A job description is an essential part of the recruitment process, as it is the employer’s opportunity to lay down in black and white the requirements that the company has of any successful applicant for the job. For the applicant, it is a capsule illustration of the expectations the company will have from them should they be successful in their application. It is the job description that forms the agreed terms of employment between employer and employee, and without a clearly defined job description an employee cannot be expected to define the terms of their role, nor be accountable for their fulfillment of the role.
In certain cases, the employee may be asked to take on the task of writing their own job description – within, of course, some clearly defined parameters. Should this be the case for you, it is a good opportunity to get clarity in terms of what is expected from you both by your immediate manager and by the management structure of the company in general.
Although this responsibility may appear daunting, in actual fact it is fairly self-explanatory and easy to follow if you take the time. Typically, people will start by listing tasks, a list which may grow to as many as thirty. This list should be condensed – by combining tasks that are similar and eliminating those which are not essential. By the end of this process, the list of tasks should stand at between eight and twelve.
In smaller organizations and businesses, there will often be a need for staff to combine their duties which does not exist in larger companies. A business manager with a smaller company may need to have responsibility for matters like payroll, HR, overseas business and others, while in a global business there may be one or more representatives for each of these departments. In these cases, a job description may involve a greater number of tasks – but even in this case, it should not include more than 15-16 tasks. Any more than this makes a job description pointlessly broad.
If a job description becomes so sprawling as to encompass 25-30 tasks it becomes less a job description and rather more like an operational manual, which is another thing entirely. By all means the job description may make reference to the operational manual – this will aid brevity – rather than going to great lengths to explain tasks which may be fairly generic.
The job description should cover matters which are concrete and specific to the position rather than going into broad detail on staff policy and task detail, which are already covered in the operational manual; by doing this it is not necessary to change a whole company’s worth of job descriptions when it would be easier to change just one operational manual.
The same is true for Health and Safety policies and procedures. These span an entire company, and therefore are not appropriate for the job description. The company policy and procedures should be covered in a specific manual, and when job descriptions are being written they may make reference to the manual. As above, when a policy changes, it is easier to change one manual than amend everyone’s job description.
To make it easier to condense the responsibilities of a position into one job description, it makes sense to arrange the tasks of the job into broad responsibility areas; for example, dealing with incoming and outgoing mail can be condensed into the single area of “Mail”. Not every task need be given its own specific bullet point, nor should it be outlined in extravagant detail if it is largely self-explanatory. An example of how this is done can be found below.
- Communication: Communicating what to whom; and usually how this is communicated.
- Planning/Organizing: Of what exactly, and for whom.
- Administration: Of what, for whom.
- Monitoring: Of what, and reporting to whom??
- Decision Making: About what?
- Production: Of what?
- Maintenance: Of what, and how?
- Budgeting: For what?
- Using specialist equipment: What kind?
- Responsibility for other staff (if necessary): What are the responsibilities? Which staff?
There may be different sections as well, and they may vary depending on the kind of company, the position for which applications are being requested and the duration of the employment. Whatever these may be, you will always find that the many tasks involved in doing a certain job can be split down into different categories of responsibility.
It goes without saying that the level of responsibility depends heavily on the level of employment at which the successful applicant will be working. People working at an executive level will have responsibilities related to the corporate direction of the company, its policies and other aspects of its control. Some entry level positions will have fewer responsibilities, although the number of tasks may still be at quite a high level.
If anything in the job description is already covered in existing manuals and policies, then it makes more sense to simply refer to the manual or policy as appropriate. A good job description will be more exclusive than inclusive. It goes without saying that you will be expected to adhere to the company policy on Health and Safety, so there is no need to give chapter and verse on this in the job description.
If you are compiling your own job description and your employer requests for you to cover matters like Health and Safety or generic tasks, then it may be worth mentioning to them the fact that a lot of time will be saved by them, you and any future employees if Health and Safety or Operational manuals are compiled. An employee’s job description should, as far as possible, detail the tasks for which that employee is specifically responsible.
Reading a job description should not take forever; for one thing, it will make the job seem a lot more demanding than it needs to be. If you can summarise what will be expected of people in the job in two or three pages that should manage to give a quite substantial overview of the job while not being exhausting to read. If you are compiling your own job description, your employer will have given you some direction as to what is expected. Work within that to describe the job as you believe it should be.
Why Are Job Descriptions Necessary?
Just about every job of paid employment in this day and age has a job description – the reasons for this are multiple, but below are some of the most important:
- Clarification of what the employer expects from the employee.
