How to Write a Job Description

The written job description is the blueprint that outlines for employees their duties, responsibilities and expected outcomes for their particular position, not just what the incumbent is doing per se. It is the basic building block of any organization and the foundation of any high-quality human resources management program. Job descriptions show how the goals of the company are translated into individual jobs themselves. Thus, creating an excellent communication and feedback tool for the manager and the job incumbent.

Job descriptions can be used to aid employer in the hiring and promotion processes, orientation, training, performance appraisals, counseling, discipline, job evaluation, motivation, HR planning and development, and outplacement. Job descriptions are also a key tool for the determination of "exempt/non-exempt" status for overtime purposes. More information on how to determine exempt/non-exempt status .

Job descriptions are usually between one and three pages in length, although they can have supporting documents such as standard operating procedures (SOPs), and checklists. The use of job descriptions are not required by the federal government, except in cases where employees handle or dispose of hazardous waste such as oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid, auto parts cleaner, paint thinner and similar material (40 CRF S264.16). However, if a company does use them, then the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that they designate those "essential functions" of the job. Meaning: the task is required to be performed (with or without a reasonable accommodation) in order to be successful. Below is a questionnaire designed to help employers identify "essential functions" of the job.

  1. Does the position exist to perform a particular function? For example, the ability to proofread documents is an essential function of a proofreader, since it is the only reason the position exists.
  2. Are other employees available to perform that job function? If so, then the function may not be essential.
  3. Is there a degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function? The performance of a specialized skill would be an essential function.

Other factors the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says should be considered in determining essential functions include the following:

  1. The employer's judgment as to which functions are essential.
  2. Written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job.
  3. The amount of time spent on the job performing the function (although this is not an absolute requirement).
  4. The consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function.
  5. The terms of a collective bargaining agreement (if applicable).
  6. The work experience of past incumbents in the job.
  7. The current work experiences of incumbents in similar jobs.
  8. The job description containing the following information:
    1. Job objectives — purpose of the position
    2. Essential job functions — tasks that must be performed to attain job objectives
    3. Job standards — minimum qualifications needed to perform essential job functions
    4. Job location — place(s) where work is performed
    5. Equipment — machines, tools, devices, etc., that must be used.

It is important to quantify performance standards on job descriptions (and supporting documentation, e.g., checklists and SOPs) for ADA purposes. Plus, it is also important to describe what is required, not simply the current or customarily way tasks are performed. Quantifying the end result is key.

Non-Essential Functions
Duties or tasks that are deemed "non-essential" should be noted in the job description, either in a separate section, or noted with an asterisk. Non-essential functions are those that can be assigned to another staff member without an undue hardship on the employer (financially or operationally).

Note: because a function may not be performed frequently does not mean that it is non-essential. Consequently, as shown in a recent U.S. Supreme Court case ( Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams , 1/8/2002) employers may classify safety-related and other critical duties as essential functions.

Overview of Job Description Elements

Identification
 

To identify jobs properly for systems and record purposes, specific identification information is required (position number, working title, name, department, division, salary grade, incumbent(s) names, supervisor's title and name, and date).

Purpose
This gives insight as to what the job is responsible for and within what context (why does this job exist?). As each job has a purpose, this element tries to give a brief summary of the job, covering the main responsibilities, the framework within which the job has to operate and the main contribution to the organization.

Responsibilities and Activities
This is the most important part of the job description from a job evaluation perspective. The purpose of the job can be broken down into different responsibilities/end results. Normally a job has 4-8 core end results, each of which shows what the job is accountable for, within what framework, and what the added value is. For each end result approximately 3 major activities should be described. Accountability is important to measure the important end results.

The responsibilities and activities begin with an action verb that describes the incumbent's role, followed by a measurable or observable end result and the primary activity or way the end result is accomplished. For example a principal duty for an Employment Supervisor might be:

Provide qualified candidates for job openings by screening applicants .

The action verb reflects the job's freedom to act in producing the end results described.

