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Job descriptions done right: Start with a clean sheet of paper

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in Hiring,Human Resources

As you prepare to do something you may not have done in years—hire people—you’ll have to brush up on writing useful job descriptions. You probably can’t use your old ones, written before the Great Recession for jobs that may not exist anymore.

Properly done, the task of writing a job description gets the hiring process off to a good start. Here’s some advice that can help:

Define the job, not the candidate

Too often, managers wade into the hiring process by trying to envision the ideal candidate—a rock-star coder, a real sales go-getter.

Not so fast. Before you go there, you need to compile a complete list of specific, recurring job tasks that would be the primary responsibility of the new hire. The task list may show you that the job you need to fill is actually quite different than you first imagined.

That list is also the foundation for future performance management.

Define skills and qualifications

Now carefully consider the skills necessary to perform those tasks. You should be able to define skills and capabilities (for example, being able to lift 20 pounds) to go with each job tasks.

These are the essential criteria that will determine how you differentiate between candidates.

Skills and qualifications aren’t the same thing. Skills are more important. Don’t overemphasize a laundry list of qualifications—years of education and experience, professional certifications, and so on. Would a new hire really need a college degree and five years of experience to adequately perform all the tasks on your list? If not, then don’t pretend otherwise.

Be clear and honest about the importance of each task and its associated skills. For example, if a customer service rep will also sometimes have to rearrange merchandise and make deliveries, weigh the relative frequency and importance of those tasks.

Move toward the ideal

Once you’ve thoroughly defined what your new hire will do, and must be able to do, and the skills that would require, you can move on to define the desired attributes of the ideal candidate.

Again, don’t pretend that advanced skills or extensive experience are essential if they’re really just nice to have. You may want to hire someone that you can groom for management, but unless you can guarantee that prospect, don’t risk being forced to hire someone now who’s clearly overqualified.

Remember that people can and do acquire advanced skills and training along the way.

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