Writing an Effective Job Description
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The job description should accurately reflect the duties and responsibilities of the position. When well-written, it produces a realistic picture of a job and answers the question, “What does the person in this role actually do?”
A job description not only describes the position’s responsibilities, it sets the foundation for recruiting, developing, and retaining talent and also sets the stage for optimum work performance by clarifying responsibilities, expected results, and evaluation of performance. It is also an important component to maintaining an equitable compensation system and ensuring legal compliance. The document should be revisited and updated in line with the annual performance evaluation cycle.
The job description contains sufficient information to describe major responsibilities and essential functions as they exist today. They provide the information necessary to classify the position, not the person; thus they are “incumbent neutral” and not based on any specific quality of an incumbent (such as knowledge, skills, abilities, performance, dedication, loyalty, years of service, or degree). The document should not include every detail of how and what work is performed so that it remains useful even when minor changes occur. Job descriptions can be written as a joint effort between supervisor and employee, but the supervisor must approve.
Job Description Components
A job description contains the following components: job title, job purpose, job duties and responsibilities, required qualifications, preferred qualifications, and working conditions.
The Job Title is a brief description (1-4 words) of the job which reflects the content, purpose, and scope of the job and is consistent with other job titles of similar roles within Wright State University (University).
Examples include Archivist, Associate Director Disability Services, Associate Registrar, Director Student Health Services, Facilities Planner, Grants Accountant, Budget Analyst, Instructional Designer, Manager Desktop Services, and Manager Custodial Services.
The Job Purpose provides a high-level overview of the role, level, and scope of responsibility consisting of three or four sentences providing a basic understanding, the “bird’s eye view” of the role. A concise summary of “why the job exists?”
Job Duties and Responsibilities
This section contains a description of the duties and responsibilities assigned to the job; also referred to as the essential functions. They describe the fundamental nature of the job which occupies a large proportion of the employee’s time. Some items to consider:
- Include explanatory phrases which tell why, how, where, or how often the tasks and duties are performed.
- Focus on the outcome of tasks.
- Reference areas of decision-making, where one will influence or impact.
- Identify areas of direct or indirect accountabilities.
- Describe the level and type of budgetary or financial responsibilities.
- Describe the nature of contact, the people contacted, and the extent to which the incumbent will interact with others within and outside of the University.
- List job duties that reflect the position requirements and ensure they are not based upon the capabilities of any one individual.
If applicable, also address the type of supervisory responsibility that is expected from this role. Detail the extent of the job’s authority to hire, discipline, terminate, assign work, train, and evaluate the performance of subordinates. This can be either a separate job duty or noted in other job duties as appropriate. The following lists various levels of supervision:
- Provide direction to other individuals.
- Supervises, hires, trains, provides work direction, and problem-solving assistance for student workers. Also oversees the daily operations of other staff.
- Supervises staff, including hiring, scheduling, and assigning work, reviewing performance, and recommends salary increases, promotions, transfers, demotions, or terminations.
- Manages others through subordinate supervisors.
The job duties should be listed in accordance with their importance and/or frequency in which they are performed. They are typically presented in a bulleted or numbered format, consisting of approximately 4–7 separate duties, with each one assigned a “percent of the time” (adding to 100%) which reflects the estimated time an employee will spend over a year. Duties that require less than 5 percent of the time should be combined with other duties or removed from the job description. The following table will assist you in estimating the percent of time:
|5%||2 hours||2 ½ weeks|
|10%||4 hours||5 weeks|
|15%||6 hours||1 ½ month|
|20%||8 hours||2 ½ months|
|25%||10 hours||3 months|
This section lists the required level of job knowledge (such as education, experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities) required to do the job. This section focuses on the “minimum” level of qualifications for an individual to be productive and successful in this role.
NOTE: For classified jobs, the required qualifications will be identical to those listed on the job specification.
Identify the educational qualifications that an employee must possess to satisfactorily perform the job duties and responsibilities. State the educational qualifications in terms of areas of study and/or type of degree or concentration that would provide the knowledge required for entry into this position.
Identify the minimum number of full-time experience required in terms of years and the type of work experience that an employee needs to be qualified for the job. Should internships, undergraduate work experience, and graduate assistantships be accepted levels of experience; this will need to be specifically stated.
Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
In stating the required knowledge, include the level or depth of knowledge required for entry into the position. The following definitions should be helpful:
- Working knowledge: sufficient familiarity with the subject to know basic principles and terminology and to understand and solve simple problems.
- General knowledge: sufficient knowledge of a field to perform most work in normal situations. The work calls for comprehension of standard situations and includes knowledge of most of the significant aspects of the subject.
- Thorough knowledge: advanced knowledge of the subject matter. The work calls for sufficient comprehension of the subject area to solve unusual as well as common work problems, to be able to advise on technical matters and to serve as a resource on the subject for others in the organization.
- Comprehensive knowledge: requires complete mastery and understanding of the subject. This term should be used sparingly and only for unusually exacting or responsible positions required to originate hypotheses, concepts, or approaches.
List specific skills and/or abilities required for the incumbent to be successful in this role; including the designation of any required licenses or certifications. Some considerations are analytical, budget exposure, communication internal or external, computer, creative thinking, customer service, decision-making, diversity, logical thinking, multi-tasking, negotiation, problem-solving, project management, supervision, teamwork, etc.
An expanded listing of the Required Qualifications can be used to further determine a person’s ability to be productive and successful in this job. These Preferred Qualifications are “nice to have” but are not essential to carrying out the day-to-day functions of the job. If included, the Preferred Qualifications can focus on any or all of the following: education, experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities.
NOTE: For classified jobs, the University does not list preferred qualifications.
Identify the working conditions and physical demands that relate directly to the essential job duties and responsibilities to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Describe the type, intensity (how much), frequency (how often), and duration (how long) of physical or mental capabilities required. Consider the following:
- Environment, such as an office or outdoors.
- Exposures encountered, such as hazardous materials, loud noise, or extreme heat/cold.
- Essential physical requirements, such as climbing, standing, stooping, or typing.
- Physical effort/lifting, such as sedentary - up to 10 pounds; light - up to 20 pounds; medium - up to 50 pounds; heavy - over 50 pounds.
- Indicate if required to work weekends, nights, or be on-call as a regular part of the job.
- Travel requirements.
- Emergency staff designations.
Hints for Writing Job Descriptions
Job descriptions should be prepared in a manner that all components are accurately stated to create a clear understanding of the role. Here are some hints to assist you in the process:
- Write in a concise, direct style.
- Always use the simpler word rather than the complicated one; keeping sentence structure as simple as possible. It will cut verbiage, shorten your description, and enhance understanding.
- Use descriptive action verbs in the present tense (for example: writes, operates, or performs).
- Avoid abbreviations and acronyms. Other people reading the position description may not be familiar with them. If abbreviations and acronyms are necessary, define them the first time you use them.
- Don't use ambiguous terms. If you use terms such as “assists, handles, and performs,” describe “how” the position assists, handles, or performs. Using the word “by” and then detailing the processes, tasks, or operations performed will usually clarify the ambiguity.
- Avoid gender-specific language, such as, “He manages,” “She is responsible for.”
- Focus on essential activities; omit trivial duties and occasional tasks.
- Avoid references to other employee’s names, instead, refer to the job title or department.
- Only include assigned duties today. Do not include potential future duties and eliminate any duties no longer required.