The accountability for the result will not change unless the design of the job is changed even though the specific actions taken to achieve the result may change over time.

Identify the Key Skill Areas for the Job
Such as:

Organizing

Administrating

Scheduling

Planning

Coordinating

Repairing

Managing

Directing

Servicing

Supervising

Communicating

Handling

Marketing

Implementing

Maintaining

Evaluating

Processing

Diagnosing

Researching

Advising

Controlling

Training

Assisting

Designing

Initiating

Problem-Solving

 

Then assign descriptors (behavioral objectives) to that skill.

For example:

  • Supervising Account Executives to ensure sales leads are followed-up.
  • Evaluating client database to ensure it is current and accurate.
  • Assist Account Executives in customizing bid pricing.

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities
After focusing on the output of the job (responsibilities/end results), the next element of a job description requires a focus on the input needed for the job: knowledge about practical procedures, specialized techniques, etc., analytical and conceptual skills and abilities, and skills needed for direct interaction with others.

Decision Making Accountability
This section is typically reserved for supervisory/management-level positions, but can be for other positions that have significant decision-making authority (e.g., Purchasers, Estimators, Customer Serivce Representative/Account Manager, etc.) Examples of authority in this section could include: discplinary decisions up to termination (which prior approval are given), purchase of outside services or materials up to $X,XXX.xx, the authority to stop or hold a job in production due to quality or customer issues, etc.

Education and Experience
Include the minimum level and type of formal education required of an incumbent in order to perform the job duties. Keep in mind that most administrative positions can be satisfied with an equivalency of work experience.

Academic credentials or professional certifications are not listed here unless they are required by regulatory or licensing agencies. For example the position of Medical Director would require a MD and state license.

Include the number of years of actual work experience the incumbent will need in addition to the education requirements above.

How frequently and closely is the incumbent's work supervised?
This statement considers the frequency that work is monitored : daily, weekly, monthly, etc. It also considers the types of problems that must be referred to the supervisor for resolution. Are decisions made based on standard practice or does it require the incumbent to search for a solution.

What are the most serious consequences for the company?
This statement considers the types of errors and how the errors are found. Are errors detected by checks in the system or only after serious long-term damage has been done. Provide examples.

Internal and External Contacts
This section considers what contacts within and outside the company occur, how often they occur and why? Do the contacts exchange information, order supplies, provide services, make presentations, etc.

Give examples of sensitive or confidential data with which the incumbent of this position is required to work.
Provide examples of the types of confidential data that the incumbent works with e.g. customer lists, trade secrets, business plans, salary information, employee performance issues, confidential data related to departmental projects, etc.

To what extent does the position participate in the development of policies and procedures for the department?
This section is usually reserved for supervisory and management level positions. Provide examples of the types of policies and procedures that the incumbent develops.

Describe the scope and level of the incumbent's authority in employee relations matters and/or company manufacturing policy/procedures.
This section assesses the incumbent's role in resolving problems usually seen by supervisory personnel such as settling interpersonal work disputes or in making critical production decisions that affect work flow and/or quality.

Physical/Mental Demands
Many employers have instituted a "physical demands" section on their job descriptions to help navigate the ADA waters. Employers are not required to have such items in their job descriptions, but many find it useful for return-to-work/light-duty situations and in hiring persons with physical impairments.

Mental functions, such as reading, simple math calculations, withstanding moderate amounts of stress, etc., are often used in job descriptions today. Particularly in states where on the job stress has been challenged as a claim for workers compensation.

Below is a list of various physical demand categories with examples of generic verbs that may be used to avoid prejudice to individuals with physical limitations.

