Employers who are challenged under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) must prove that their hiring decisions were based on an applicant's ability to perform essential job functions. Accurate, complete job descriptions are a prime defense.

Several software companies sell databases of adaptable job descriptions. Sandra O'Connell, president of Triad Solutions, a consulting firm in Herndon, Va., says that although software cannot replace job analysis, a good package can eliminate 70% of the work of writing descriptions.

Some companies offer the U.S. Department of Labor's huge Dictionary of Occupational Titles on database. Smaller, proprietary databases of common descriptions may better suit your company. Look at the jobs your employees currently fill and ask each database vendor how many matches its software will make. Then check the following:

Accessibility. How clear is the documentation? Is the program easy to use?

Requirements. For a limited database, 10 megabytes is typical. Without an IBM or a compatible PC, you face fewer choices and higher prices.

Search options. Expect not just title searches but also key-word searches and searches of jobs grouped by aptitude.

Output options. A good program can print descriptions in a few formats, including short versions for recruitment and long ones for compensation analysis.

Editing capability. Programs that require you to download data to your word processor leave you with separate files for all job titles instead of a single database. A good program allows you to build a single database with your adapted descriptions in it, so you can move easily from description to description.

Cost. Some consulting firms tie their software to an expensive consulting contract to protect their core business. But a simple, useful description package should cost less than $200.

DescriptionsWrite Now! (KnowledgePoint, 800-727-1133; list price $149) meets all the above criteria and includes more than 2,400 titles. The program runs on IBM or compatible hardware and requires 640 kilobytes RAM and 3 megabytes hard-disk capacity.

Most important, KnowledgePoint has adapted its program to the ADA. As you write a job description, the program asks questions that help define the other qualifications of the job, then phrases them appropriately. -- Michael P. Cronin

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Guides to Finding Job-Description Software
The American Compensation Association, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (602-951-9191), publishes two directories of human-resources software: Software for Compensation Professionals ($95; $50 for quarterly updates), and Employee Benefit Software Directory ($95; $50 for quarterly updates). They do not evaluate software but profile packages and their publishers.

Advanced Personnel Systems, in Roseville, Calif. (916-781-2900), publishes the less detailed Personnel Software Census ($49.95). The 1993 edition carries listings of 50 words or less for more than 13,000 programs. -- M. P. C.

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