5 Tips for Creating Effective Job Descriptions

July 28, 2015
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Getting it right from the start can prevent personnel problems down the road.

Job descriptions are probably not your favorite documents to write. If they’re not comprehensive and specific enough, you’ll attract the wrong candidates. If you overwrite them, making the job seem like it requires superpowers, you may scare off good job-seekers. And if they’re too vague, you probably won’t get many responses at all.

MST blog 2nd July image 1Job descriptions do more than simply spell out the duties an employee will be expected to take on. If they’re well-written, they can serve as blueprints for employee evaluations down the road. And if you have the unenviable task of determining whether a staff member should be terminated, they can help determine how well his or her prescribed duties are being performed.

These are critical documents, and they require a good deal of consideration. Think about these issues as you prepare to compose them.

Cover the bases. An effective job description should include several types of information, including:

  • Qualifications. What kind of education and job experience are you looking for? Are there non-employment-related involvements (internships, community work, publications, training, etc.) that would be important?
  • Job title (grade, level, if appropriate) and primary responsibilities. Any professional writer will tell you that it’s easier to write long than short. Try to keep this to a paragraph, two at the most. Describe the job’s overall scope in general terms.
  • Task specifics. What exactly will the employee be expected to do?
  • Methods, and support. What tools are available to aid the new staff member? Will he or she be a manager? Working as part of a team? How does the position relate to other departments?

Be specific, yet flexible. Those may sound like opposing directives, but there’s a sweet spot in there. You obviously have a concrete set of duties that the employee must accomplish skillfully, goals and objectives that they must meet. But leave room for additional tasks that you might want them to do, or that you may find they do well.

MST blog 2nd July image 2Use language and concepts appropriate for your target demographic. The words and phrases you use when you’re hiring a VP of Sales should be different than how you word a job description for a customer support representative.

Emphasize expectations. Be clear here: Let candidates know that employee evaluations will be based in large part on the content of the job description.

If your company is large enough to have a human resources specialist or staff, ask for their assistance here. At the very least, have an HR professional read your job descriptions before you present them to candidates. As you probably know, employee regulations have become quite complex over the last couple of decades, and you want to be in compliance.

If the position you’re advertising is replacing an existing employee who is leaving on good terms, run it by him or her at some point. Look back over that staff member’s evaluations and see if there are areas that should be emphasized (or de-emphasized).

And do use job descriptions to jump-start your employee evaluations. If you’ve written them well, you’ll find that periodic task to be much more quantifiable and easier to accomplish.

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