I know you’re thinking! Job descriptions, that’s not a sexy topic. Actually, most people yawn when you mention job descriptions. So why would I spend time writing about them?

Job descriptions are what I call “the bread & butter of HR”. In other words, they are the basis for important HR systems. Think job ad in recruitment, job matching in compensation or ADA accommodation for legal compliance.

Unfortunately, too many organizations do not have job descriptions at all. If they  do, they aren’t worth a D*$M!

If your organization doesn’t recruit new employees, is not concerned about competitive pay and has less than 15 employees, then you probably don’t need to be too concerned with job descriptions. Otherwise, you really need to pay attention to job descriptions.

In my experience of crafting and updating dozens of job descriptions, there are seven common problems with job descriptions:

  1. The job description is out of date. Compare your business today with what it was five years ago. Chances are it is different. The work done by employees running the business has changed too. Technology transforms the way work gets done. Re-organizations and restructuring impacts roles and responsibilities. In any case, it is good practice to review job descriptions at least every 2 years to ensure they reflect the reality of the position.
  2. There is no job description. When hiring for a new position, the job ad becomes the de facto job description but it is not sufficient. Job ads lack important elements for a job description: reporting relationships (up and down), the physical demand of the position, the details of responsibilities. Without a solid job description, it is tough to decide on reasonable accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  3. The job title is meaningless. A good job ad needs an appealing job title. The IT community loves pop culture references. “SEO Ninja” or “Network Guru” are in vogue but they don’t mean much when it comes to job matching for compensation purposes. Banking is notorious for title inflation. I recommend using meaningful and widely understood job titles to avoids confusion about the scope of the role.
  4. Job descriptions are written by line managers. Undoubtedly, supervisors and employees are best positioned to know the work done by each position. However, they often get bogged down in the minutia of the position and have a hard time identifying the main deliverables for which the position is responsible. Instead consider using a knowledgeable outsider to interview supervisor and employee. At a minimum, identify a process owner (usually HR) and institute a review process.
  5. There is no consistency across the organization. Each department has a different template with different headings. The job description documents “look” different. Departments or work teams update the job description (which is good!) without consulting a knowledgeable party or the HR department. Using job description software will alleviate this problem, if your organization is willing to invest.
  6. The essential functions are not itemized as a percentage of time. Consider the big ticket items of the position. What are the critical deliverables and how much time do they require? Think in terms of hours in a day or in a week. For example, an Administrative Assistant spends about 4 hours a week on budget reconciliation. That’s 10% of the work week and it should be reflected in the job description. If the task requires 4 hours a month, that’s less than 10% and probably should not be itemized.

Investing a few hours every two years to update your job descriptions is a good investment in your organization. Don’t have time to do it yourself?  Shoot me an email and tell me what job description you need. Get professional HR support to write great job descriptions. Getting it done right and quickly is well worth it!