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Creating Accurate Job Descriptions

by Stephen J. Stine

Whether your workforce is 20 or 10,020, any organization will benefit from drafting accurate job descriptions. Drafting effective and accurate job descriptions in an employment agreement will save you and your employees unnecessary confusion. It also will help ensure that all duties of the job are assigned efficiently.

Audio Conference: Essential Function: Writing ADA-Compliant Job Descriptions

Elements of a comprehensive job description
A comprehensive job description should be written as a dynamic document, providing enough flexibility to adapt to changes in staffing, technology, or resources. Yet the job description must be drafted with clarity because it will become the primary basis for evaluating performance and developing job-training activities.

The same common elements are essential to every job description from the CEO to the staff, including:

  1. a succinct and accurate job title;
  2. defined reporting relationships, including the title of the person to whom the employee reports and the titles of those that the employee manages and any other pertinent and important working relationships;
  3. a job objective summarizing the nature, purpose, and scope of the job duties;
  4. a listing of each discrete task and responsibility of the job — with a brief explanation of the particular duty — in order of functional importance, prioritizing the most critical aspects of the job, including any tasks requiring at least five percent of the employee’s time;
  5. performance expectations, including quantitative and qualitative metrics; and
  6. special skills or credentials needed to successfully accomplish the job tasks. (In certain situations, you may find it necessary to list specific training, skills, experience, or technical abilities that will be required of the employee.)

Evaluate your company’s policies and practices with the Employment Practices Self-Audit Workbook, including job descriptions

Precise language is also essential to crafting an accurate job description. In structuring the wording of the job description and its component parts, craft the language as simply and directly as possible.

  • Avoid vague verbiage such as “handles” or “heads up.”
  • Always use present tense action verbs to describe the employee’s role. Select the precise verb that correctly describes the desired action on the part of the employee. “Ensures” can mean something quite different than “contributes to” or “assists.”
  • Use active rather than passive voice to describe the employee’s job responsibilities.
  • Omit unnecessary articles such as “a,” “an,” and “the” for an easier and more to-the-point description.
  • Explain how major tasks and functions are accomplished. Try to provide explanatory commentary for the various job roles ? the “how,” “why,” “where,” and “how often” aspects of a job are usually the most invaluable to understanding what is expected and what is required.

An accurately phrased job description can clarify the employee’s role and avoid ambiguity and inefficiency in allocating personnel responsibilities. Follow the above guidelines to ensure your employees are always fully aware of the exact nature of their job duties.

Stephen J. Stine is an attorney with DiMuroGinsburg PC in Alexandria. He can be reached at (703) 684-4333.