- Clarification of parameters for measuring performance.
- Description of the role and duties involved for applicants.
- Provision of a clear overview so the company can formulate job positions and see clearly that all activities, responsibilities and necessary duties are taken care of.
- Establishes the employee’s position regardless of changes in management.
- Establishes limits of the employee’s responsibilities and jurisdiction.
- Provision of a ready reference in issues of discipline or dispute.
- At-a-glance reference for any future training that may be necessary.
- Avoidance of duplication of duties; establishment of role boundaries.
- Provision of a clear framework to guide employee in achieving career goals; to guide employer in distribution of tasks.
There will follow shortly a template job description, around which the “meat” can be placed on the “bones”. It is worth noting that any job description must adhere to employment/discrimination law – this differs from country to country and from state to state. For the most part, however, it means that a job description may not state a preference with regard to the gender, race, creed, sexuality, religion or physical ability of the applicant. An employer writing and disseminating a job description which does any of these can find themselves facing costly lawsuits and negative publicity.
In some countries it is also the case that directors of a company will have personal liability for the activities that their company indulge in. In any job description for a directorial position, this accountability should at least be touched on and ideally explained. Everyone involved in the agreement needs to have a full understanding of what it means; the job description itself is a way for both employer and employee to be absolutely clear where they stand with regard to the expectations of both parties.
A job description is not an exhaustive document, rather it is a guideline for the parties, and therefore descriptions of expected duties should not be overly lengthy, simply underlining the base expectations. For more detailed explanations, it should be policy to refer to the relevant manuals, and therefore a job description should not contain lengthy explanations of duties. It should state what the duties are and ask that they be carried out “as per the relevant manual”. By staying away from too many specifics, it is possible to keep using the same job description when certain policies change.
JOB DESCRIPTION TEMPLATE
- Job Title:
- Job Location: (Department, and Office Location)
- Reporting To: (Immediate Line Manager, and location; if necessary, also the name of department manager)
- Job Summary: (To specify what the purpose of the job is; this should be no longer than a sentence or two underlining what the candidate’s ultimate purpose in the company will be)
- Responsibilities: (This is where you will place the duties of the job as outlined above; between eight and sixteen specified points)*
- Scale/Scope of Job: (Here should be outlined the areas for which the person in the job is responsible, both geographically and structurally; whether the position involves responsibility for staff/specific equipment/premises/output)
- Date of Issue, as well as the necessary internal references.
*For the responsibilities of the job, it may be worthwhile in cases where the job is at a high level to split the responsibilities into sub-categories such as Managerial, Individual and Corporate, or whichever others apply.
In many cases, the Responsibilities section is the most difficult part, as the specification will usually be at least subtly different for each position in the company. However, most companies will already have a generic template from which you can work. There is no need to make a job description into a thesis; if something appropriate already exists such as a sample job description there is no point in trying to create something revolutionary. However, should you need to create this section from scratch, the following steps will make it much easier.
- Write down all of the aspects of the job. Give thought to every facet of the job; planning, communicating, activities, budgets and so forth as listed above.
- As far as possible, combine the listed aspects into groups which make up the key responsibilities of the job. Remember that the more junior the role, the fewer the responsibilities. Eight will suffice for a lower-level job, no more than fifteen at directorial level.
- Assign a level of importance to each responsibility, and if you are splitting these into sections, give the responsibilities an importance within that section. List the responsibilities in order of importance; by section if necessary.
- Have the list checked by someone who has already done the job to an acceptable standard, and if necessary, amend the list or the priority.
A job description is not the place to list targets. The idea is that if the candidate performs the job to the required standard, the targets will be met. It is not realistic to set long-term targets for a single employee, as these can change at short notice and should be set after the employee has completed their training/probation period. In fact, targets should not be referred to at any length in the job description; the description is not about the targets but about the nuts and bolts of the job.
A job description should also not contain an airy caveat such as “…and other duties as deemed fit by the manager”. This is impossibly broad and it is not something that any candidate should be expected to agree to. Technically, this would make the candidate responsible for carrying out any duty created by the manager on a whim; quite apart from the moral dubiety of such an expectation it is also something that could not be upheld by any employment tribunal, as it is not a reasonable expectation.
A job description may also include a short “Person Profile”, as a guide to the type of person the employer is looking to recruit. As has been mentioned already, this may not be in breach of the prevailing employment and discrimination laws; the profile cannot demand that the candidate be of a specified gender, race, sexuality or other such category. The profile instead should take account of the character and skills of the candidate.
