Job Description: Definition, Importance, Job Description Writing Guide

Job DescriptionJob descriptions are used for a variety of reasons. They are a tool for recruiting, determining salary ranges and levels or grades, establishing job titles, creating employee’s job goals and objectives, and conducting performance reviews.

They can also be used for career planning, creating reasonable accommodations and meeting legal requirements for compliance purposes.

Because of this, it is very important to have written job descriptions that accurately reflect the employees’ current job duties and responsibilities.

The record that keeps all the relevant information about a job is called a job description. It is a written statement of what a jobholder does, how it is done, and why it is done.

It should accurately portray job content, environment and conditions of employment. A common format for a job description includes:

  • the job title,
  • the duties to be done,
  • the main features of the job,
  • the authority and responsibilities of the jobholder.

It must be kept in mind that the working environment changes because of changes in production technology, market demand, and customer choices and competitors’ strategies.

So job description needs to be reviewed and updated. HR managers must appraise the changes that are likely to occur over time.

Job Description Definition

A job description is a written statement of what the worker actually does how he or she does it and what the job’s working conditions are.

It is a list of a job’s duties, responsibilities, reporting relationships, working conditions, and supervisory responsibilities—one product of a job analysis.

“A job description is an organized, factual statement of the duties and responsibilities of a specific job.” – Edwin B. Flippo

“A job description indicates the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of a job. It identifies what is done, why it is done, where it is done, and briefly, how it is done.” – Decenzo and Robbins

Sections of a typical job description include;

  • Job identification
  • Job summary
  • Responsibilities and duties
  • Authority of incumbent
  • Standards of performance
  • Working conditions
  • Job specifications

Importance of Job Description

Job descriptions are usually essential for managing people in organizations. Job descriptions are required for recruitment so that managers and the applicants can understand the job role. Job descriptions are necessary for most people in work.

A job description defines a person’s role and accountability.

Without a job description, it is usually very difficult for a person to properly commit to, or be held accountable for, a role.

This is especially so in large organizations. Job descriptions improve an organization’s ability to manage people and play roles in the following ways:

  • Clarifies employer expectations for the employee,
  • Provides the basis of measuring job performance,
  • Provides a clear description of the role for job candidates,
  • Provides a structure and discipline for the company to understand and structure all jobs and ensure necessary activities, duties and responsibilities are covered by one job or another,
  • Provides continuity of role parameters irrespective of manager interpretation,
  • Enables pay and grading systems to be structured fairly and logically,
  • Prevents arbitrary interpretation of role content and limit by employee and employer and manager,
  • Provides reference tool in issues of employee/employer dispute,
  • Provides reference tool for discipline issues,
  • Provides important reference points for training and development areas,
  • Provides neutral and objective (as opposed to subjective or arbitrary) reference points for appraisals, performance reviews, and counseling,
  • Enables formulation of skill set and behavior set requirements per roll,
  • Enables the organization to structure and manage roles in a uniform way, thus increasing efficiency and effectiveness of recruitment, training, and development, organizational structure, workflow and activities, customer service, etc.,
  • Enables factual view (as opposed to instinctual) to be taken by employees and managers in career progression and succession planning.

Limitations of Job Descriptions

Prescriptive job descriptions may be seen as a hindrance in certain circumstances:

  • Job descriptions may not be suitable for some senior managers as they should have the freedom to take the initiative and find fruitful new directions;
  • Job descriptions may be too inflexible in a rapidly-changing organization, for instance, in an area subject to rapid technological change;
  • Other changes to job content may lead to the job description being out of date;
  • The process that an organization uses to create job descriptions may not be optimum.

Difference between Job Description and Job Specification

Both the Job description and Job specification are two integral parts of job analysis. They define a job fully and guide both employer and employee on how to go about the whole process of recruitment.

Job Description

Job Specification

Job description is a list of job’s duties, responsibilities, reporting relationships, working conditions, and supervisory responsibilities.Job specification is a list of a job’s “human requirements”, that is, the requisite education, skills, experience, personality and so on.
Job description contains job title, job location, job summary, nature and objectives of a job, tasks, and duties to be performed, working conditions, machines, tools and equipment to be used in a job.Job specification contains education, experience, training, judgment, initiative, physical effort, communication skills, emotional characteristics, unusual sensory demands such as sight, smell, and hearing of the person.
The main purpose of the job description is to collect job-related data in order to advertise for a particular job.The main purpose of a job specification is to analyze whether candidates are eligible to apply for a particular job vacancy or not.
It helps in attracting, targeting, recruiting and selecting the right candidate for the right job.It helps to recruit a team of an organization to understand what level of qualifications, qualities and set of characteristics should be present in a candidate to make him or her eligible for the job opening.
It clarifies what employees are supposed to do if selected for that particular job opening.Job Specification gives detailed information about any job including job responsibilities, desired technical and physical skills, conversational ability and much more.
It also clarifies who will report to whom.It helps in selecting the most appropriate candidate for a particular job.
Job description is all about execution of duties.While job specification is all about the education and qualification of the employee before his recruitment.
The Job descriptions are what is expected to do and what is involved in the job.The Job specifications are what is needed to do the job.