PHYSICAL DEMAND CATEGORY GENERIC VERBS

1. Strength moves/transports
puts
installs/takes out
removes/replaces
positions/places
transfers
2. Climbing or ascends/descends
balancing
works atop
traverses
3. Walking/running, stooping
kneeling, crouching, and/or
crawling
moves (about or to) traverses
4. Reaching, handling,
fingering and/or feeling
detects, diagnoses
Installs/places
removes/replaces
operates, adjusts, attaches
positions, sets up
handles/tends
activates, feeds, controls
applies, measures, uses
modifies, signals, inputs
drafts, prepares
5. Talking and/or hearing communicates, detects
converses with
discerns, conveys
expresses oneself
discusses
exchanges information
 
6. Seeing detects, determines
distinguishes, identifies
recognizes, perceives
estimates, judges
discerns, inspects, compares
observes, assesses, has depth perception, can distinguish colors accurately.
7. Other demands detects, uses
perceives, discerns

Disclaimers
Many employers are now using disclaimers on their job descriptions to remind incumbents that job descriptions are not meant to be all-inclusive and/or the job itself is subject to change or additional tasks may be required of incumbents at various times. Legal counsel familiar with the federal ADA and any similar state laws should be sought before adding any such disclaimer.

Get others involved
In developing the job description interview incumbents and supervisors for relevant data, such as:

  • Relevant skill areas
  • Behavioral statements
  • Training requirements
  • Purpose of position
  • Physical demands

After a draft is completed have supervisors and incumbents review and validate. Correct and implement with everyone signing off on the final draft.

Keeping Job Descriptions Up-to-date
A job description can turn into "Plaintiff's Exhibit #1" if not kept up-to-date. That is why they should be reviewed annually and updated whenever significant changes are implemented.

Job Analysis Form
The follow form can help an employer in developing or updating a job description.

SECTION ONE - General Information

Employee Name: * Position Number: - - - *

Classification Title: * Skill Level: *

Dept: * Salary: * Time Base: * Prob/Perm/Temp: *

SECTION TWO - Primary Action Being Requested (Select One)

rPOSTING rVacancy rNew Position rLess than 90-day Position
rPOSITION DESCRIPTION UPDATE Effective Date:  
rSKILL LEVEL REVIEW From: To:
rTEMPORARY REASSIGNMENT Effective Date: End Date:
rRECLASSIFICATION Requested by: rEmployee rManagement r HR
Current Salary Grade: ___________________
Department: __________________
Supervisor's title: __________________
Supervisor's name: _____________________

SECTION THREE - Signatures

Employee's Signature: __________________________________ Date/Ext: ___________
Supervisor's Signature: ___________________________________ Date: _____________
Typed Name and Title:__________________________________ Ext: _____________
General Manager's Signature: _______________________________ Date: _____________

SECTION FOUR - Position Description

  1. Position summary [Briefly state, in one or two sentences, the purpose or objective of the position]:
     
  1. Essential job functions [State the essential functions, indicate New (N) or Existing (E), AND the estimated percent (%) of time devoted to each function - include descriptive statements of typical or representative tasks associated with the major essential functions]:
     
  1. Skill requirements [Identify (1.) specialized, technical, or practical knowledge required such as computer equipment/applications/programs/languages, accounting, etc., (2.) critical thinking skills and creativity required]:
     
  1. Nature and scope of decisions [Identify the kinds of commitments made, judgment required and supervision given/received; i.e., direct or general - also indicate if position acts as a lead or supervises others — explain. Also, note if personnel policy or operational/production related]:
     
  1. Contacts on and off site [List individuals regularly contacted and the purpose for the interaction]:
     
  1. How often is the job holder given:
  Constantly Frequently Infrequently Seldom
Supervision        
Instructions        
Discretionary
Authority
       
Authority over
others
       
  1. What are the working conditions? List such items as noise, heat, outside work, and exposure to bad weather.
  2. How much authority does the jobholder have in such matters as training or guiding other people?
  3. How much education, experience, and skill are required for satisfactory job performance?
  4. At what stage is the jobholder's work reviewed by the supervisor?
  5. What machines or equipment is the jobholder responsible for operating?
  6. If the jobholder makes a serious mistake or error in performing required duties, what would be the cost to management?

WORKING CONDITIONS / PHYSICAL EFFORT

This section of the questionnaire collects information about the conditions under which this job works and the physical effort needed to do this job.