Typical categories for a Person Profile will include:
- Personality: Short capsule descriptions of the type of person that will be best suited to the job, key words and phrases such as “goal driven”, “hard working”, “self-motivated” are common here. These can be more or less specific. If, for example, the job will involve producing written documents, a descriptor such as “eloquent” may also be included.
- Personal Situation: This may contain specifications about a person’s life situation which, if not met, would make it difficult or impossible to fulfil the role. It may contain specifications such as “Must have own driving licence” or “Must be able to work nights”. If, for example, the job is in credit control, the candidate for the job should not be in personal financial crisis.
- Specific Job Skills: If there are skills relevant to the job, then these will be listed here. This may include specifications such as “Must be a clear communicator” or “Needs to be able to understand and relay instructions regarding specific selling methods”. This specification is separate from other skills which pertain to any job, being specific to this one organization.
- Computer Skills: This may contain specifications about the candidate’s familiarity with a certain computer program or platform. It may take account of the need for familiarity with email systems and general Internet literacy. Depending on the position, it can include a wide range of different specifications.
- Literacy and Numeracy: Basic literacy and numeracy are expected in almost any job available. Usually, this area of the Person Profile will deal more specifically with the ability to understand financial issues such as Profit and Loss, Basic Accountancy, Taxation and other matters. As for literacy, it may be that the candidate will be expected to be a fluent writer of letters and documents, or able to write in a second or third language.
- Business/Commercial Skills: This will vary depending on the position, of course. The successful candidate may be expected to be able to present a commercial pitch, liaise with major customers, be skilled in mediation or any one of a range of other specifications. This section will vary depending on the sector in which the organisation works.
- Management Ability: Although this may not be an immediate part of the job, it may be that the business structure works in such a way that advancement along the pay scale is not only possible, but expected. If the candidate demonstrates an ability to work under pressure and take a prominent role in a team, their chances to advance in the company may be strong.
Key Tips On Creating A Job Description
A job description designed by one person alone may well be skewed by that person’s opinions or unconscious bias. For this reason, and because it is seen to be a time-saver, it is often recommended that new job descriptions, or amendments to existing ones, are worked on as a team exercise or workshop.
In this context, the relevant workforce can be broken down into teams, ideally pairs or groups of three to allow a better flow of ideas. These groups can brainstorm ideas, perhaps guided by management. The ideas that they come up with can then be amalgamated, evaluated in a larger group setting, and adopted, rejected or amended for inclusion in the finished job description.
It may also be successful to cascade the above templates for job descriptions to the staff individually, asking them to draft their job description as they see it, and then review and adjust them as necessary before eventual adoption.
There is a notable difference between the responsibilities, duties and tasks of a director and those of someone lower on the pay scale. It will be essential to reflect this in a job description, as it is the directors of the company who will be personally liable in the case of any breach of standards in the company’s corporate activities.
If you have a stated directorial policy or corporate standards document, then it will be useful to refer to this in the job description. It may be that you ask for the prospective director to “Uphold the company’s commitment to a policy of ethical integrity and diversity, as laid down in [said directorial policy/document].”
It is up to the organization, or the individual responsible within the organization, what exactly is included in the policy and in the job descriptions. It is worth noting that in the present day there is a great deal more scrutiny of the actions of corporations – and with that comes a greater risk of the company’s reputation being injured if it is seen to be lacking in the standards expected with regard to compliance with environmental regulations, corporate responsibility, employee rights and other such ethical matters. Matters such as this should be touched on in any directorial job description.
For anyone still in need of help, it should be a comfort that there are numerous free examples of job descriptions available for reference online. These samples will give a clearer outline as to what is standard in a job description, at any level and in any industry.
Here are many of the job description templates or free samples we have:
Accounting Job Description
Insurance Job Description
Banking Job Description
Analyst Job Description
Administrator Job Description
Business Job Description
Retail Job Description
Sales & Marketing Job Description
HR Job Description
Office Job Description
BPO or Business Process Outsourcing Job Description
Call Center Job Description
Call center (general)
IT Job Description
Environmental Job Description
Agriculture Job Description
Healthcare Job Description
Health care (general)
Nursing Job Description
Church Job Description
Travel / Tourism / Hospitality Job Description
Legal Job Description
Security Job Description
Pharmaceutical Job Description
Fashion Job Description
Education & Related
Social Services & NGO Job Description
Warehouse Job Description
Construction Job Description
Industrial or Engineering Job Description