 

Steps of Writing Job Descriptions

The following steps are required to write or prepare a job description;

  1. Start with a job analysis,
  2. Identify essential rather than marginal functions,
  3. Cover the key areas,
  4. Write in a simple style.

1. Start with a job analysis

Writing the job description is normally preceded by a job analysis.

The job analysis is a study of the job or role that helps the employer identify and describe the essential functions of a position, as well as the competencies, knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to fulfill the functions.

2. Identify essential rather than marginal functions

the next step is to identify the essential functions of the job, the purpose of the job, and the importance of actual job functions in achieving this purpose.

In evaluating the importance of job functions, consider, among other things, the frequency with which a function is performed, the amount of time spent in the function, and the consequences if the function is not performed. In defining the essential functions of a job, it is important to distinguish between methods and results.

While essential functions need to be performed, they often do not need to be performed in one particular manner.

3. Cover the key areas

Job descriptions describe the job and not the individual who fills the job. They are written narratives of the major duties and responsibilities of a job position or job role.

The job description also states the results expected of anyone in the job. There are many formats used in preparing job descriptions.

Typically, the key areas to include are:

  • Job Title,
  • Position reports to (line manager title, location, and functional manager),
  • Job purpose summary (ideally one sentence),
  • Key responsibilities and accountabilities (or duties typically 8-15 numbered points)
  • Dimensions/Territory/Scope/Scale indicators (the areas to which responsibilities extend and the scale of responsibilities – staff, customers, territory, products, equipment, premises, etc.),
  • Hours of work
  • Date and other relevant internal references,

4. Write in a simple style

Job descriptions should be written in brief and clear sentences. let’s look at the job description sample;

Job Description Sample

Job Description Writing Guide

This guide provides the basics of writing a job description and covers the following sections of the job description:

  • Position Details
  • Job Duties (“What you do”)
  • Performance Standards (“How you do it”)
  • Job Factors

For more comprehensive instruction, the Compensation Department offers Job Description workshops to provide administrators, managers, supervisors, and staff employees with the necessary tools to write effective job descriptions. Please see the Compensation Main page or FSDP page on the Organization Development website for dates and times of the next Job Description Workshop available to you.

Position Details

This Position Details section contains general information about the job – the current or requested classification, working title, pay range, exemption status, department name and number, position number, percentage of effort, the job description summary, comparable positions, etc.

Working Title

The working title for a job should be based upon the main function or role of the job. It is important to stray away from vague and very specific job titles, instead create a working title that appropriately describes both the level of responsibility and role of the job. Here are some examples of good working titles and those that need some improvement:

Job Description Summary

The job description summary:

  • Contains 1 – 3 paragraphs
  • Summarizes the main points of the job description which may include key responsibilities, functions, and duties; education and experience requirements; and any other pertinent information (i.e. scheduling requirements, travel, etc)
  • Is used in job postings

Comparable Positions

Use this section to list any positions in the department that have a similar role or level of responsibility. It is useful to the Compensation Analyst during the classification process and helps to ensure positions are classified consistently.

Example of the Position Details.

Job Description Writing Guide

Job Duties

The Job Duties section is the foundation of the Job Description. It conveys the complexity, scope, and level of responsibility of a job. Due to the significance of this section, it is important to accurately, concisely, and completely describe the duties and responsibilities of a job.

This section of the Job Description is comprised of three main elements:

Key Accountabilities

The main areas of responsibility within a job, or “buckets of work.” Job description usually contains three to five Key Accountabilities.

Duty Statements

Sentences that provide additional information about the tasks associated with Key Accountability.

Percentage of Time

Estimates the portion of the job that is spent on a particular Key Accountability.

