Job descriptions are more than just documents for job seekers to rely on when looking for a new position. They actually play a vital role in several of an organization’s internal HR functions including hiring, conducting performance reviews, complying with labor laws, maintaining a well-structured organization, resolving conflict, and more.
So, although the responsibility of writing and reviewing job descriptions can sometimes seem mundane, it’s essential to have an effective process in place.
In this guide, you’ll learn all you need to know about the importance of job descriptions and how to write them. You’ll also get access to our free job description template! Here’s a rundown of everything we’ll cover:
- What is a job description? A Quick Primer
- 8 Essential Components of a Job Description
- Our Free Job Description Template
- 5 Best Practices for Making Your Job Descriptions the Best They Can Be
- How Astron Solutions Can Help
If you’re ready to get more value out of your job descriptions, this guide is a great place to start. Let’s begin!
What is a job description? A Quick Primer
Sometimes referred to as a JD, a job description is a written statement by an organization describing the duties, responsibilities, required qualifications, and reporting relationships of a particular role.
We can all probably imagine a badly written job description. It’s only a couple of sentences, doesn’t list the role’s responsibilities and qualifications, and is vague about the compensation. As a reflection of the organization’s mission and goals, this job description is enough to turn away even the most passionate prospects.
But a strong job description is the exact opposite. It’s a thorough, engaging document that provides plenty of information about the organization, the role, and how the role fits into the organization’s larger structure (jump ahead to learn more about the specific elements of a job description).
Besides attracting top candidates to your organization, well-written job descriptions can benefit your team and make your life in HR easier in many ways. Specifically, job descriptions are helpful because they:
- Provide a clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities for a particular position. This is helpful not just for applicants interested in the role, but also for management to better determine the actions needed to achieve organizational goals.
- Protect an organization legally, as the job description can be used to defend why a candidate was selected—or rejected—for a position. Job descriptions also can defend the reasoning behind why a position is classified as exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
- Ensure a consistent understanding across departments of how different job positions and roles help the organization grow. This will boost overall team engagement and remind employees of the value of other players in the business or nonprofit.
- Lay the foundation to facilitate ongoing performance management. With role duties and responsibilities clearly laid out, it’s much easier to measure the success of new employees and ensure that certain targets are being met.
- Help employees create personal goals for advancing in their current role. Your job descriptions not only introduce prospects to the role at hand but also enable them to start thinking about how they can take those responsibilities a step further and add more value to the organization.
- Create boundaries regarding employees’ responsibilities. This ensures that new team members (and existing ones) aren’t doing more than what they’re compensated for. This also helps when conflicts arise, as job descriptions can clarify duties and lay the groundwork for accountability.
- Justify an employee’s pay. By listing out all the duties and requirements, you provide some context as to why a role is compensated in a specific way.
- Support training and development activities by providing written documentation for what a particular role entails and the needed training and skills it requires.
As you can see, job descriptions should be more than short paragraphs added to a general job listing site. They’re important throughout the entire employee lifecycle and help organizations avoid risk and work toward long-term growth goals
8 Essential Components of a Job Description
While the information in a job description will vary widely by role and industry type, there are a few essential items that you definitely cannot forget to include:
1. Job Title
This should accurately reflect the nature of the job, including its ranking order with other roles in your business. It also should be generic enough for recruitment purposes and in alignment with similar jobs in the same industry.
2. Job Summary
This section should be about a paragraph long and provide a birds-eye view of the position, including core duties, location, format (in-person, remote, or hybrid), typical schedule, and function within the organization.
3. Organizational Overview
This is another brief section that should serve as an introduction to your organization. Cover things like your mission, vision, values, size, culture, and history. This will help position your organization as a great place to work and give the job seeker or employee a better understanding of how the role fits into the organization’s larger goals.
This is your opportunity to list out the day-to-day responsibilities of the role, as well as any other responsibilities the person may be asked to take care of on an ad-hoc basis.
Ideally, the list of duties associated with a position also should include a percentage reflecting that task’s importance. This provides a more complete understanding of how much someone is expected to handle over the course of a year.
If you want to provide even more detail, you could explain how success is measured for each specific duty.
You can frame your list of qualifications as “preferred” or “required.” List out what you expect a job seeker to bring to the table for the position, including:
- Experience (a certain amount of time or a certain level)
- Education or certifications
Note that there is an important distinction between skills and competencies. Skills, sometimes referred to as hard skills, describe the activities someone has learned through previous experience as well as specific qualifications earned. An example of this is “proficiency in Microsoft Word and Excel” or “fluent in Mandarin.” Competencies, on the other hand, are also known as soft skills, and describe the traits you expect someone in this job position to display. An example of this is “being a good team player” or “adaptability.”
