A job description is a summary of what a job entails. It will often have a job title, overall purpose, primary duties, knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics(KSAOs) required for an individual to perform the job successfully. Included under KSAOs are all job requirements and hiring criteria such as education/experience requirements, skills and other characteristics.
Job descriptions are a blueprint of what people do when hired for a particular job. They show what abilities are required for an individual to perform well in a job. They outline the critical duties of the job.
A job description is a written explanation of a specific work that is anticipated and how it should be done. It is a written guideline that everyone must follow when carrying out their responsibilities and duties.
Krumer-Nevo et al., 2011 define a job description as a formal document prepared by the employer that outlines the nature of an employee's job and the expected tasks they should perform. Another key component of every job description is showing each job's reporting relationships. Specifically, it indicates the role to which the job reports and those that also report to the job.
The challenge I see in practice is that most employees rarely refer to their job descriptions once they start a job. It usually matters in the first few days of the job. After that, they rarely refer to it. Employers need to make the job description meaningful and relevant to keep employees interested in the job description.
Related: KSAOS - Step by step guide to understanding KSAOs
Job Description format
There is no universally agreed standard format for job descriptions. My experience dealing with various organizations shows that various organizations use various formats to prepare job descriptions. What seems to matter in preparing job descriptions is that they should at least reflect the core duties of every job and what is needed for someone to do that job well.
The key elements in a job description usually are the Job title, primary purpose, duties, and the KSAOs required for a candidate to perform the job satisfactorily. In addition, the job description will show reporting relationships.
Employers must frequently update job descriptions to align them with the job and environment changes. When job descriptions are outdated, they fail to serve their purpose.
Why are job descriptions important?
- Hiring staff - Organizations use job descriptions for various purposes. Chief among the uses of job descriptions is when hiring new employees. Employers use some information on the job description to design job adverts. They specify the overall purpose of the job, the primary duties and then the qualification, experiences and other attributes required for someone to be successful in that job. Once the applications are received, the job advert is used to develop structured interview questions.
- Developing performance standards – When job descriptions are designed well, you can use them to develop performance standards for your staff. Most employers use them to create performance indicators for their staff.
- Job Evaluation – Job descriptions are the primary input into job evaluation. When organizations establish the relative worth of jobs through job evaluation, they assess various factors in the job description.
- Training – the job description can be used as the basis for identifying the training needs of any employee by comparing their work output to what is listed on the job description.
- Reporting relationships - A job description can assist in the definition the reporting relationships. It describes the organizational structure of the company as well as the position's level of power and span of control. It also assists the employee in understanding whom they must report to, who must report to them, and what obligations the employee is responsible for.
Related: Job Description of a Training Coordinator
Job Analysis and the preparation of job descriptions
The process of gathering information used in job descriptions is called job analysis. Job analysis is a systematic process for determining the critical job tasks and the KSAOs an individual must possess to perform a job to the right standard.
The people leading this process collect a list of job tasks and KSAOs using questionnaires. HR Professionals or Psychologists gather the tasks from the incumbents in the role. Subject matter experts then rate the collected tasks and KSAOs for importance. The subject matter experts could be people with supervisory responsibility over the role, immediate or one-up supervisors. It usually requires 3 to 5 subject matter experts to rate the tasks and come up with a credible list.
Alternatively, the processes involve working with subject matter experts to identify and define tasks and KSAOs, as well as using incumbent surveys to validate the necessity of each KSAO for performing the most critical tasks.
The structure of job descriptions
The Job Title
Every job description will have a job title. You, however, need to be careful with job titles as some of the titles are not aligned with the responsibilities in the job description. The title is supposed to reflect overall what the job does. It is, therefore, misleading to infer what the job does by looking at the job title. Some organizations now have inflated job titles that do not reflect the work.
Leaders and employees generally use job titles to communicate with various levels of people in the organization. The job title in a job description can identify the role. The title label often reflects the level of the position. Employees use job titles on their business cards and other internal and external communications. Job titles sometimes signify the level of authority the person holding a position has.
The overall purpose of the job
Under the overall purpose section, you summarise what the job does in no more than three sentences. Under here, put the overarching purpose of the job. Under this section, you are answering the question: Why does this job exist?
Let me illustrate this with an example. The Human Resources Manager of an organization will have the overall purposes, which might look like this: \"To oversee the management of all human resources processes and activities to enable the organization to meet its vision and strategic goals.
Primary duties in a job description
List the primary duties for the job, preferably in order of importance. As indicated earlier, incumbents or subject matter experts could have supplied the information on the duties. Other job descriptions will also demonstrate how frequently each duty is performed, e.g. Daily, weekly or monthly.
While jobs have a long list of duties, I suggest you focus on the priority duties and those that consume most of the incumbent time. That way, you are sure that trivial matters are excluded from the job description.
KSAOs in a job description
Now that the duties of the role have been outlined. The next stage is for you to outline the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics required for any individual to perform in a role. Identify the KSAOs the employee should possess to perform the job successfully. The KSAOs must reflect the minimum requirements for the job. You must avoid recording what the incumbent has. This is often a blunder when job description information is entirely collected from incumbents without the manager or subject matter experts checking for content validity and accuracy of the things listed by the incumbent.
These KSAOs become the basic pool of characteristics that employers can use to evaluate job applicants when hiring.
This section indicates the minimum experience required for an individual to function effectively in this job. Soon after that, add the minimum educational qualification required by the individual would need to perform successfully in this job.
Do not forget that skills, abilities and other characteristics are required for the individual to perform well in this job. This is where you list things; strategic thinking, communication, analytics, and stakeholder management skills. To have a clear picture of how this looks in a job description, see the detailed job description of the CEO I prepared.
Related: Job Description of Bookkeeper
Inclusive Job Descriptions
By any means, avoid unconscious bias in your job descriptions. Most unconscious bias found in job descriptions is often transmitted to job adverts. To achieve that, you need to be deliberate in collecting job description information and writing the job description. As you can see, such practices result in bias in recruitment, often affecting women and minority groups.
Success in a job is defined through job analysis. When this process is biased against minority groups, the rest of the hiring process is contaminated. The cracks in hiring are in the foundation – job analysis. Incumbent-focused job analysis is faulty - because each incumbent's job experience reflects their personal and subjective experience. The same personal and subjective experience is used to hire other employees. Assess for diversity and inclusion from the job analysis stage.
The method for gathering information about the job begins with a job analysis. The tasks, outcomes (products or services), equipment, materials used, and environment (working conditions, risks, work schedule, etc) that describe the job are all included in the information.
Job descriptions are an essential part of managing human resources. To benefit from job descriptions, they must be detailed, reliable, and a true reflection of the duties the incumbents need to perform when they are on the job.