Job descriptions can help you identify the essential functions of the job and the qualifications needed for a role. They can also help you set clear expectations with employees, evaluate performance, make compensation decisions, identify training needs, handle requests for reasonable accommodations, and make exempt vs. non-exempt classification decisions.
Here are six guidelines for developing effective job descriptions:
#1: Be consistent.
To help make valid comparisons between jobs, use the same format for each job description. Generally, this includes:
- Job details: job title, supervisor’s title, exempt vs. non-exempt classification, a brief summary of the job, and the date the job description was created or last revised.
- Essential functions: job duties that an employee must be able to perform with or without a reasonable accommodation.
- Non-essential functions: additional tasks the employee may be required to perform during the course of his or her job, but are not essential to the job.
- Qualifications and skills: training, education, certification(s), and years of experience needed to perform the job.
- Physical demands and work environment: if appropriate, identify the physical demands and/or work environment that are essential to the job.
- Scope and changes: state that the job description is not intended to cover every single requirement of the job and that the company reserves the right to change job duties at any time.
#2: Avoid jargon, buzzwords, and clichés.
Use clear, precise language so that applicants and employees understand the role. Avoid words and expressions that are vague, confusing, or used so often that they have become meaningless and/or can discourage qualified applicants from applying. For example, replace terms like “team player” or “self-starter” with more precise descriptions of the job’s requirements (such as, the position requires working on group projects with several different departments).
#3: Use active verbs.
Each job description should have a list of essential functions. When writing essential functions, use brief sentences in the present tense, beginning with an action verb. For example, an essential function for a maintenance technician might read: “Diagnose mechanical problems and determine how to correct them.”
#4: Ensure qualifications are accurate.
Avoid inflating requirements and differentiate between required and preferred qualifications. In some cases, education may be a substitute for the requisite experience and/or vice versa. If so, indicate that in the job description. Additionally, provide a list of basic, technical, or other skills, knowledge, or abilities needed for the role.
#5: Focus on the task.
If you include physical demands, focus on the task that needs to be done, rather than how it’s done. For example, say that the position requires “moving” 50 pounds, instead of “lifting” 50 pounds, or say “traversing” the length of the warehouse instead of “walking” the length of the warehouse. Employees with disabilities may be able to perform the essential functions of the job with an accommodation, such as using a cart, dolly, or mobility aid.
#6: Review and update regularly.
Job duties can change over time, so review your job descriptions regularly to ensure that they reflect current responsibilities. Note: It’s a best practice to maintain previous versions of job descriptions.
Maintain a written job description for each position within your company, and keep relevant copies in employees’ personnel files. To ensure accuracy, seek the input of current employees and supervisors when developing or updating job descriptions.