How to Write a Job Description - Step 1 - How to begin
An excellent job description can help define a current employee's role better or attract a qualified new candidate.
But how do you decide what to offer an ideal fit so they'll stay? Request a free compensation report
from PayScale and get current, market rate salaries that help make sure you keep top performers.
I begin writing a job description by creating an outline or template; sort of like a form where you fill in the blanks. The beginning has the basic details, as follows.
Basic Sections of a Job Description
- Job title
- Location of the position (if there are multiple locations)
- Title of supervisor
- Pay grade or level (if your company has this)
- Type of employment, such as full-time versus part-time
- FLSA status (exempt versus non-exempt)
Don’t worry if you don’t know if the job position is exempt versus non-exempt or the pay grade when you start writing a job description. This information is determined at the end of writing a job description, once you have all the job details.
How to Write a Job Description - Step 2 - Overview
Next you write the general overview of the job position. This is the 1-minute elevator pitch. Don’t go overboard here. The rest of the written job description will break down the details. This is where you summarize the nature and overall purpose of the job.
How to Write a Job Description - Step 3 - Essential Functions and Responsibilities
This is the job description section that explains the day-to-day of the job. You start by listing out the essential functions of the position. Essential job functions are responsibilities that are 5% or greater of the employee’s workload. All the essential functions should add up to 100% of the job position. They should be listed in order of importance. I like to add at the end of this section “other duties as assigned” as a catchall for special projects that may come up.
How to Write a Job Description - Step 4 - Job Qualifications
This is where you list out the minimum requirements of the job position. Be sure to write the qualifications for the position you need, not the person who may currently be in the position. If a job requirement is listed then those candidates not meeting the minimum standards are not viable candidates for the position.
This job qualifications area can be broken down into the further sections listed below. I’ve included some examples of functional job descriptions:
If the job position requires a degree or certification list it here. Are you willing to substitute years of experience for education? If so, specifically communicate how many years of related experience is an acceptable substitute for a degree or certification. Job description example: 4 years of software development experience with .Net may be substituted for a 4-year degree in computer science.
List the amount of industry experience or directly related job experience required. Job description example: 5 years of project management experience in the financial services industry.
3. Supervisory experience
If supervisory experience is required, list how many years of supervisory experience are required along with how many employees supervised. Job description example: 5 years experience supervising 10 or more employees.
4. Technical proficiencies
This is where you list what technical or software skills are needed to perform the essential functions of the job. Job description example: Must be able to type 80 wpm in MS Word.
5. Communication skills
In most jobs, having good communication skills is essential. Maybe you need someone who has excellent written communication skills if you are hiring a technical writer. You may need someone with public speaking experience if you are hiring for your training department. You may need someone who is an exceptional oral communicator for the receptionist position or negotiation skills if they are in sales. These are all examples of communication skills that are required to perform the essential functions of the job. Some job positions may require multiple communications skills in order to perform the work.
6. Decision making
Being a good decision maker isn’t something reserved for management. Some jobs require the person to work independently and to make on-the-spot decisions that affect their work and the company. This is where you specify how much freedom the position has to make decisions regarding responsibilities of the job.
7. Other competencies or skills
Other competencies or skills necessary to perform the job may be the ability to meet deadlines or work more than 40 hours, as needed. You may need someone who has the ability to work on teams. This is the section where you add these kinds of details.
8. Background checks or licensing requirements
Most companies require some sort of background check before hiring a candidate. This is the section where you will include a statement about any background checks or other requirements candidates must pass in order to qualify for the position. Job description example:
- Criminal background check
- Reference checks
- Education verification
- Drug test
- Physical exam
- Driver’s license and proof of insurance
Everything in the requirements section of the job description is a minimum job requirement except for this section. In this section you are telling candidates that it would be very helpful if they had particular skills or abilities but it’s not required. Job description example: Experience with MS Visio is highly desired.
How to Write a Job Description - Step 5 - Physical Requirements
When most people read this section of the job description they don’t pay much attention. They think that this is just legalese. I can understand that unless you are someone who has physical limitations.
Potential job candidates need to know what they physically have to do in the job and in what environment. If they are scared of heights but the job requires them to work several hundred feet off the ground in a warehouse this would not be a good fit and the candidate can self-select out of applying for the job position.
Another reason this section is needed is because of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). This is a topic that requires a lot of attention and would sidetrack this article so I’ll summarize to stay on topic. Employers need to list the physical requirements so those with disabilities or physical limitations can judge whether they can perform the job as-is or with reasonable accommodation. For example, someone hard of hearing may be able to perform a call center job if they have a device that amplifies voices on the phone so they can hear customers. Additionally, your current employees’ health may change over time and they may struggle to physically perform their jobs. They may need reasonable accommodations, as well.
Some Encouragement and Writing Tips - Use Free Examples of Job Descriptions
Completing a written job description sounds like a lot of work and it is. Not everyone is comfortable writing job descriptions so I would like to share a useful trick you can use to simplify the writing process. It’s easy to find free examples of job descriptions on any popular job board. Just cut and paste pieces and parts of similar jobs you see on job boards, like Monster, and then modify the specific information to fit your needs. Why reinvent the wheel?
After you’ve created the job description look at it again through the eyes of a job candidate. Does it accurately reflect what the job is? If so, you’re almost done! You’re ready to determine the FLSA status and pay range.
The categories that I’ve described in the job description are standard categories. You may want to add others and that’s fine. What I described is the minimum detail you should have but you can always have more. Writing a job description get’s easier with practice.
Who Is Responsible for Writing Job Descriptions?
In most companies, the hiring manager is responsible for writing job descriptions using HR as an advisor. The employee currently in the position may be called upon to help update the job description since they are the one’s performing the work and know the job best. It’s still the manager’s job to verify that the job description accurately reflects the job and doesn’t get inflated along the way. HR is typically the last step in writing a job description because HR usually determines the FLSA status and pay range.
Final Thoughts and Questions on Written Job Descriptions
Do you have tips on how to write a job description, or examples of functional job descriptions, that work for you and that you’d like to share? Do you have any suggestions for others on easier, better, clearer job description writing? I’d love to hear your ideas.
Are you sure you are paying your employees at market rate, especially now with all of the changes in the economy? Get up-to-date, real-time compensation data to help ensure you keep your top performers and attract the best, new talent. Give a PayScale demo a try.