Working Conditions: The first question deals with selected circumstances which you may encounter as you do this job. This includes, for example, exposure to hazardous materials.

Physical Effort: The next question deals with the intensity of physical effort required to perform this job.

Note: It is important in these questions that you respond based on what is needed to do your job under typical conditions.

  1. Working Conditions
    Check the first box on the left if an item does not apply. Otherwise, check box 2, 3 or 4 as defined in the scale below to indicate how often each item applies. ( Check one box for each item in the list. )
Definitions:
1. None = Does not apply
2. Occasionally = Up to 20% of the time
3. Frequently = From 21% to 50% of the time
4. Constantly = At least 51% of the time


 

None Occasionally Frequently Constantly  
        Working in a physical environment with unpleasant or disagreeable conditions such as high noise levels, exposure to heat or cold
        Handling or working with potentially dangerous equipment
        Hazardous conditions such as the risk of exposure, fumes or airborne particles, and / or toxic or caustic chemicals may be present in this work environment which mandates attention to safety considerations
        Working hours significantly beyond regularly scheduled hours
        Travel to off-site locations
        Activities are subject to significant volume changes of a seasonal / clinical nature
        Work produced is subject to precise measures of quantity and quality
  1. Physical Effort
    Check the first box on the left if an item is "not needed" to perform job duties. Otherwise check box 2, 3 or 4 as defined in the scale below to indicate how often the physical activity is needed. For the first four questions, please also indicate the maximum weight involved in the physical action. You should check one box for each item in the list.
Definitions:
How often: ( check the appropriate box )
1. None = Does not apply
2. Occasionally = Up to 20% of the time
3. Frequent = From 21% to 50% of the time
4. Constant = At least 51% of the time
How Heavy: ( enter number 1 to 5 )
1 = 10 lbs. or less
2 = 30 lbs. or less
3 = 50 lbs. or less
4 = 80 lbs. or less
5 = over 80 lbs.
How Frequent     Lifting, Carrying, Pushing, Pulling How Heavy
None Occasionally Frequently Constantly     <10lbs <30 <50 <80 >80lbs
      Lifting objects
Carrying objects
Pushing objects
Pulling objects
   
           
           
           
None Occasionally Frequent Constant   Mobility
          Standing for extended periods of time
          Moving about on foot
          Sitting in a normal seated position for extended periods of time
          Climbing and / or balancing
          Stooping and / or kneeling and crawling
None Occasionally Frequent Constant   Reaching, Handling, Finger Dexterity and / or Feeling
          Reaching by extending hand(s) or arm(s) in any direction
          Handling by seizing, holding, grasping, turning or otherwise working with the hand or hands, but without finger dexterity
          Finger dexterity required to manipulate objects with fingers rather than with whole hand(s) or arm(s); using a keyboard, for example
          Feeling to perceive an object's size, shape, temperature or texture by means of senses in your skin
None Occasionally Frequent Constant   Communication
          Communication skills using the spoken word
          Hearing ability
None Occasionally Frequent Constant   Seeing
          Far vision to see objects clearly beyond 20 feet
          Near vision to see objects clearly within 20 inches
          Field of vision to see an area up and down or right and left while eyes are fixed on one point
          Sharp focus to adjust vision when doing close work that changes in distance from eyes
          Full spectrum color vision to identify and distinguish color

SECTION FIVE - Additional Information

  1. Minimum qualifications required to perform all essential functions. [Indicate type of work and number of years work experience required; education, if applicable, desired degree and field of study, and specify certificate or special license requirements; e.g. equipment operator]:
  2. For a revised position description, describe how and why this job has or is to change.
    [What is different about the job in terms of skill levels, responsibility, complexity, accountability and authority]:
  3. Environmental and/or physical requirements. [i.e. Moving Objects, Working Outdoors, etc.]:

SECTION SIX - Attach new and prior dated Organization Charts
(Highlight the relevant position)

Published on Monday, February 20, 2006 (updated 05/27/2014)

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