I’ll never forget the time I was sitting opposite a client taking a brief for a new position in her team and when I asked her if she had a position description she literally scribbled a few bullet points on to a Post-It note and handed it to me across the table.
Was she serious?
I should also point out that the all too common “We’re hoping to create the job around the best candidate depending on their previous experience” never really cut it with me either.
So here’s a step-by-step job description checklist for any business owner or hiring manager thinking about bringing somebody new into their team.
1. You can’t not write a job description
It’s not uncommon for an employer to know that they definitely need to bring somebody new into their business, but to not have carefully thought out exactly what it is that the new team member will be doing.
We’ve written about this previously. This is a dangerous way to start. From experience, the very first thing a candidate thinks if their potential new employer (or recruiter for that matter) can’t provide them with a detailed job description is either that the job doesn’t exist, or that the company doesn’t really care much about their employees.
Not a great impression to make.
Similarly no employer wants to hear a team member say, “Sorry but that’s not in my job description”. Every manager wants staff happy to go beyond the call of duty. However the “call of duty” still needs to be documented in some way.
2. The position title must be a true reflection of the role
Don’t make a job title too vague or ‘creative’. You will just confuse people or perhaps even put them off.
Internally you might decide to call your receptionist the “Director of First Impressions”, but on a job description that you share with a candidate during an interview it should still make reference to “Receptionist”.
Here are a few examples of real job titles I have seen on job descriptions that required some ‘translation’ before they really made sense to the relevant candidates.
- Dream Fulfiller = Financial Services Consultant
- Creative Guru = Creative Writer
- Web Wizard = Web Developer
- Office Dynamo = Office All-rounder
- Sales Ninja = Salesperson
A good job title will have the following qualities:
- It accurately reflects the nature of the job and the duties being performed
- It does not exaggerate the importance of the role
- It is free of gender or age implications
- It is generic enough that it can be compared to similar jobs in the industry for the purposes of equity in pay and conditions
- It is self-explanatory for recruitment purposes (in most online job searches, the job title is the main keyword searched).
3. Reporting lines need to be crystal clear
It is important to include reporting lines and working relationships in your job description.
Reporting lines clarify the responsibilities of the position by showing who the candidate reports to and who reports to them. This is important, not only in relation to compliance issues, but also to give the candidate an insight into the hierarchical structure of the organisation and how their position fits into it.
Working relationships are the people and departments the position requires the candidate to work closely with. It is a good idea to give an indication of the size of such departments and the extent of interaction.
An organisational chart is a good way to represent relationships in a job description, with vertical lines between boxes demonstrating reporting lines and horizontal lines showing working relationships. You need to clearly define the reporting lines as well as any “dotted lined” working relationships. Specifically you need to spell out who they will be directly reporting to, as opposed to who they will just be working closely with.
I remember a client once showing me the job description he had created for a new marketing assistant. Under “reporting to” it said “All Staff”. I tried my best to suggest that he identify one key person but he chose not to listen. He employed a great marketing assistant and about a month later he called to tell me that Kitty had resigned. When I asked why, he said she’d just felt she’d had far too many people telling her what to do.
I had tried.
4. Duties and responsibilities
Without stating the obvious, the most important ‘ingredient’ in a well-crafted position description is a list of the duties and responsibilities involved in the role.
However as opposed to simply listing them one after the other, think about what percentage of time you expect the successful candidate to dedicate to each of these tasks. This will certainly help candidates better prepare and prioritise in order to meet your expectations.
5. Separating skills and competencies
Skills and competencies should be listed separately from each other, as they are two quite separate things.
Skills are activities the candidate can perform based on what they have learned in the past, or from qualifications they have obtained. Competencies are the traits or attributes you expect the candidate to display in the role. An example of a skill is the ability to give effective presentations. It is a skill that can be learned through study and practice.
An example of a competency, on the other hand, is strong communication, which is an innate characteristic displayed by a person. The modern trend towards competency-based job descriptions means extra weight is given to behavioural competencies such as leadership, teamwork, flexibility, communication and initiative.
Sometimes it’s hard to separate the necessary skills required in the role from the core competencies required in the successful candidate. To make it easier here, think of the skills as something that a candidate may have learnt such as a particular software package.
While the competencies are more natural traits or attributes like “highly organised”, “team player”, “confident negotiator”, “someone who can multi-task” or even “someone who is hungry to win” – definitely a good trait for any sales person.
6. How much detail should you really include?
If you don’t want to commit to a fixed salary, then at least come up with a salary range – but do some research to ensure that the range is within market rate. It’s also a good idea to include any specific job related benefits such as the flexibility to work from home from time to time, travel, a company car, etc.
Generally speaking, a job description should be no more than one page that includes a brief company overview, the elements outlined above, and also a snapshot as to what’s on offer – even if it’s just something like “a young, fun and creative team”.
A good job description is much more than a laundry list of tasks and responsibilities. If well written, it gives the reader a sense of the priorities involved. It not only provides a clear picture of the position for potential candidates, but is also a useful tool for measuring performance and a vital reference in the event of disputes or disciplinary issues.
So, the more accurate you can make a job description upfront, the more useful it will become in the future.
You need a reference point. Yes. That’s the job description.