Along with basic job information, your description also should include where this role falls in the hierarchy of your organization. Including this helps both employees and candidates better understand where they fit in and the people they’ll be engaging with and reporting to.
7. Salary and Benefits
Rather than listing a specific salary, providing a salary range that’s competitive with the market is an ideal, more flexible choice. Plus, it may be required under local or state pay transparency laws.
You can also highlight the benefits your organization offers as part of its total rewards strategy, such as health insurance, paid time off (PTO), retirement benefits, work schedule or format flexibility, corporate philanthropy programs, or perks (such as access to a company car or a new computer).
8. Additional Statements
Many organizations choose to include an equal employment opportunity policy statement in their job description. To get an idea of what this could entail, check out this example from Betterteam.
You may also want to include:
- A disclaimer letting job seekers and employees know they may be asked to perform duties outside of what is listed in their job description
- An at-will employment statement
- A statement on reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities
- A statement letting job seekers and employees know about required background checks and/or drug testing
Statements like these will help protect your organization from liability and help job seekers go into the recruitment process and employment experience with eyes wide open.
Other Information to Include
Depending on the nature of the position and your organization, you may want to go above and beyond the essential elements listed above and include other information in your job descriptions, such as:
- Typical work hours
- Travel requirements
- Physical requirements for the role (e.g., being able to lift 50 lbs or stand for multiple hours at a time)
- Workplace safety considerations
- Application instructions (if not provided elsewhere)
Our Free Job Description Template
We’ve put together a free job description template featuring all the essential elements discussed in the previous section. Download this template and adapt it to your organization’s needs as you create your own job descriptions!
Note that this format is just one way to organize your job descriptions. Feel free to get creative with how your organization formats its own job descriptions, as long as they’re clear and concise.
5 Best Practices for Making Your Job Descriptions the Best They Can Be
Now that you know why job descriptions are important and the necessary details you’ll need to include, you might think you’re ready to start crafting your own. However, there are a couple of other considerations and best practices you should keep in mind:
1. Brush up on writing best practices.
Though much of job description writing involves listing responsibilities and inputting specific statements or disclaimers your organization may already use, you should still be aware of writing best practices when creating a job description. Keep the following in mind:
- Use action verbs such as manage, develop, or coordinate when listing out specific duties and responsibilities to convey the sense that each duty drives impact for your organization.
- Get creative with how you describe your internal culture. For instance, a statement like “inclusive and fun-loving” works, but something like “We believe co-workers should enjoy their time together—whether working on a project or chatting at our monthly happy hour events” can be much more illuminating for job seekers wanting to understand your organization.
- Avoid jargon. Don’t use too much industry-specific or company-specific jargon. For instance, it may be normal for your team to say something like “run it up the flagpole,” but the phrase might not make sense to an outsider. Lean into more universal language in your job descriptions.
- Proofread and edit. This likely goes without saying, but your organization’s reputation as a professional employer will likely take a hit if your job descriptions are difficult to understand or riddled with typos.
It’s a good idea to have a few people review your finished job descriptions before you post them. They can provide you with useful feedback for tightening up your writing and ensuring the open position at your organization sounds like one people will want to apply for.
2. Frequently update your job descriptions.
Because of the many roles that job descriptions play in an organization, it’s essential to keep them up to date. Forgetting to update your descriptions on a regular basis can result in applicant confusion or even turn away prospective employees who might be looking for something specific you only recently changed.
An ideal approach is to review job description content in three contexts: during your performance appraisal period, before you begin actively hiring, and on a rotating two-to-three-year cycle.
Other opportunities for job description reviews are:
- When an incumbent is promoted
- During an exit interview
With many touchpoints along the way, keeping descriptions up to date shouldn’t take up an inordinate amount of your team’s time.
3. Be inclusive.
With the newer working generations tending to care more about job quality and happiness than previous generations, the way you craft your job descriptions and the wording you choose can have a direct impact on how employees feel about their jobs.
Specifically, special consideration for inclusiveness needs to be made in writing job descriptions, especially for recruitment purposes. Here are some tips from Monster:
Remove gender-coded words.
