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Elements of an Effective Job Description

written by: N. Plowman•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 11/20/2012

Job descriptions are difficult to write because it is hard to know which details are important. Fortunately, this article lists the seven elements of an effective job description and explains the benefits associated with exerting the time and energy into developing a well-written job description.

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    The Importance of a Well-Written Job Description

    After browsing job postings on the internet, it can become quite apparent that little effort is placed in developing effective job descriptions. Unfortunately, a poorly written job description often results in a significant amount of unqualified applicants, and it fails to attract qualified applicants due to uninformative and non-targeted job postings. The benefits of a well-written job description include increased employee satisfaction, enhanced motivation and desire for professional growth, and improved quality and reliability of annual performance reviews.

    When an applicant is provided a detailed job description, he or she only applies when there is a significant interest in the job requirements. Therefore, when selected, the new employee is fully aware of responsibilities, expectations, and working conditions, which eliminates the likelihood of experiencing dissatisfaction. This not only increases employee satisfaction, but it fosters a realistic and honest expectation for communication.

    An organization that regularly writes and posts detailed job descriptions is fostering a workforce that is motivated and eager to grow professionally within the organization. First, the job descriptions describe the necessary KSAO’s of positions throughout the company, which can easily serve as a “to-accomplish" list for employees striving to move into another position. Second, an employee that wants a raise can refer to his or her job description for a detailed pay grade and requirements necessary to obtain a higher wage.

    Another significant benefit of having detailed job descriptions is improved quality and reliability of annual performance appraisals. The added detail serves as a solid and realistic way to evaluate an employee’s performance with respect to the defined work activities and competencies. This added detail also results in fair and equitable performance evaluations for teams and others holding similar positions.

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    Elements of an Effective Job Description

    The best thing a company can do for its workforce is to develop an informative, comprehensive, and standardized job description, which results in an accurate portrayal of job responsibilities and duties. In order for a job description to be worthwhile and effective, it must include the following components.

    1. Job Title

    Job Ad Although a job title is not meant to describe exclusively what a position entails, it is an effective way to illustrate the general nature of a job. In addition to being categorical in nature, a well-written job title provides a sense of identity for workers, especially when attempting to group employees who perform similar functions within the organization.

    2. Job Summary

    The next critical component is a brief summary depicting the position’s responsibilities, duties, nature of work, and purpose. This summary serves as an introduction to the remaining components of a job description, and it allows one to develop a general understanding of a position without being initially overwhelmed by specific job requirements.

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    3. Working Environment

    This section of a job description is used to provide a contextual reference. This component should describe the general working conditions one can expect to endure such as immediate working environment, surrounding equipment and tools, anticipated involvement with coworkers and management, potential stressors and dangers, internal competition levels, expected schedule, physical and mental demands, and level of responsibility.

    4. Work Activities

    Computers This piece of a job description details the specific tasks and activities in which the worker is involved. Since this list can be quite long, tasks are often organized into meaningful chunks of similar activities. The categories can be based on intellectual differences (manual and intellectual tasks), technological differences (tasks requiring similar equipment and tools), divisional differences (tasks performed in, or for, different areas or departments), or another logical system specifically related to the position.

    5. Performance Expectations

    This section details expectations of performance relative to departmental and organizational standards of productivity. Performance expectations can be organized according to the type of work activities, as defined in section four above, or they can be listed according to their level of importance.

    6. Compensation and Benefits

    This section of a job description is merely for legal purposes. It lists the method, frequency, and amount of compensation as well as any potential variable compensation components. If the compensation amount is based on experience, it is critical that the description define what elements are evaluated when determining pay grades and positioning within the range. The final information specifies whether the position is exempt or non-exempt and if the individual holding the position is eligible for benefits.

    7. Job Competencies

    The final segment is arguably the most important component of a job description. The job competencies section, often referred to as KSAO’s, describe the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics necessary to be successful in the job. This part is used by prospective candidates to determine if one has the necessary experience and education to qualify for the position, and it is also used by hiring managers to weigh candidates’ levels of competence in relation to other applicants.