Writing a job description

28 April 2005 by
Writing a job description

At first glance, a written job description may seem like a waste of time. Your employees know what they have to do every day. Why do they need a piece of paper telling them what you think is obvious?

The truth is that even for the smallest business accurate and up-to-date information on your employees, what they do and, more importantly, what they are responsible for, is essential.

Why you need good job descriptions

For current employees, these descriptions are used for assessing training needs, measuring performance, and making sure all relevant equal opportunity legislation is adhered to.

But the job description is also a crucial part of any recruitment process for future employees.

It's more than just a list of what that member of staff should do: it's a guide to tasks, duties, responsibilities, character traits and style. Anyone reading it should instantly come away knowing exactly what the perfect person for that job needs to be like.

Having job descriptions for all employees will also help to delegate tasks and responsibilities and make sure everything is getting done. It will also guarantee that jobs aren't overlapping and staff aren't confused about who they report to.

What should a job description look like?

The ideal format for a job description will vary for each job. But there are some basic areas that need to be covered:

Start with the job title, short and to the point.

Who they report to:
Usually the job titles only. Names may change but the structure will probably remain the same.

Summary of basic function:
A brief synopsis of what the position involves, why the tasks need to be done, and what the outcome should be.

List of main duties:
Arrange in order of importance and, if possible, concentrate on what the outcome should be rather than the method. Remember that a job description isn't a manual. Use good descriptive words such as "directs", "examines", or "advises" to get across how important the tasks are. Be as precise as possible by avoiding words like "occasionally".

Supervisory responsibilities:
State the type of supervision the employee will need to give, how many people they are likely to supervise, and what exactly those people will be doing.

This is an optional requirement that is included to help guide any recruitment processes.

Brief example:

Catering manager.

Report to:
Area catering manager.

Basic functions:
Organising and controlling the day-to-day operation of the company's staff catering contract with ABC Steel Ltd.

Main duties:

  • Determine day-to-day catering arrangements with clients to ensure good working relationship.
  • Work with chef to plan menus to contract specifications.
  • Supervise the purchase and storage of food to ensure compliance with company standards and legal requirements.
  • Keep all accounting records on takings and expenses to ensure accurate returns.
  • Manage and hire staff to ensure good cover and required delivery of service.

Supervisory duties:
Supervise approximately 13 staff, including a deputy manager. These will include both kitchen staff and front-of-house staff.

Management qualifications up to degree level, basic food hygiene.

What you should do next

The job description process shouldn't end there. Remember that it's a document that should serve the current incumbent of the position, and also any subsequent holders. It's the benchmark you will use to hire them and as such can't be rushed or just rattled out in ten minutes.

Take your first draft and show it to whoever has the job now. What do they think? Do they think it includes everything they do? Give a copy to their immediate superior and ask them the same question.

Rewrite and tweak the description until you're all happy with it. Then submit it to your personnel or human resources department if you have one. They will tell you whether it complies with any legal requirements or if you've missed out any other necessary inclusions.

Writing a whole series of job descriptions can be a laborious process and full of moments that make you think you're stating the obvious. However, their existence will save you time in the future by making your recruitment, training and assessment methods significantly more efficient.

by Andrew Davies


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