Job Duties Writing Methods

When the Job Duties are well written and organized, they can accurately convey the complexity, scope, and level of responsibility of a job. To assist in the organization and writing of the Job Duties, two writing methods have been developed:

Method # 1:

  1. Think of the job in terms of its Key Accountabilities, or main responsibilities/functions. Typically, a job will have 3 – 5 major Key Accountabilities. Here are some examples:
    1. Budget Management
    2. Executive Support
    3. Event Coordination
  2. After establishing the Key Accountabilities, generate specific job duties associated with each. These are the individual tasks or duties that correspond to the Key Accountability. For example, specific Budget Management duties might include:
    1. Prepare budgetary reports
    2. Analyze expenditures
    3. Monitor levels
  3. Condense the specific job duties into two to three concise “Duty Statements,” beginning each statement with an action verb.

Method # 2:

  1. Brainstorm a list of all the duties required to perform the job. These are the individual tasks completed on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. Below is an example of a task list:
    1. Arrange for catering
    2. Compose and types correspondence
    3. Coordinate logistical support for meetings, seminars, and departmental events
    4. Determine and secures the event location
    5. Make travel arrangements
    6. Monitor levels
    7. Prepare budgetary reports
  2. Review the list and group the duties based upon the specific functions and responsibilities of the position, also known as Key Accountabilities.
  3. Establish Key Accountabilities. For this group, the Key Accountabilities may include Event Coordination, Administrative Support, and Budget Administration.
  4. Condense the specific job duties into two to three concise “Duty Statements,” beginning each statement with an action verb (see page 8 for a list).

Here is an example of a well written and organized Key Accountability Section in a Job Description:

Key AccountabilityEvent Coordination
Duty StatementsCoordinate all Dean’s Office events. This includes securing the event location, scheduling presenters, coordinating the production of event marketing materials and programs, maintaining the RSVP list, and making all catering arrangements. At the event, supervise the event staff and greet the guests.
Percentage of Time15%

 

To summarize, here are some things to remember when completing the Job Duties section of the job description:

  • The Job Duties section should contain 3 – 5 Key Accountabilities.
  • Title each Key Accountability section to summarize the function/role.
  • Include 2 – 3 concise Duty Statements for each Key Accountability. The Duty Statements expand upon that particular area of responsibility as well as the role and complexity of the position.
  • Begin Duty Statement with an action verb (see page 8 for a list).
  • Limit the listing of Duty Statements and Key Accountabilities to what is required to perform the job.
  • Do not include duties that are no longer performed or those that may be required in the future.
  • Write the duties in terms of what the position requires, not based upon the capabilities of any individual.
  • Determine an accurate percentage of time the incumbent should spend on that particular Key Accountability over the course of a year.

Performance Standards

The Performance Standards section:

  • Conveys the expectations of the job.
  • Depicts the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be successful in the job.
  • Provides a basis for measuring performance.

This section is typically completed by either the supervisor, hiring manager, or designated administrator in the department.

There is a Performance Standards section associated with each Key Accountability which provides information about the performance expectations of that particular area of responsibility.

Here is an example of a Performance Standard for the “Event Coordination” example in the Job Content Section:

Key AccountabilityEvent Coordination
Duty Statements
  • Coordinate departmental and programmatic events
  • Secure the location
  • Schedule presenters
  • Make travel arrangements
  • Coordinate the production of program/event marketing materials
  • Maintain RSVP list
  • Make arrangements for catering and any necessary equipment
  • Staff the event
Performance Standards
  • Event Coordination activities are expected to be carried out with minor supervision.
  • Must be capable of setting priorities and working under pressure
  • Must be able to multi-task, planning several events simultaneously
  • Ability to work well with internal and external participants is essential
  • Knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite is imperative

 

Job Factors

The Job Factors section of the job description outlines the knowledge and skills required to successfully function in the job. The Job Factors cover a variety of areas pertaining to the job, for example, the level of education/experience required, supervision received, and analytical skills and ability required for the job.

The assignment of Job Factors should be completed by the supervisor, hiring manager, or departmental administrator, and, should be reflective of the general responsibility level of that position.

For example, an employee in an Administrator classification would not be expected to be responsible for interviewing, selecting and hiring someone into an Administrator IV position, but may be responsible for interviewing, selecting and hiring a student worker.

It is important to remember to include only information that pertains to the position and not specific to the skills, experience, and education of the incumbent.

The following are all the Job Factors listed in a job description and examples of responses:

Minimum Education Level RequiredBaccalaureate
The minimum experience level required (All qualifications listed must be job-related.)Three years of relevant administrative, marketing and/or event planning experience is preferred.
The amount of supervision received by the employee (What is the job classification and the working title of the supervisor? How, and to what extent, is the employee’s work checked? Note the distinction between initial or special training and ongoing supervision.)The incumbent reports to the Assistant Director. After the initial orientation, the incumbent will be given general direction from the Assistant Director but is expected to perform duties and responsibilities independently.