Avoid the common mistake of using words that indicate a male or female audience. For instance:
- Female-coded words include variations of agree, empath, sensitive, affectionate, feel, support, collaborate, honest, trust, commit, interpersonal, understand, compassion, nurture, and share
- Male-coded words include variations of aggressive, confident, fearless, ambitious, decisive, head-strong, assertive, defend, independent, battle, dominant, outspoken, challenge, driven, and superior
Avoid gender bias.
Research shows that women often will only apply for jobs where they meet 100% of the qualifications. To help reduce this issue, consider eliminating requirements that are not essential. For example, don’t ask for experience with specific software packages if training can be easily provided for the position. Generalize transferable skills and clearly outline which qualifications are required and which are preferred.
Eliminate racial bias.
Racial bias can be implicit. To avoid this in your job description writing, keep these tips in mind:
- Never mention race or national origin.
- Avoid phrases such as “strong English language skills” or “clean-shaven” as they could deter qualified non-native English speakers or candidates whose faith requires facial hair.
- Don’t use phrases such as “cultural fit.” Instead, use “value alignment.”
The mixed-generation workforce is already here, so it is imperative that job descriptions remain age-bias-free. Avoid phrasing such as:
- Young and energetic
- Digital native
- Athletic or athletically-inclined
- No more than X years of experience
- Supplement your retirement income
Be mindful of disabled workers.
Communicate that your organization welcomes and values all people by using phrasing such as “ability to complete tasks with or without reasonable accommodations.”
Unconscious biases influence many of our everyday interactions and decisions. Left unchecked, this risks HR professionals and organizational leaders creating unintended environmental challenges in the workplace.
4. Perform a job analysis and compensation survey.
Sometimes, you can get stuck working on what you might assume to be the most straightforward parts of a job description: responsibilities and compensation. How might you get over this hump? With a job analysis and a compensation survey!
A job analysis is the process of gathering, examining, and interpreting data about a specific role. The results should supply accurate information about the job so that an organization can manage and regulate it efficiently. It also should reveal the specific duties and responsibilities of the role.
Performing a job analysis includes the following steps:
- Interviewing employees to find out exactly what tasks are being performed in each role
- Observing how tasks are performed
- Having employees fill out questionnaires or worksheets
- Collecting data on jobs from other resources such as salary surveys and the Occupational Outlook Handbook
A compensation survey is a popular method of determining a fair employee compensation strategy. The results can provide key insights into a role and its pay, helping management and HR evaluate the best way to compensate that employee.
Compensation surveys typically involve analyzing these forms of compensation data:
- Base salaries
- Increase percentages/amounts
- Merit increases
- Salary ranges
- Starting salaries
- Incentives and bonuses
- Allowances and benefits
- Working hours
You may be able to purchase existing compensation survey results for your sector, or you can partner with an HR consultant to conduct a survey that aligns with your organization’s unique needs and job roles.
5. Create and update job descriptions in your performance management software.
Creating concrete job descriptions for each role at your business and then being able to update them as needed is the foundation of all of your broader HR processes.
Modern talent management software can not only organize all of your job descriptions but also allow you to easily update them and view roles in the grand scheme of your hierarchy. Some solutions can even help you remain legally compliant by making it easy to explore FLSA implications and attach role-specific documentation to each description.
How Astron Solutions Can Help
If your company or nonprofit organization has grown, your job descriptions are out of date, or you’re having trouble getting started with a job analysis, contact the HR consultants at Astron Solutions!
Not only can we help create compelling and engaging job descriptions to attract top talent, but we also can assist with performing any necessary job analyses or compensation surveys. We even offer a dedicated web-based talent management system with a specific job description module.
A job description is so much more than just a few lines of text on a job posting website. It’s imperative that you put careful thought and consideration into writing compelling job descriptions. Following the guidance above can put you on the right track!
Also, be mindful of your job description success. If you find that many job applicants are asking the same follow-up questions or that your job descriptions are slowing down essential processes like performance reviews, it’s likely time for an update.
Want to learn more about the world of HR? Check out these resources:
- Nonprofit Human Resources: The Full Guide & Best Practices. It’s a common misconception that nonprofits don’t need HR. Learn about everything that goes into nonprofit HR management.
- Compensation Consulting: A Full Rundown & Recommended Firms. A compensation consultant can help your organization refine its approach to pay and benefits. Get our list of top firms in this guide!
- Nonprofit Human Resources Consultants: The Definitive Guide. Sometimes, a third-party HR expert can make a world of difference to a nonprofit’s efforts to be a great employer. Learn more here!