How to Write a Job Description
So, you're hiring. Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back for expanding in this tough economy, and get to work on a job description. It's the single step that begins the process – and makes it simpler, from start to finish.
Once a thorough job description exists, you already have the foundation for the job listing. And down the road when the new hire shows up, they have clear-cut guidelines for what's expected. If the employee hits bumps along the way, you'll have it as a guide to whether letting them go is justified.
Now, where to begin? When growing as a company, you have to ask what you stand to gain by adding staff. Do you want additional time to focus on revenue-generation? Or do you want to hire vertically, creating a new position that can bring in new clients and ideas?
"If you specifically know if you're trying to expand, you have to ask yourself as an organization what we're trying to get out of this hire," says Mark Clark, an associate professor at American University's Kogod School of Business.
Clark's advice: think ahead. A new employee needs to be part of the long-term corporate strategy – and if you can visualize where you want to be in five years, or even by next quarter, it will be natural to see how a new employee fits into that matrix.
Writing a Job Description: Define the Position
Some experts suggest defining everything you want in the new hire before necessarily assigning a title to the position. Of course, it might seem unfair to seek a senior Web developer who will also answer customer-service calls, but that's not unprecedented. Honing the list to acceptable professional standards that will work with the salary you can afford – and that's market-rate – may be necessary, but at least you'll give yourself a chance to find the deeper truth of what you're hiring for.
"Sometimes when you think you need a sales manager, you actually need a marketing manager, and vice-versa," says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, a strategic human resources specialist who runs Human Resource Solutions.
Writing a Job Description: Cover the Bases
Logistically, a job description includes the title of the position and the department name, including the person (or position) to whom the new hire reports. The first paragraph should be a summary overview of what the position entails. Beneath that comes a (usually bulleted) list of job duties and responsibilities. Each duty should fit into a simple sentence or phrase. Include all key areas of responsibility.
It's key not to forget a catch-phrase line to include additional "duties as assigned," just in case the job morphs over time or something is omitted.
"Basically, it's so a hire doesn't come back and say 'that wasn't in my job description," Matuson says.
Those are the basics. If you want to take your job descriptions up a notch, also include a list of people and positions the particular hire will consult with on a regular basis.
Writing a Job Description: What Else?
Qualifications can – and in some cases definitely should – also be included, in a separate paragraph. They should reflect any particular skills, attributes, or credentials necessary to perform each responsibility on the list of duties. Feel free to include mandatory experience, certification and education level. Be specific. Instead of writing "computer literate," include that the new administrative assistant will need to be fluent in spreadsheet use and PowerPoint.
Legal HR experts might also suggest adding terms of the employment, which should follow existing company policy and be approved by a legal advisor. Remember, a job description is for the good of both you and your new hire – but it's also a legal document that can't include any discriminatory language.
Clark encourages that managerial time devoted to starting the hiring process right is always worthwhile when the goal is hiring people that become very effective employees or who stay on with the company for the desired amount of time.
"Even though we know what works, which is putting more money up front in the form of more time from the managers focusing on hiring, results in better organizations, people don't do it," Clark says. "That up-front time is hardest to manage on a time scale, but so very important."
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.