possible and then categorise them into collective headings important to your department and organisation as a whole.
    e.g. Communication, Planning, Reporting, Managing, Monitoring, Analysis, Decision-Making, Production, Control, Processing.
  • Under each category you will now have a list of tasks. Write one or two bullet points per category that summarise all the individual tasks under that heading.
  • Now grade your chosen categories in order of importance to this role.
  • Order these bullet points in the same order as you have graded the categories.

This is your job specification with less overall bullet points (hopefully 10-15), generalising the duties and responsibilities to make them more appealing, ordered by the most important areas of the job appearing at the top of the list.

For any job description, do not put specific targets or figures that are likely to change. This will result in it becoming out of date very quickly and creating extra work for you as you have to constantly amend it. Once the job descriptions are written you should be able to keep them for a long period of time with only slight amendments.

Person specification:

  • A person specification should contain information on what you want applicants to show on their CV – skills, competencies, IT systems etc.
  • Be aware that inadvertent discrimination can be a problem in the person specification section of a job description.
  • Any qualification and education ‘must haves’ need to be justified so as to avoid discriminating against others that could do the role equally as well.
  • It is strongly advised you don’t be too specific on levels of experience, education or qualification but putting ‘or equivalent’ after any statement should help to prevent any discrimination issues.
  • Never include an upper limit when requesting experience of a specific nature as this can be seen as discriminatory on the basis of age,
    e.g. Writing ‘at least 2yrs experience of…’ is a better than writing ‘2-4yrs experience of..’

Remember, stay away from any form of discrimination on age, race, religion, sex, pregnancy related, disability and sexual orientation.

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