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Writing an Effective Job Description

By: Rick Gossett



Having an effective job description for every position in your business will help you in a variety of ways. It will help in recruiting by giving candidates a clearer idea of what you’re looking for, and helping you know what to look for in candidates. It makes performance evaluation easier because you have guidelines by which to judge your employees. And effective job descriptions help with promotions by, again, providing a framework within which you can judge your employees’ readiness for a new position. Having job descriptions for all your existing positions will also allow you to know exactly what tasks are being done, which are your highest priorities, and what you need to change.


But where do you begin when you want to write an effective job description? Where do you even start? By following an orderly approach, you’ll be able to create descriptions even the first time. Then you’ll be able to use them to benefit your company, both in hiring and in evaluating existing positions.


Gathering Information

First, you’ll need to read all the information you already have about the job. Look at want ads and recruitment brochures your business has produced to see what you’ve been saying about the position thus far.

Then, figure out the relationship between the job and other jobs in your company. To whom does this position report, and what other positions does it oversee? For a new position, you’ll need to figure out this information, which will help you better understand why you’re creating this position and what you expect it to accomplish.

After that you need to determine the duties of the position. For an existing position, ask the incumbent what their duties are exactly. You want to know both which tasks occupy the most time for the position as well as which are the most important, the key decisions and tasks (they aren’t always the same things).

You should be able to also gather data on the amount of supervision for the position, the interactions with other employees, and the physical and technical requirements for the job. Once you’ve gathered all this information, you should be able to create a strong job description for the position. However, with more complex or technically oriented positions, you may want to put additional work into coming up with the job description.


Gathering Additional Data

There are a number of ways you can gather additional data for a job description. First, you can simply observe as current employees work in similar positions. For clerical and technical jobs, you can go to the work location and get current employees to talk you through their daily activities as they do them in a desk audit. One-on-one or group interviews with employees also help to explain how tasks are performed and why some are more important than others. This method is particularly helpful with creating job descriptions for recruiting.

You can also get your employees to come up with information on their jobs on their own, which you can then go through to create a job description. You can use a questionnaire when you’re not able to work out interviews. A diary where employees keep track of the different tasks they perform will give you an accurate look at a workday or workweek. Finally, getting employees to brainstorm about the most important parts of a position is a good way to make sure that they are thinking critically about their jobs and coming up with all the most important issues related to the position, including the way to react to various situations.

An effective job description is an exercise in data gathering that will help you both to recruit new employees and evaluate current ones. The more time you put into it, the more effective it will be at providing a snapshot of a job with your business.

Published: December 18, 2012

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Rick Gossett

As COO of Tarkenton Companies for more than 20 years, Rick has been responsible for business software development, unique partnerships, business educational content and consulting, and more. Rick was the originator of Tarkenton Companies’s consulting service and initially handled all of the questions himself. Prior to joining Tarkenton Companies, Rick owned and operated a private practice as a CPA. Prior to that, he was a Senior Manager at Pannell Kerr Forster in tax and audit, as well as Principal in Ernst & Young's small business advisory group.

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