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Friday, October 23, 2009

Writing Job Descriptions - Tips and Pitfalls

I've always been a fan of KISS. Not the 70's rock band with the face paint - but the bacronym for a very powerful principle: "Keep it simple, stupid." This principle has broad application, and most recently I've been thinking about it in the context of job descriptions and their respective job titles.

I have lots to say, so I'm going to muster up some real constraint here. First things first. Are job descriptions required? With one small exception, no! (The small exception refers to the Environmental Protection Agency Regulations, which requires them for jobs where employees handle hazardous waste.) But to be fair, there are some clear benefits of well-written job descriptions:

1. Legally, they can provide some defense in cases involving ADA or FLSA-related issues.

2. Need to do some recruiting? A job description can serve as the basis for articulating the overall purpose of the job and identifying the essential functions. It's one way of making sure that you've got consensus as to what's required. It allows you to more accurately benchmark the job against the market so that your pay package will be competitive. It provides potential candidates with a true sense of what the job is. (Trust me, it makes the recruitment process a heck of lot more effective.)

3.Do you really want to manage performance? A job description can be the foundation for clarifying core expectations. And it can be a great spring board for building out competencies and ultimately, career paths.

If you're convinced that developing job descriptions is a worthy investment of your time (or if your manager has told you that it is), then forge ahead, brothers and sisters. But arm yourselves with the KISS principle and stand firm in your mission to describe the job in all of its glory (or not, depending on the job).

Job descriptions should contain the following:

1. FLSA status (exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act)
2. Reporting relationships
3. Overall purpose
4. Essential functions
5. Minimum qualifications (be honest)
6. Working conditions
7. Physical demands
8. Disclaimer (indicating that the duties are subject to change and are not intended to be an all-inclusive list)
9. Dates and approvals

If you're going to do them, you'll need to keep them current. That's a strong motivator for keeping them simple. Don't make the mistake of confusing a job description with a mind-numbing list of tasks. Typically, three to five core functions should be sufficient. Indicate the approximate percentage of time that each comprises.

The Two Biggest Pitfalls to Avoid
If you apply this guidance will you have a good job description? Not necessarily. It's like building a house. Maybe your foundation is solid but you've got faulty wiring. I've seen hundreds of job descriptions and the predominant problems with most of them are two-fold: an inflated job title and exaggerated description of the essential duties.

1. Inflated or Meaningless Job Titles
If you've got a moment I'll divulge a true story. It illustrates the importance that people attach to their job title. (This is a nice way of pointing out that ego often trumps common sense.)

I once worked with someone who was promoted (translation: assigned) to a brand new role. Absent a title that seemed intuitive, someone came up with this one: Manager of Transformation. Do you know what the purpose of this job was? Neither do I. But I do recall that this person orchestrated a lovely ice cream social and was ultimately accountable for making sure that there was an air hockey table in the break room.

I thought it would be fun to share a few examples of audaciously silly job titles. Since one of my favorite quips is that "it's all been done before," it took me less than a nanosecond to discover a gem of website with a job title generator. Three clicks later I had three really superlative job titles:

Human Branding Specialist
Executive Enabler of Media Partnerships
Global Accountability Engineer

What do these have in common? More baloney than the lunchmeat factory!

Tip: Call it what it is. If you don't know quite what to call it, focus on the kinds of jobs that your target candidates may have right now. If you need to hire a bookkeeper, don't call it an Assistant Accounting Specialist.

2. Exaggerated Job Duties
Given a choice, I'd rather deal with a lousy job title than a lousy job description. When I benchmark jobs for clients against survey data, I typically ignore the title altogether and dive right into the description. The words don't lie. Or do they? I've found that it can take a strong cup of coffee, two reviews of the job description, the help of a colleague and a serious reading between the lines to get to the truth. I suspect it's our proclivity to sugar-coat more than just our breakfast cereal.

Tip: Choose your action words carefully. Using words such as "responsible for" is too non-specific. Using words that inflate the job duty are equally as dangerous. If you describe the job duties of the warehouse worker as "managing," how will you differentiate the job of a true manager? Here are some sample action verbs to get you thinking: administers, authorizes, carries, coordinates, counts, estimates, files, modifies, procures, records, services, transfers, writes, etc.

Whew! Ready to give it a go? Just remember to use honest language so that you can keep it real. And keep it simple.

Authored by Sandy Turba

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what u say about sample job description
Regards maria

November 9, 2010 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Thiep said...


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November 17, 2010 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Job Descriptions said...

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June 8, 2011 at 12:54 AM  
Blogger cahill said...


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November 8, 2011 at 7:55 PM  

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