3 Things to Think About Before Writing the Job Description

By Robert Half on August 22, 2014 at 7:00am

THE ULTIMATE CHEAT SHEET

For Writing Great Job Descriptions

Because the scope of many positions has changed over the years, simply dusting off an old job description or using a generic one just doesn’t cut it. Having accurate job descriptions serves you well when evaluating potential and existing employees.

Writing a job description is a lot like creating a blueprint for recruiting and hiring: If it’s done right, there’s a much better chance that everything else will fall smoothly into place. In an OfficeTeam survey of human resources (HR) managers, nearly all (97 percent) said accurate job descriptions are important when recruiting for an open position. They’re absolutely right: A great job description helps hiring managers clarify exactly what they’re looking for in a job candidate. And when used as the basis of the job posting, it gives candidates a good sense of the job’s role and responsibilities.

But a well-written job description is more than just an effective recruitment tool — it also can help set the stage for a new employee’s success. With clear guidelines in hand, a new hire has a good understanding of the expectations of the job from day one. Down the line, those guidelines can also help management provide that new employee with a constructive performance evaluation.

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Your office manager has just given notice. You’re always sorry to see valued employees go, but there’s no time to waste when they do. If you decide hiring a replacement is the best course of action, the first step in attracting and retaining an experienced professional is to have on file an effective job description.

A job description serves two primary roles: It ensures that applicants understand what the position entails and it forms the basis of your job ad.

Think of writing a job description as creating a blueprint. If you draft it well, the subsequent pieces of the hiring process will fall into place more easily. The most important traits of a good job description are accuracy and clarity.

Ask these three questions before you start writing job descriptions:

1. What’s in a name?

When you’re updating a job description or writing one for the first time, don’t forget the job title. Today’s workforce is saturated with multitaskers, and in many cases job titles have become obsolete as positions have evolved. In fact, a survey conducted by OfficeTeam and the International Association of Administrative Professionals shows 41 percent of polled administrative professionals thought their job descriptions were inaccurate because their roles had changed.

So if your receptionist is doing more than answering phones and greeting people at the door, re-examine the title. Office manager or administrative assistant may now be a more accurate description.

Robert Half has been helping companies with their hiring since 1948. Let us help you.

2. Is the language crisp and clear?

This step is crucial as it ensures that everyone — from employees to colleagues to managers — understands the employee duties. Here are some tips for writing a job description clearly:

  • Use active verbs. When describing a receptionist position, for example, use simple, direct language: “Greets visitors and office personnel in a friendly and sincere manner,” as opposed to, “The receptionist is responsible for greeting visitors and office personnel in a friendly voice and sincere manner.”
  • When necessary, use explanatory phrases telling why, how, where or how often to add meaning and clarity (e.g., “Collects employee time sheets for payroll bi-weekly.”).
  • Omit unnecessary articles, such as, “a,” “an” and “the” for easy-to-understand descriptions.
  • Use unbiased terminology. Employ the he/she approach or construct sentences so gender pronouns are not needed.
  • Avoid using adverbs or adjectives that are subject to misinterpretation such as “frequently” or “some.”

3. Does it include the key details?

Make sure to include crucial points, such as:

  • The job or position title
  • The department within the company where the job exists
  • A brief summary (one to three sentences) of the position and its overarching responsibility or function or role within the organization
  • Supervisory structure (e.g., “Reports to the office manager.”)
  • A brief summary of the job’s overall role within the organization
  • A list of essential job duties and the frequency of each duty (daily, weekly, monthly)
  • Exempt or non-exempt status
  • Specific technical skills, educational requirements and/or certifications needed
  • Specific soft skills required. (e.g., “Ability to explain our services and policies to customers,” rather than, “Good communication skills.”)
  • Any physical requirements needed (e.g., “Must be able to lift up to 50 pounds.”)
  • A statement that your company is an equal employment opportunity employer

The job description is where your hiring criteria are first formally set forth. Because the job description will eventually drive the job ad, the candidate selection process, and a new employee’s first performance appraisal, it is a key consideration for a hiring manager.

For more advice, download OfficeTeam's report How to Hire All-Star Administrative Professionals and Maximize Their Potential.

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