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Six Essential Steps To Writing Successful Job Descriptions

In its purest form, a position description indicates the work to be performed by the candidates for employment. The objective of a well-written position description is to attract the highest number of talented candidates and, from that list, hire the best one. Listed below are approaches to writing a position description and the elements required to develop a better position description. These include the position summary, the position's essential functions and the competencies, skills, education and work experience required to be successful in the position.

Approaches to Writing a Position Description

As a supervisor or manager, you can take several approaches to write a position description. Remember, a position description's purpose is to define the position's critical responsibilities broadly. Depending on your management style, you may choose any of the following methods:

  • Talk with employees about their work and ask for their input.

  • Ask employees to develop their position descriptions.

  • Share the position description with other managers the employee will work with to determine if there will be interference or issues with another department’s work.

The final position description should validate and explain the position's relevance within the organization and it should inform applicants of the work they will perform once hired.

The Position's Summary

The position's summary should explain what the candidate needs to be successful. For example, a company's Sales Representative's purpose could be to increase revenue in the territory by 10% from new and existing accounts, make prospecting calls, follow up on leads, prepare quotes, and answer customer questions.

Essential Job Functions

Essential functions are the primary job duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation. You should carefully examine each job to determine which functions or tasks are essential to the employee's performance.

The issue of job descriptions has received significant attention since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is true that job descriptions can be helpful in supporting an employer's position as to which job functions are essential.

Competencies and Skills

Mainly, these are the characteristics the company believes a qualified candidate should have to be successful in the position. They can be measurable knowledge such as degrees or certifications, hands-on or technical proficiencies, abilities, or even personal attributes like outgoing or friendly. A position description's list of competencies may include communications, leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

Skills include the specific knowledge and abilities required to succeed in a job. The skills needed for a particular position may consist of computer programming, operating machinery, carpentry, plumbing, web design, typing, accounting, writing, or mathematics.

Writing a position description with assorted or different skills can make the recruitment effort complicated and lengthy. Finding one person with all of them may prove difficult, or worse, may result in hiring someone who is not as qualified for the position. Should this situation arise, it is advisable to re-examine the position description and consider splitting it into two or more jobs.

Education and Work Experience

The education and work experience section accurately describe the formal education and training the candidate may need. For example, a machinist may need a general education degree (GED) or high school diploma with five to seven years experience, but a machinist does not need a Ph.D. A mechanical engineer usually requires a bachelor's degree or master's degree with fifteen years experience designing aviation landing gear and not a GED.

Position Descriptions Next Steps

Position descriptions are living documents that evolve with each hiring cycle, changes to the way the company does business, position duties, or new equipment purchases. It is recommended that once a year, the manager and employee sit down and discuss the position description as part of an annual review. Together, they can determine which essential functions, competencies, and skills remain necessary and eliminate those attributes which are no longer applicable to the position.

When both parties agree with the revisions, the manager may make formal changes to the description and both parties sign and date the new document. A copy of the signed and revised position description should be kept by the manager, given to the employee and shared with the company's human resources department.

In Review

Position descriptions are necessary to define an employer's expectations for the job, outline the job's essential functions, identify the competencies and skills required for the job, and minimize ADA violations. The goal of a well-written position description is to attract and hire the most qualified candidate available to fill your open position.

Shared Time Human Resources Management, Inc. (STHRM, Inc.) provides human resources consulting services that solve our clients' complex human resources issues. Since 1993, we have helped our clients recruit employees, retain staff and reduce cost. We work with entrepreneurial start-ups and established Fortune 500 companies in Cleveland, Northeast Ohio, and across the country.

Glenn Levar