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Job Descriptions describe the job rather than the individual who fills the job. They are the result of a job analysis within an organization and are essential to the selection and evaluation of employees.
Job descriptions are the basis for writing job advertisements, and they are valuable tools that may be used during every aspect of the employment process. Because they are so useful, writing and reviewing a job description should be the first step in the pre-recruitment stage of the employment process.
Input...Job AnalysisThe job analysis is an in-depth study of a job and it provides information for the job description. A job analysis is prepared using information from the individual holding the job and the appropriate management staff. It should contain the following elements:Purpose of the job (why it exists)Job responsibilities and approximate percent of time spent on each dutyKnowledge, skills, abilities and personal characteristics required to perform the jobDecision-making authoritySupervisory responsibilityWorking conditions (mental and physical)Equipment usage
Once the analysis has been completed, the next step is to develop a job description utilizing that information.
Output...Job DescriptionThe job description is a written statement that defines the duties, relationships and results expected of anyone in the position.
Essential Functions When writing job descriptions, it is imperative to distinguish between essential job functions and marginal job duties. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) brought essential functions into focus. Provisions of the act require employers to make reasonable accommodations to enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position. To determine if a function should be considered essential, ask the following questions:Does the position exist to perform the function?Are there a limited number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the function can be distributed?Is the function highly specialized and the person in the position hired for special expertise or ability to perform that function?
Marginal functions are those that are not essential to the specific job, or functions that are shared by many different employees.
Dos and Don'tsWhen writing job descriptions, consider the following guidelines:
Arrange duties and responsibilities in a logical, sequential order. Begin with the task requiring the greatest amount of time or carrying the greatest responsibility. State separate duties clearly and concisely so anyone can glance at the description and easily identify each duty.
Use action words to begin each job duty. This means any word that describes a specific function, such as "directs" rather than "under the direction of..."Review the job description on a regular basis and revise when necessary.
Putting It to WorkAs mentioned earlier, job descriptions provide a basis for decisions in all aspects of the employment process. Here are some examples of how job descriptions can be used:
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO): To ensure that each job candidate and employee is treated fairly, the job description should be used to communicate consistent, clear information about job requirements. An accurate job description used as the basis for all human resource management steps is the best defense against accusations of unfairness or inequality.
Interviewing & Selection: When several job applicants have been recruited, the interviewer uses the job description to match their qualifications with those specified in the document. It also is a talking tool the interviewer uses to communicate job requirements. At decision time, the manager uses the job description to determine which job candidate most closely fits the job requirements.
Orientation and Training: When a new employee is hired, the supervisor/trainer uses the job description to train the new employee about precise tasks. The supervisor also spends time identifying how the job description links to performance evaluation (i.e. communicating with the employee the performance standards that are expected as he or she performs the tasks).
Management: Once past the orientation period, the supervisor uses the job description to monitor employee performance. Is he or she doing what is required? This monitoring results in positive reinforcement if the person is doing what is required, or correction/retraining if the person is not on target. Over time, the supervisor uses the job description to help the employee develop, by increasing performance standards or adding new job responsibilities.
If at any time during a performance period, an employee is not meeting performance requirements, the job description becomes a critical tool for communicating the gap between expectations and performance. It then is used as a road map when developing an improvement plan. This is a vital, legally required step in the performance problem process. It ensures the employee is aware of discrepancies and given a chance to improve them.
Compensation: Those determining how to compensate employees must know what the jobs are worth as a first step toward developing a salary schedule/pay structure. The job description provides the necessary data for this step. Also, when deciding if an employee is eligible for a merit raise and at what level, the findings between the job description and performance standards are vital data.
Termination: If plan goals are not met, poor performance (not up to the standards of the job description), serves as a legitimate basis for termination. Job descriptions can be used for termination in another way, too. If an organization is restructuring, its executives must consider how these changes impact their staffing plan. Analyzing job descriptions at this time helps identify how jobs might be combined or eliminated and whether new job descriptions must be developed.
Promotion: If an employee is promoted, he or she is a new employee for that particular job. Therefore, orientation, training and performance standard clarification must be conducted again, using the new job description as the communication tool.
Safety: The job description also can be used to identify unsafe working conditions and procedures. That is, as job information is gathered and analyzed and job descriptions developed, the analyst/writer will recognize if hazards exist. Then, unsafe condition/procedures can be changed or discontinued.
Portions excerpted from "Managing Human Resources in Small and Mid-Sized Companies." American Management Association, 1995.