Job Descriptions: How to Make Them Work for You – Part 1 of 3

Job Descriptions: How to Make Them Work for YouAre you responsible for writing or updating job descriptions for your organization? Do you think your organization’s job descriptions are up to date and accurate? Do you find job descriptions to be helpful or useful to you? This month we share the 411 on job descriptions and explain why their accuracy is a critical part of any successful organization’s HR tool kit.

Did you know….

  • Most (97%) organizations have some job descriptions
  • Many (40%) organizations’ job descriptions are out of date
  • Only 8% update job descriptions on a set schedule
  • Almost 80% update job descriptions only when a job has changed significantly or when a job is “officially” evaluated


At a basic level, job descriptions tell us: who does what, where, when (or how often), why (or for what purpose), and how. You still might be thinking, so what? Still not sure if it matters if your organization has job descriptions on file or if they are up to date? Here are some reasons why it does matter.

Job descriptions….

  • Clarify who is responsible for what within the organization
  • Help the job-holder understand the responsibilities of the position
  • Help reinforce the alignment of individual employees to the larger, strategic goals of the organization
  • Provide information about the knowledge, training, education, and skills needed for each job
  • Help job applicants, employees, supervisors, and HR professionals at every stage in the employment relationship, from recruitment to retirement
  • Prevent misunderstandings by clarifying expectations in a completely objective and impersonal way
  • Help management analyze and improve the organizational structure
  • Reveal whether all responsibilities are adequately covered

Job descriptions are not magical, of course; they do have limitations. Job descriptions are not task lists. No job description should be viewed as a perfect or complete reflection of any job. The objective of a good job description is to differentiate the job (or group of jobs) from other jobs and to set its outer limits.

Job descriptions are critical to the recruitment process. They help to inform applicants about the job and its requirements as well as emphasize the job’s major duties. Recruiters can identify the best candidates based on those KSAs and can also use the job description to defend hiring decisions when reviewing several good candidates. The details of the job description can also provide you with the basis for interview questions, prompting questions about experience and the ability to perform the tasks of the job.

What’s in a Name? We’ve all noticed the trend for creative position titles and job descriptions designed to sell your organization to applicants. Marketing and brand experts feel that titles are actually your product name, and the job description is the marketing copy. A trash collector has become an Environmental Quality Associate and an administrative assistant may be a Customer Experience Specialist. It’s important not to exaggerate job duties or KSAs or provide inaccurate or misleading information. Also think about avoiding using words that can seem out-of-date or be taken negatively. Talent has a much more positive connotation than personnel, and Associate may resonate more clearly than clerk. Just make sure the culture of your organization backs up the vocabulary you choose. What is the purpose of the word you have chosen? Will it help to connect people to their work?

Accurate and up-to-date job descriptions are also integral parts of other successful human resources initiatives in organizations, including compensation and classification programs, performance management, development of competencies, retention efforts, employee on-boarding, succession planning and organizational development. With an impact on this many areas within an organization, you’d better be able to actually write one of these things! In a subsequent issue we will provide a primer for writing great job descriptions.

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