7 steps toward writing job descriptions that really capture the job

The number of ways in which to craft job descriptions are as varied as the positions for which they’re written. There are, however, a series of universal steps every employer can take to write a solid job description.

  1. Identify a title and purpose. Start by selecting a job title that is self-evident, reflective of rank or worth, free of technical jargon and, as a rule, simple and recognizable. Then, succinctly state the aim of the position. What are the particular contributions of the job toward the accomplishment of the company’s overall objectives?
  2. Collaborate with managers and employees. The best sources of information for writing an accurate job description are those who perform the jobs and those who manage them. Writing job descriptions is a collaborative effort—employees and managers should be included in the process, but they should not be left to do it on their own. Use task-centered questionnaires and checklists to find out what skills, physical and mental abilities, level of education, etc., are necessary for performing the job.
  3. Detail qualifications. List only those skills that are actually used on the job. Including a laundry list of nice-to-have (as compared to need-to-have) skills may lead to discrimination woes if, for examples, a lack of these skills takes a minority job applicant out of the running. Identify how much experience is essential and be prepared to back up your assertion. Name any must-have degrees or licenses.
  4. Describe the setting. Identify the physical conditions of the work environment (e.g., hot, cold, noisy), as well as the social conditions of the job (e.g., work alone or with the public). Also, note if the use of specific equipment is required.
  5. Name essential duties. Arrange duties and responsibilities sequentially by listing predominant duties before those of lesser importance. Differentiate between essential and nonessential duties, especially in light of the ADA. Use the present tense and begin each statement with an action verb. Use quantitative terms (e.g., “daily,” “weekly,” “monthly”) where possible. (See box at right for more tips.)
  6. Outline performance expectations. Identify the qualitative and quantitative expectations of each function. These expectations will come in handy when it’s time to review an employee’s performance.
  7. Determine exempt or nonexempt status. To qualify for exemption from minimum wage and overtime pay rules, employees must meet certain tests regarding their job duties. Important: Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for an executive, administrative, professional, computer employee, or outside sales exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and salary must meet certain test requirements as laid out by U.S. Department of Labor regulations.

Describing essential duties

Here are some specific items you may wish to address in the “essential duties” section:

  1. Demands of the job. Include physical demands, levels of responsibility and interpersonal skill levels.
  2. Frequency of job tasks. Consider the time spent performing each task.
  3. Scheduling particulars. Note the hours, shift and other scheduling details of the job.
  4. Exclusivity of job tasks. How many other employees are able to perform the function?  Can the function be distributed among other employees?
  5. Reporting relationships. Indicate to whom the employee must report and who reports to the employee.