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Tips for Writing Job Descriptions

Tips and examples for Drury job descriptions

To the extent practicable, the job description writer should use action verbs with an implied subject (who) and explicit work objects and/or outputs (what).

Example of an entry from a specific and detailed job description:
(Implied subject) Evaluates (action verb) jobs (what) by assigning official title, occupational code and grade in accordance with the job evaluation system (how).

All job descriptions are summaries. The baseline objective is to provide enough information in the right format and language to be accurate, clear and useful. Although just a summary, the job description should: 1) contain enough accurate information to be useful, and 2) are not so broad that they confuse or mislead managers, employees, and/or job applicants.

Other tips:

  • Write behaviorally. Begin each task-oriented sentence with an action verb
  • Make certain the explanatory phrase adds meaning and clarifies the why, how, where, or how often
  • Eliminate bias terminology by structuring sentences in such a way that gender pronouns are not required
  • Spell out the acronyms. Avoid subjective modifiers or words that might allow for misinterpretations; words such as “sometimes”, “several”, “high level”, etc.
  • Think broadly in terms of outcomes, responsibilities and accountabilities, rather than simply listing tasks and duties
  • Cluster responsibilities into broad functions, such as project management, customer contact, supervisory responsibilities, etc.
  • List activities or tasks underneath each broad function

Suggestions on How to Collect the Necessary Information to Write a Description

  • Interview the incumbent or peers to clarify job details that would normally be included in a description.
  • Review current or former incumbent performance appraisals to ascertain standards and what’s important in regard to knowledge, skills, and abilities. Categorize the results in terms of what is essential and nonessential.
  • Review the organization chart, strategies, plans, objectives, reports and work projects the position is typically responsible for producing.
  • Think STRUCTURALLY. It’s important to think about the position, rather than describing the unique qualities of the individual currently holding the position.

Job Description Template Sections:

Contains job title, department, supervisor, schedule, date, FLSA classification, and IPEDS classification

Job Function
The broad function, scope, and purpose of the work to be performed

Essential Duties and Responsibilities
Itemized listing of the duties and functions essential to the successful performance of the job.

Minimum Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Required
The requirements or minimum qualifications needed to perform the essential duties. Each specification sets an expectation or standard related to knowledge (education, certifications, training, etc.), skills (vocational, mathematical, reasoning, language, human relations, self-management, etc.), and abilities (level of experience, required equipment use, physical demands, etc.)

Supervisory Responsibilities
Describes who this position supervises and the type of supervision this position provides, i.e. direct or indirect.

Physical Requirements
Describes the specific types of physical demands of the position and their frequency, i.e. walking, speaking, hearing, vision, types of movement; regularly, frequently, occasionally, etc.

Job Descriptions and the Law
Because the employment provisions of the ADA focus on essential functions, all essential functions should be covered in the job description. A single job task may be essential. If so, it should be covered in the job description. If the essential task exists in the job by itself, apart from a “larger” essential duty (or function) that is described, then it must be expressed, not implied. Conversely, if it is an integral part of a duty (or function) that is expressed, then it may be implied. Another requirement of the ADA is that essential functions be distinguished from non-essential ones if the descriptions include non-essential functions. To meet this requirement, the description should indicate the time spent on each function (most, but not all functions that account for only a small part of the job are non-essential).

The general statement “Performs other duties as assigned” may be used to encompass duties not specifically listed, but is not suitable if they are considered to be essential functions. If it is essential, it should be described, either explicitly or implicitly.

Keeping Job Descriptions Current
Job descriptions (and other forms of job documentation) have the potential to become the subject of contention, including grievances or litigation. It is critical that accuracy of job descriptions be maintained. To ensure this, a position’s supervisor has primary responsibility for keeping the description current. Each employee’s description should be reviewed at least annually as part of the performance evaluation process. Some positions are dynamic, changing rapidly and extensively (due to technological or organizational considerations). Descriptions for these type of positions should be reviewed often. Other job change very little over long periods of time. These descriptions need not be reviewed often.

Our job description template includes a disclaimer to ensure it is clear that job descriptions are not meant to be all-inclusive and/or the job itself is subject to change.

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