Job Descriptions: What are they, why do they matter, and how do I write one?
What is a job description?
At it’s most fundamental level, a job description should lay out all of the component tasks that make up a role, day-to-day. The reader should be able to gain a fairly good understanding of what they would need to do every day/week/month to carry out that role.
However, this is where I like to draw a distinction between a job specification and a job description. A specification is exactly this; an emotionless list of tasks, as if the prospective employee is a robot who can simply be programmed to deliver certain things, day after day after day. A job description however, when written well, should provide so much more than that. It ought to enable the individual to picture life within the organisation, performing that role, in brilliant technicolour.
To bring this to life, I like to use a retail analogy. If you go to Amazon and search for a fairly standard product, in this example the new iPhone, you will see what I mean:
- 6.1-inch Liquid Retina HD LCD display
- Water and dust resistant (2 metres for up to 30 minutes, IP68)
- Dual-camera system with 12MP Ultra Wide and Wide cameras; Night mode, Portrait mode, and 4K video up to 60fps
- 12MP TrueDepth front camera with Portrait mode, 4K video, and Slo-Mo
- Face ID for secure authentication and Apple Pay
- A13 Bionic chip with third-generation Neural Engine
- Fast-charge capable
- Wireless charging
Just the right amount of everything. New dual camera system. All day battery. The toughest glass in a smartphone. And Apple’s fastest chip ever.
Display: Have a beautiful day. Six stunning new colours. Gorgeous 6.1 inch all screen liquid retina LCD. Water resistant up to 2 metres for 30 minutes.
Camera: Take your photos further, and wider. Ultra-wide (13mm) – 120 degree field of view for four times more scene. Wide (26mm) – 100% focus pixels for up to three times faster autofocus in low light
4k video: take your video up a notch. 4k video at 60 fps on every camera. Ultra-wide for four times more scene. Rotate, crop and add filters as easily as you do with photos.
Night mode: Night, in a new light. From candlelit birthdays to bonfires on the beach, the new Night mode delivers natural low light shots. Automatically.
Privacy: Built in. Face ID is the most secure facial authentication in a smartphone. It doesn’t store or share your photo. And it’s more secure than Touch ID.
Rather different propositions, I’m sure you will agree.
What does a job description achieve then?
The immediate consideration when writing a job description is that this is Ground Zero of candidate attraction. It is effectively your shop window, and should be given just as much time and attention as you would (should) in preparation for an interview. Ask yourself: Does this description accurately reflect our organisation, the team the role, the future prospects for this person, and most importantly the nuances of the position that make this role different to any other role with the same job title? If not, then why would someone apply to this over and above the 100s of other jobs out there?
The best candidates are usually in a position to be especially choosy when job-seeking. The job description needs to inspire them to apply.
An effective job description will also have longer-term benefits for both your organisation and the individual. It should be a key pillar within ongoing performance management and professional development, acting as a reference point. How can you say someone isn’t meeting expectations when they were never made clear in the first place? Or how can you expect an employee to aspire to a promotion when they have no idea what the next rung on the ladder even looks like?
What should be included?
- Job title
- Description of the organisation: Including purpose, mission statement and company values, as well as conveying the company’s culture and objectives.
- Where the role sits within the team, department and wider business.
- Who the role reports to, and other key interactions.
- Key areas of responsibility and the deliverables expected.
- Short, medium and long-term objectives.
- Scope for progression and promotion.
- Required education and training.
- Soft skills and personality traits necessary to excel.
- Location and travel requirements.
- Remuneration range and benefits available.
What are the common pitfalls?
- Not involving enough stakeholders – Yes the CFO will be important in describing the duties of the Financial Controller, but are they best-placed to convey the organisation’s culture and purpose? Might a collaborative approach between the CFO and HR give you a better chance of doing both effectively?
- Being unrealistic – You should be actively trying to represent the requirements to perform the role, not putting together an impossible wish-list of attributes. Similarly, although you are trying to sell the role to an extent, it’s important to also be honest about the challenges of the role. this is the real world, and candidates will be grateful for the honesty instead of running scared. And If they do, are they really the person for the job?
- Death by acronym – using internal terminology is a sure-fire way to confuse and befuddle prospective candidates, ultimately putting them off applying. Use basic language to the extent that someone totally unfamiliar with your organisation, but familiar with the industry/role, can understand.
- Using discriminatory language – Often this is inadvertent, but certain words or phrases can be construed as discriminatory, or suggestive of such. This will significantly limit your applicant group by alienating vast swathes of people.
- Not regularly reviewing – in the same way our organisations and teams evolve, so do individual roles. Job descriptions should reflect this constant change and be reviewed at frequent intervals.
If you or your business is seeking advice on this topic, or indeed anything else, feel free to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org