A list of tasks does not a job description make

Last week, we saw how to write a good job analysis, i.e. by asking lots of questions and being very honest about the answers. So, now it’s time to take that information and turn it into a usable job description, whatever one of those is.

For purposes of clarification, a job description is not a list of tasks. If it were, you’d be done by now and you could go and have a cup of tea. A job description should tell the prospective employee what the key responsibilities and deliverables of the role are. To illustrate my point, here are extracts from two very different job descriptions – both for a receptionist role:

Job description A:

Responsible for answering incoming calls.

Job description B:

Maintain the company’s excellent customer service reputation by answering incoming calls within 3 rings.

Not only does job description B tell the receptionist what to do with relevant detail, it also explains why it’s important. You can see that this job description was written by taking the job analysis task (to answer incoming calls) and combining it with why it’s important to the company (maintain the reputation for customer service) as well as including the measures of success (calls are answered within 3 rings).

The benefit of course is that the second job description clearly explains what is expected of the post holder and anyone applying for the role cannot say that they didn’t know the importance of the task or that they had to answer the phone within a certain number of rings. However, the job description then lends itself beautifully to a performance management or appraisal scheme. By defining the objectives of the role up front, the manager can then use that information to regularly evaluate the performance of the successful candidate.

Other information you should include in a job description:

  • The job title
  • To whom the person reports (tip – use the job title rather than the person’s name. If they move on, you won’t have to update the job description of everyone who reports to them).
  • The usual place of work
  • Membership of any committees or teams (e.g. member of the Management team)
  • Career progression opportunities – where you see progression within the role and/or the company

Major challenges – always useful to include any challenges for the post holder. Those who are put off by the challenges aren’t the people you’d want to employ anyway.

Once you’ve completed the job description to your satisfaction, you should have a good idea of the kind of person who would be good at the job. Draw up a table that allows you to put information into areas (e.g. qualifications/experience, knowledge and skills, character and personality, and miscellaneous). Then include two categories – “essential” and “desirable”. Complete the table according to the job requirements. So for our receptionist example, experience of using a switchboard is probably essential but an NVQ in administration might be desirable. Knowledge of how to deal with customer complaints might be desirable while having lots of patience and a pleasant telephone manner would be essential. The miscellaneous section covers things like proof of the right to work in the UK (more on this subject later in the series) and a full clean driving licence (if required).

Now, you have a detailed job description which covers the key responsibilities of the role and doesn’t skip over the challenges and a person specification which allows anyone interested in the job to see at a glance what’s considered essential and what’s considered desirable. Isn’t that better than a list of tasks which don’t really give any clue as to how you want the job to be done and the kind of character/personality you need?

Next week – taking all the information you’ve got and writing the most attractive job advertisement ever!

This is the third of a series of articles designed to help small businesses with their recruitment strategies and processes, Katherine Connolly, MD of Keeping HR Simple, looks at how writing job descriptions and person specifications can benefit both the prospective employee and the company.

Can’t wait until next week and need some help now? Contact us via our website – www.keepinghrsimple.co.uk.

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