People Management 1. Job Descriptions: Communicating Your General Expectations

What Is a Job Description?

A job description provides you with the opportunity to describe your general expectations of an employee. Specifically, a job description is a broad statement of a worker’s responsibilities.

Uses of a Job Description

Organizations use job descriptions for several reasons:

  • In hiring.  Organizations use the job description to write a position description for job ads used to recruit candidates
  • As the basis for writing a performance plan (discussed later in this series of postings).
  • For determining the differences in levels among workers.  Generally, the broader the span of influence that a worker has, the higher the level of the worker.  For example, a junior instructional designer might only have influence over a single project in a single department, while a senior instructional designer might have influence over activities in the entire organization.

Format of a Job Description

A job description typically provides the following information:

  • Job title.
  • Level. If the organization has a hierarchy of jobs, the level indicates where the job fits into that hierarchy. If the organization does not, the level provides a general indication of whether the worker is a novice in the job, has some experience, or will be considered a leader in the job area.
  • Key tasks that the worker will perform. Some organizations suggest percentages of time spent on these key tasks.
  • Responsibilities to the organization. This explains how this job is expected to contribute to the overall success of the organization.
  • Statement of qualifications. These describe the skills needed to perform this job successfully, and the educational background and the previous experiences that are most likely to have helped a candidate develop these skills.
  • Attitudes. This describes some of the key attitudes for success in the organizational culture as well as in this particular job.
  • “Selling” the need for the job. For new jobs, the draft of the job description sells upper management on the need for someone to fill this role.
  • Salary and benefits. Human Resources staff uses the job description to set the salary. Typically, Human Resources uses the information in the job description to assess the complexity of the job, to compare this job with others in the organization and in the job market, and to determine what an appropriate salary and benefits package should be.
  • Recruiting. Job descriptions are often posted on internal and online bulletin boards as a means of recruiting qualified candidates. Because job descriptions are usually longer than ads in the help wanted section, the job description serves as source material for these ads.
  • Title of the job.
  • Broad responsibilities, stated in observable and measurable terms.
  • Work products that the worker is expected to produce, such as application programs, test reports, and job reviews.
    • Business value that hiring a person into this position brings. Specifically, the business value states how this person will help generate revenue, increase the productivity of other workers, or contain expenses.
      • Qualifications. Describes the skills needed to perform this job successfully, and the educational background and the previous experiences that are most likely to have helped a candidate develop these skills. Also, describes the attitudes needed to succeed in this work environment.

In addition, some job descriptions also provide some of the work conditions of the job, including  the technology used in a particular job, the work hours, the type of contact that a worker would have with co-workers, clients and suppliers, and the role and flexibility in making decisions regarding the job.

 Example of a Job Description

Technical Writer I

Design, write, and produce user’s guides and other information about BC’s products.These information products reduce the overall cost of supporting BC products by helping users become self-sufficient in handling the most common tasks for which these products were developed.

Qualifications include the ability to write engineering documents and prepare engineering-like drawings, as evidenced by portfolio. The worker should also be able to produce book-length documents using FrameMaker. Team player. Strong interpersonal skills.

B.S. in technical communication with minor in engineering or CS, or similar. An internship in a technical communication department specializing in hardware documentation is preferred.

Process for Writing a Job Description

  1. Determine the broad responsibilities of the job. Responsibilities are broader than tasks. For example, analyzing needs is a task, developing training courses that meet stated needs are responsibilities.
  2. Suggest three or four key tasks that the worker should perform.
  3. List the qualifications:

Skills mastered in advance (be as specific as possible)

Education level (preferred degree and major, acceptable degree and major)


Professional (like a CPA)

Tools (like mastery of specialized software, such as networking software)

Desirable experiences (work experiences rather than years)

  1. Describe other characteristics that are preferred in the ideal candidate.
  2. Draft the job description.
  3. Review within the department, with your manager, and with the Legal and Human Resources Departments.
  4. Incorporate the feedback received, revise the job description.
  5. Submit the final draft for approval, using your organization’s approval process.

Issues in Writing Job Descriptions

  • Describing the job too broadly. The description could be so broad that interpretation is likely to vary widely among people. For example, “assists with our marketing tasks” can be interpreted to mean assist in devising a strategy or assist in packaging press kits. Similarly, “promote good will” is too vague. How should this worker promote good will?
  • Describing the job too narrowly. The description could be so specific that it leaves little room for changing responsibilities if the needs of the business change. For example, “publishes web updates every Tuesday” does not leave the flexibility to publish other days of the week, much less using different media. Similarly, “serves customers within five minutes” might not be appropriate if the company’s process changes and service can be provided in less time.
  • Using observable terms to describe job responsibilities. In this way, people can observe whether or not the worker is actually performing the job, with a minimum of interpretation among people. Examples: publishes, serves as.
  • Avoid value terms, like “excellent” and “good.” Instead, redefine all value terms in observable and measurable terms. For example, define “excellent service” in terms of the expectations in the organization.
  • Keep the job description brief, no more than two paragraphs.
  • Use a paragraph-and-list format. That is, list items when appropriate.

© Copyright 1998, 2001, 2010, 2011, 2012. Saul Carliner. All rights reserved.  If sharing or excerpting, should be properly cited.


About idmodelsandprocesses

Exploring, reporting, teaching, and advising on learning and communication for the workplace and consumers.
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