The Anatomy of a Job Description, and Other Pointers

Ryan Thomson

Ryan Thomson

By Ryan Thomson,
Executive Recruiter,
Clean Tech Talent Division

What is the purpose of a job description? It is of course an administrative document. It does serve to establish a description of an employment work contract. But in terms of recruitment, it is a marketing tool that should attract the attention of the talent you are seeking.

The Job Description as an Administrative and Legal Document

As an administrative document, job descriptions serve to set out the parameters and expectations internally to current staff and management, as well as to prospective new hires. Each job description should address the title of the position, the department, the supervisor, the essential functions, duties/responsibilities, qualifications, and results expected.

The titles used should generally be consistent across the department at least, if not the organization. A title is an indicator of the level of authority and responsibility as well as remuneration. In some cases according a grander title may be a way to entice in the talent you need despite paying a less competitive salary for that person. Keep in mind that others in the organization will be mindful of the titles assigned, and inflation thereof could lead to challenges by a disgruntled employee.

Job descriptions should clearly identify the department to which the position reports, and ideally the supervisor. Always identify other job titles, and never names, for example, the position reports to the Vice President of Sales, as opposed to naming David Jones.

The essential functions or responsibilities of the position are the heart of the job description. The convention is to use an itemized list that lays out the duties and responsibilities of the position; however a paragraph can achieve the same goal. This is where you should identify each “essential” job function that is expected and critical to successful job performance.

This essential functions or responsibilities part of the job description becomes or should substantially match the framework used for performance reviews. It is appropriate to discussed the expected results here. Set out the interplay between this position and other employees, departments and customers. Describe the responsibilities for deadlines, customer service, project milestones, sales projections, and other company goals so that it is clear how this position fits into the strategic mix.

Job descriptions will be examined in any legal disputes. For example, an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit, the courts will review what the organization has described as the job’s “essential functions” in examining the merits of the charge. If the essential functions are not included in the written job description, the court may decide for itself.

Non-essential and intermittent job duties and requirements should also be included. Take into consideration any physical requirements such as lifting or bending, standing or walking; as well as learned skills such as equipment proficiency, code language knowledge, industry know-how. Address job duties such as travel requirements and hours. Include behavioral skills such as leadership and teamwork requirements, communications and time management skills.

Additionally, the job description should detail the qualifications, education, certifications, or experience sought in the prospective hire for this position. Salary and benefits are an optional part of the job description.

Keep it Clear and Timely

Job descriptions, like resumes, shouldn’t be overly long; effectively and compellingly state what needs to be communicated. Use action verbs, in the present tense. Use clear language and be precise. Rather than make a general statement, detail the skill you are seeking, for example instead of saying “make sales calls”, specify that the person will be required to “prospect and communicate with various functions from engineering to C-Level positions, address sales concerns and opportunities, and close business”.

Review job descriptions periodically to make sure they accurately describe the employee’s responsibilities and the organization’s goals. Job descriptions can be amended when the employee’s duties change, review any change in expectations and duties with the employee. Be certain to avoid any references to age, race, gender, religion, disability or any other “protected” characteristic to be in compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity law.

The Job Description as a Marketing Document

The job description will be widely distributed in the search for the employee that you hope to hire. The portrayal of the company, culture, and opportunity should all be considered as if this were a professional piece on the organization. Take the time to write a paragraph that touches on the company’s industry and position therein, mentions recent financial performance or press-worthy news. Briefly describe the size, location, and culture, and unique attributes offered by working for your company.

Typically the company and opportunity description are the introduction to the job opportunity. Reel your prospect in. Tell them why your company is exciting. Everyone wants to be proud of the work they do and the organization they work for. Many an employee has taken a lesser-paid job in order to be a part of an exciting company that is doing great things for the environment, or is on the cutting edge of technology, or is addressing social injustices. Let people know through the job description what makes your company unique and the opportunity distinctive and impactful.