Writing an effective job description | DCR Workforce Blog

Writing an effective job description

Most of us are familiar with the nuances of drafting an expression of interest (or a cover letter) which describes why we are particularly interested in a specific job. This is supposed to showcase our skills and experience, and project an ideal suitability with the requirements of the job tasks.

Writing a job description is the flip side of the same coin, where hiring managers make a pitch to attract the right candidates to apply for the job. The job description must be functional and practical; attractive and friendly enough to make the best candidates find a fit with the role and be motivated to apply for the job. This may seem simple, but to attract the right talent which meets all your requirements, without intimidating and turning applicants away; a fine tuned job description is essential.

We recently attended a conference in which procurement officers and human resources executives discussed their “hot buttons”. Job descriptions are high on their lists of items needing improvement. They pointed out that a job description must do more than attract candidates. It is a legal document that specifies the relationship between an employer and employee. The description of the requirements contained in a job description also form the basis for determining market-based pay rates and exemption status. When the job description is intended for project work, it must serve as the basis for defining project activities, deliverables, milestones, and other project requirements.

When sourcing non-traditional talent, the need for a well-written job description becomes more critical.   In these situations, the job description is typically written by a hiring manager, then distributed to staffing agencies who must use it as the basis for finding appropriate candidates. The staffing agency may not have direct access to the author of the job description. When clarification is needed, the agency must speak to the Managed Services Provider, Human Resources manager, procurement officer or other point of contact.   As questions regarding the author’s intent and preferences are sorted through each of these layers, much can be lost in interpretation.

To be effective, a job description needs to:

  1. Analyze the position that needs to be filled, prioritize the tasks to be performed, list the expected results and define the hierarchical status of the give role with respect to superiors as well as subordinates.
  2. Stress the primary duties, but include and identify the occasional ones. The same goes for listing skills and qualifications which are required as well as those that are desired. Failing to identify any of the required skills could lead to potential claims of discrimination or unfair practices if candidates were disqualified at later stages of the interview process for lacking skills not specified at the beginning. Establishing a clear understanding of the position requirements is crucial to engaging a candidate’s attention and offering a right fit, and encouraging them to apply. Ensure that the job title matches the stated responsibilities in terms of expected skills, experiences and compensation.
  3. Specifying skills in the job description which can only be acquired on the job could work well with internal candidates. It could also turn away external candidates who may not be familiar with the terminology or jargon specific to the company. To illustrate; Six Sigma is generic and understood by one and all but, if you call it by an internal program name, who is to know that the position requires a black belt certification?
  4. Make questions related to technical skills as specific as possible.
  5. Specify the amount of travel that may be required on the job.
  6. Make questions related to technical skills as specific as possible. Indicate whether the candidate must demonstrate these skills through aptitude tests as a condition of employment.
  7. Specify the amount of travel that may be required on the job. Indicate whether the individual will be compensated for travel costs.
  8. Primary duties under the job description must meet the language of the Department of Labor, specifically conforming to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). : Requirements regarding the person’s exempt status, managerial responsibilities, independent contractor classification, need for college degrees or criminal background checks must be substantiated and any risk of co-employment liability should be mitigated.
  9. Decide if the job requires able-bodied workers or can accommodate workers with disabilities as defined by ADA, so as not to fall foul of the law’s requirements.
  10. Describe the work environment and corporate culture. Avoid empty phrases such as “the successful candidate must show team spirit, communication skills and confidence.”   Instead, be specific enough to give the potential real insight into what to expect.
  11. Share anything that excites you about your company, its vision, mission and its position in the business and social environment that surrounds it.
  12. Include compensation information. Otherwise, time will be wasted by you, the staffing agency and the candidate when candidates ultimately drop out of consideration.

Great job descriptions balance the desire to entice the best candidates with the need to accurately portray the position being advertised. Many a manger has found that a clear job description helps them to source candidates who are suited in every way to perform well on the job. Time spent in crafting a well written job description will pay off in terms of new workers who are qualified and motivated to contribute to your business success.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.