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How to Write a Job Description

As you conduct your business’s hiring process, you’ll need a job description – a set of criteria as you attempt to find, attract, and make a job offer to the best candidates. Among other things, these criteria define the duties to be performed in each position you hope to fill, as well as the credentials and qualities candidates should possess to perform well in those positions.

The tasks and responsibilities that constitute most people’s jobs today are a far cry from what they were as recently as a few years ago. Jobs today are generally broader in scope. Job descriptions, therefore, now need to take into account the expanded skill sets that employees need to handle greater responsibilities.

Focus on what the job should look like now and in the near future (18 to 24 months out), based on your company’s current needs and long-term objectives.

Set priorities

An effective job description consists of more than simply a laundry list of the duties that the job entails. It reflects a sense of priorities. In other words, it identifies those duties that are primary or essential, and if secondary or marginal duties are listed, it differentiates between the two.

Aside from establishing the priority of job duties from a business needs perspective, this distinction can be legally significant. The Americans with Disabilities Act (and many analogous state laws) protects disabled employees who are able to perform “essential” (which has a special legal definition) job duties, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Courts and agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigating a charge of disability discrimination will consider which duties the employer treated as primary or essential in determining whether they’re “essential” within the meaning of the statute. Although the employer’s characterization of a duty as “essential” is not conclusive, it is evidence of which duties are most important.

Consider educational requirements and qualifications

Educational requirements like degrees and licenses are formal acknowledgments that a candidate has completed a specific field of study or passed a particular test. Be thoughtful about the credentials for your position to ensure that they accurately reflect the needs of the position.

Don’t go crazy with requiring credentials, however. Sure, every manager wants someone with an MBA and maybe a PhD and probably some sort of industry certification, too. But unless these are actually required for the job, they shouldn’t make it into the job description or be used as hiring criteria.

Educational requirements or qualifications may discriminate by eliminating candidates with protected characteristics. An attorney can help you address this area.

Make sure that the job is doable

The job you describe must truly be realistic. Some job descriptions work beautifully until the person you hire actually tries to perform the job. One factor to consider is the compatibility of a job’s various duties. Some people who are very creative may be less adept at tasks that require considerable attention to detail.

Make sure that when you’re lumping several tasks into the same job description that you’re not creating a job very few, if any, people could fill.

Be specific

You don’t need to be William Shakespeare to write a solid job description, but you definitely need to appreciate the nuances of the language. Use clear and concise language and, when possible, words with a single meaning. And you want to make sure that the words you choose actually spell out what the job entails.

“Good communication skills,” for example is too general; more specific would be: “Ability to communicate technical information to nontechnical audiences.”

Set a salary range

Before you start the recruiting process and look at options for how and where you’ll find the ideal candidate for the job you’re designing, you should establish a salary range for the position. Your ideal candidate could come at a hefty price, so know market compensation for people with the skills you seek.

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