The analytical skill required

(What is the complexity or standardization of the tasks which are performed?)

The job requires excellent analytical and communication skills as statistical and financial reporting is an essential element of this position.

BOTH the level and budget volume (Dollar Amount) of financial responsibility/accountability

(What is the extent of the employee’s responsibility for calculating and verifying figures; gathering data; typing requisitions or budget documents; monitoring or analyzing expenditures; preparing reports; approving purchases; planning and authorizing department or grant budgets, etc?)

The incumbent is responsible for managing event budgets. This includes collaborating on budget development, monitoring and approving budgetary expenditures, and analyzing statistical and financial reports. The budget for a single event can range from $5,000 – $50,000.
The impact of actions carried by this position (What are the probable results of inadvertent error or mistake in judgment, interpretation, or exercise of responsibility?)Poorly executed events could result in a negative image for the School and the University or potentially lose funding opportunities.

BOTH the diversity and complexity of the supervision exercised

(List the job classification and working titles of those directly trained and/or supervised by this person).

This position is not responsible for supervising any staff positions.

The scope of the human resources impact of this position

(Explain the supervisory role in hiring, firing, promoting, evaluating, increasing salaries, etc. of other employees. Does the position carry “lead” responsibility? Explain how, and to what extent, the work of others is checked by the employee.)

Occasionally responsible for interviewing prospective candidates and providing input into the hiring process.

BOTH the level and nature of the INTERNAL contacts

(What, if any, University departments does the incumbent contract. Why are these contacts made and how frequently are they made?)

The incumbent has regular contact with senior level University staff and faculty, such as Deans, Directors, Senior Administrators, etc. In addition, the incumbent maintains contact with several areas across the University including University Marketing Communications, Institutional Advancement, the Special Events Office, etc.
BOTH the level and nature of the EXTERNAL contactsExternal contacts include staff members at other colleges and universities, government and industry representatives.

 

Job Description dos and Don’ts

Before writing a job description, here are some helpful hints to consider:

DO:

  • Refer to the Job Description Writing Guide
  • Attend a Job Description Workshop
  • Use a factual and impersonal style when writing the job description
  • Base the job description on the department’s needs
  • Write an accurate, concise, and complete job description
  • Use complete sentences
  • Keep sentence structure as simple as possible, omitting unnecessary words that do not contribute pertinent information.
  • Begin each duty/task with an action verb (see page 8 for a list).
  • Be consistent when using terms like “may” and “occasionally.” (These should be used to describe tasks that are performed once in a while or tasks that only some employees perform.)
  • Refer to job titles rather than incumbents, i.e., “Reports to_______ Manager” instead of “Reports to Mary Smith.”
  • Be precise. This is critical for accurate job evaluation and analysis.
  • Focus on critical activities.
  • Use a logical sequence in describing duties and responsibilities (Key Responsibility first, followed by the corresponding duties)
  • Call your Compensation Analyst for guidance

DON’T:

  • Use the narrative form when writing a job description
  • Base the content of the job description on the capabilities, skills, and interests of the incumbent
  • Write the job description based upon the desired job classification
  • Write the job description as step by step guide on how to do the job
  • Include minor or occasional tasks, which are not unique to a specific job.

Job Description Action Verbs

AccommodateCommunicateDraftInterfaceRecruit
AchieveCompileEditInterpretReduce
AcquireCompleteEliminateInterviewRegulate
AddressComposeEnforceInvestigateReport
AdjustComputeEstablishIssueResearch
AdministerConductEvaluateLiftResolve
AdviseConferExecuteMaintainReview
AllocateConsolidateExpandManageSchedule
AnalyzeConstructExploreMonitorSearch
ApplyConsultFacilitateMotivateSelect
AppointControlFormulateNegotiateSolve
ApproveCoordinateFurnishObserveSpecify
ArrangeCorrespondGenerateOperateStrategize
AssessCounselGuideOrganizeStreamline
AssignCreateHandleParticipateStrengthen
AssistCustomizeHirePerformSummarize
AuditDelegateIdentifyPlanSupport
AugmentDeliverIllustratePredictTeach
AuthorizeDemonstrateImplementPrepareTrain
BudgetDesignImprovePresentTranslate
CalculateDevelopImproviseProcessTroubleshoot
CirculateDeviseIncorporateProgramUpdate
ClarifyDirectIncreaseProvideValidate
ClearDisseminateInformQuantifyVerify
CollaborateDistinguishInitiateRecognize
CollectDistributeInstructRecommend
CombineDocumentInteractRecord