Q&A on Job Description Creation

Job descriptions aren't merely lists of qualifications and duties. To the contrary, they are active documents by which you determine who you will hire, and how you will evaluate and compensate the people who will eventually fill those jobs. Getting them right takes time and a good understanding of what they're trying to accomplish. HR professionals have many questions about the process of creating effective job descriptions, such as:

  • How do you determine the level of education and years of work experience required for a job?
  • Do you recommend including physical requirements on the job description?
  • Is it common to not have well-developed job descriptions at all?
  • Can you substitute equivalent experience for education in your job description and posting?

These very questions were posed during a recent BLR webinar, and the webinar presenter, Mary Anne Kennedy, lent her expertise to give us the answers below.

Q. How do you determine the level of education and years of work experience required for a job?

A. That's a good question. You have to really know what it is you're going to be expecting. A rule of thumb is that an entry-level position may not even have a year of experience. But a managerial role will need experience. That person, for example, may need to have 3-5 years of experience, but the exact number will depend on what that manager will need to do. The higher the position and the more people responsibilities will mean more experience is required. It can even be 7-10 years of experience for a managerial position, on average. But it really depends on the level of the position you're posting.

Q. Can you substitute equivalent experience for education?

A. Yes. It depends on the situation you're facing and the competition and whether you're bringing in the level of talent you need. The other piece to it is this: if the person doesn't have the degree but can still do the job, that's great, but will they be able to advance in the organization? The people that they will be competing with will likely have the education. You can allow experience instead of education, but don't set up your new employees for future failure if you really do require the education.

Q. My understanding is that employers are better off if the physical requirements are listed on the job description. What do you recommend?

A. I think you're absolutely right. You want to be able to confirm that someone can do the job without directly asking about any disabilities. If you've listed the specific physical requirements – such as lifting 50 lbs, walking specific distances, etc. – then you can ask directly whether or not the person is capable of performing all of the duties in the job description.

If they say yes, and you hire them, and then they say they cannot do these items, then you have a right to either put them on a performance improvement plan or even terminate them because they can't do the job—if it was told to them and documented.

The other related item to include is the work schedule. When people are told the schedule and what will be expected, and they explain which items they can and cannot commit to in terms of the schedule, then the company can determine whether it will work. But every time you put something in there that is very specific about what the job requires, you're better off because it provides proof that the employee knew the expectations.

Q. How many organizations do you come in contact with that do not have written job descriptions?

A. Well, start-ups, for one, often have nothing and need to start from scratch. Other than that, most organizations have something, but they're not always very good. Developing a template and keeping job descriptions standardized works well. Most places do have something they call a job description, but it may be missing for some jobs. Another important piece is to marry the job description with the performance management process you have—but that doesn't always happen either. You want to avoid a situation where someone claims they didn't know what their job required.

Q. Do you recommend the employees sign the job description? If so, when do you do that?

A. I've never had an employee sign the job description. [However,] be sure to have it on file. You're going to use it in the performance management cycle and use it as a point of comparison against the employee's objectives – which definitely get signed off on.

For more information on creating effective job descriptions, order the webinar recording of "Job Descriptions with Value: Strategies, Tools, and Technology to Optimize Job Description Content." To register for a future webinar, visit

Mary Anne Kennedy is the principal consultant at MAKHR Consulting, LLC, a full-service human resources advisory firm. MAKHR Consulting provides the full spectrum of HR services and programs, including all aspects of talent acquisition – from the full cycle recruitment process to succession planning and performance management.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *