The Importance of Job Descriptions

Whether you are a compensation professional, HR manager, recruiter, generalist or business partner, you certainly understand the importance of an accurate job description. Especially in today’s rapidly evolving job market, job descriptions are the foundation for many HR processes – from Recruitment & Selection to Benchmarking to identifying Training & Development needs (see Table 1 for purposes). Job descriptions help determine the grade, or internal worth, of a position when the job is being evaluated. They are used to match a job to the appropriate survey role when benchmarking compensation. They help set or validate the appropriate salary for a role. They are used to determine the proper exemption status (in the US). A well written job description can also be helpful when a manager is setting goals or objectives and/or evaluating overall job performance.

Table 1 – Job Description Purposes

Early in my career, I was told by an HR manager that I met at a conference that the compensation team at their organization “owned” writing job descriptions. At the time, I challenged that by asking the following question: “Do your compensation professionals interview, determine if the candidate is qualified, set annual goals, conduct performance evaluations and provide feedback?” When the HR manager answered “no”, I then asked: “Who does those things?” The HR manager answered “the employee’s manager does those things”. My reply was: “Then the manager is the person in the best position in your organization to write job descriptions”.

This post is not meant to slight compensation or other HR professionals that are good at writing job descriptions, but I believe the ultimate responsibility for providing job description content lies with the manager. Why should the manager provide the job description content? Well, they know the job the best, or at least they should! They are also responsible for setting annual goals and objectives, and need to understand all aspects and facets of the roles reporting to them.

There are things HR can do to assist in the process of preparing job descriptions. When I’ve seen this done effectively in my career, HR’s role in the job documentation process was as an educator, partner and enforcer. HR provided the process, tools, education and training managers needed to successfully write quality job descriptions. Compensation professionals provided managers with sample job descriptions from surveys to give them a starting point for preparing job description content. In addition, a standard job description template or framework was provided so all key information was captured in a common format. In terms of enforcement, HR required a job description to be completed before certain HR processes were started.

It all begins with the job description. Whether it is for a new or an existing role, the recruiting process should not start without a satisfactory job description in hand. Similarly, benchmarking for a role should not be done on title alone and requires a well-written job description. Those involved in the recruiting process should know how to evaluate the quality a job description. When a “bad” one is encountered, they should notify the hiring manager and explain that it is not clear and that it needs to be updated. Without a good job description during the recruiting process, you might end up with the wrong person for the role, the wrong salary for the role, or worse, both (see Table 2 for potential impacts).

Table 2 – Potential Impacts of Job Descriptions

Organizations should take a pulse of how effective managers are at preparing job descriptions. Likewise, organizations should also understand the HR team’s ability to determine the quality of job descriptions. If they find that the quality of job descriptions that the managers are writing is not “high”, formal training should be provided. Additionally, training should be provided to HR professionals so they know what to look for in a job description to determine if it is a “good” one or a “bad” one.  With a sound process defined and training and education provided, HR professionals should maintain the program by enforcing the process and ensuring that those involved are aware of the importance of having quality job descriptions.

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