6 Elements of a Good Job Description

Debbie Zmorenski

A successful training program is built from clear and comprehensive job descriptions that define the expected tasks to be performed by the employee and the expected behaviors to be demonstrated by the employee.

Many organizations are reluctant to write job descriptions for fear that employees will use the document as a way to avoid taking on additional responsibilities or refuse to get involved in special projects. In actuality, a detailed job description provides the employee with important information that enables him or her to quickly acclimate to a new environment by clearly and precisely stating the expectations for task delivery and behaviors.

The elements of a good job description are briefly outlined below. While not all inclusive, these six elements are a good place to start:

  1. Task functions and responsibilities — Clearly delineate all job functions and responsibilities as they relate to the performance of the employees duties. This would include technical aspects of the position, supervisory or managerial responsibilities (if applicable), communication skills and experience requirements, and back-up functions such as "other functions as deemed necessary by circumstances."

  2. Performance standards — Indicate productivity and quality standards required for the individual to be successful in his or her new role.

  3. Job-related skills — List the level of skill, knowledge, experience and capability demanded by the job, including any technical skills; physical requirements such as repeated lifting, pulling or pushing and physical exams that must be passed prior to qualifying for the position; communication skills such as written, verbal and language requirements; and interpersonal skills such as customer interaction, strong team player skills and the ability to work harmoniously with a diverse workforce. If the job requires computer skills, indicate the hardware and software that the employee will be using and the minimal skill level and/or experience required with the hardware or software.

  4. Scope and limits of authority Outline the areas of responsibility assigned to each person, including where duties may overlap and who is ultimately responsible for the finished product or service. Also, specifically describe the level of authority the person has over other people, the function or the product.

  5. Management expectations It is impossible to get results unless you spell them out. These should include expectations for availability such as overtime, nights, weekends, holidays, etc.; flexibility in scheduling regarding off days; restrictions on vacation time; policies and accountabilities for tardiness and absenteeism; and expected employee behaviors regarding interaction with peers, customers, vendors, managers and others.

  6. Relationships Clarify the reporting structure for each department or division, stating to whom the employee reports or who reports to the employee, if applicable. Also, if team or group projects are required, give an example.

Whether you make the job description available to the potential employee during the application process prior to the interview or present it during the interview, the employee should have ample time to review and reflect on the job requirements on which he or she will be expected to deliver. The preferred method is to make the job description available with the application. This gives the applicant enough time to formulate questions that he or she may want to ask during the interview.

Most importantly, once you have made the job offer, have the new employee sign the job description. This allows you to hold the employee accountable for delivering on all aspects of the job and avoid the "that wasn't in my job description" scenario. If you ultimately hire the person, the signed job description is placed in his or her personnel file.

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About the Author

Deborah K. Zmorenski, MBA, is the co-owner and senior partner of Leader’s Strategic Advantage Inc., an Orlando, Fla.-based consulting firm. During her 34-year career with the Walt Disney W...