Knowing how to write a job description is extremely useful. This can be said not just for recruiters, HR professionals and managers, but for anyone starting a new job. If you’ve ever been hired without a clear job description, you’ll know how much time is spent working out what it is you’re supposed to do!
When you know how to write a job description, you’re armed with information that can help you attract candidates to your organisation. You have something you can recruit against. It gives you a clear idea if the person has the prerequisite skills, knowledge, and attributes to make them a good fit.
When your recruit arrives at work, you want them to settle in quickly. You want them to work out what is both urgent and important. A good job description speeds up this process.
To write a job description that does…well, the job – you need to share 8 critical pieces of information:
- The company purpose and goals and how the job relates to these
- The purpose of the job
- The job title and reporting line
- The key deliverables of the job
- How the job relates to / works alongside / or serves others
- The qualifications, skills and knowledge required to be competent in the role
- The personal traits or qualities required for success and for organisational fit
- The job grade, salary level and associated benefits (although these could come later)
Let’s talk about these elements in more detail.
Company purpose and goals
Most organisations today are exercised by more than just making money. People, Planet and Profit are key to attracting and keeping quality hires. It’s therefore important that a good job description has a short paragraph on what the company is all about. By laying this out you can help people connect to a purpose that’s bigger than themselves. This helps them understand the part they play in your team and the wider organisation.
Here’s an example. Johnsons Engineering provides heating systems to care homes up and down the country. An installation engineer might think the job is just about installing boilers. In fact, the company purpose is to ‘keep our elderly warm’.
The purpose transcends the job role to embrace something more – something about community. Laying this out at the beginning of your job description helps people understand the part they play beyond a set of tasks.
If there are key goals to be delivered you might also add these. For example, using the company above you might say that “more engineers are being hired to reach our target of installing one million new boilers in care homes by 2025”.
You’ve just explained the company purpose and how it relates to the job at hand. Now, it’s important to clarify what the job does in a couple of sentences. For example, “to decommission and safely remove out of life boilers in all care home clients, replacing them with cost-saving, energy-efficient alternatives. In doing so to leave no elderly person vulnerable or cold, and to maintain the highest standards of client and customer service”.
Job title and reporting line
The job title might be obvious unless you work in a country where it’s important to maintain an externally recognised title (such as Vice President) over an internally acknowledged alternative (Managing Director).
Reporting lines can also be simple or complex. If the job reports to one person and that person is responsible for everything to do with the individual (for example, performance, pay, benefits, promotion etc), then that is relatively straightforward. If the role is dual reporting (reporting to two people perhaps in different departments) or is managed within a projects framework, collaborative team structure or some other system, it’s worth explaining.
If you want to know how to write a job description, you must know how to articulate the key deliverables of a role. It’s possible to tackle this in one of two ways.
You could map out the specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, and time-bound (or SMART) objectives that the job holder must deliver within a certain period (often either a probationary period like 3 months or the first year of the job). By describing clear objectives, you let the job holder know what broad groupings of tasks must be accomplished for them to be successful.
For example, a SMART objective for a Human Resources Business Partner might look like this:
Improve the People Teams engagement by 5 points (as measured by the Quarterly Pulse Survey), through a programme of team building and employee communications, by Q3 2022.
Alternatively, you could describe the key components of the job that must be tackled by the job holder. For instance, using the example above, you might instead say:
Responsible for improving employee engagement within client group, by implementing appropriate activities that help people feel empowered, energised, and engaged.
The beauty of taking the first approach is that specific and time-bounded deliverables are described clearly. An individual will know exactly what they must do by when. The downside of using this approach is that it can appear less ambitious and be too narrowly described. If you opt for the first approach, remember to think expansively. Set objectives within the context of the wider environment.
The benefit of using the second approach is that it describes the ‘nature’ of the job, beyond just an objective that must be delivered. Here, descriptions can be creative and expansive, rather than nailed down. The downside of this approach is a lack of clarity about what must get done, by when.
We often like to start with the second approach, describing the expansive nature of the job and then supplement the job description with a list of relevant objectives over a defined time period. This kicks off performance and coaching conversations nice and early.
What to know more about how to set clear deliverables at work? Read our blog on examples of goals at work.
How the job relates to / works alongside / or serves others
It’s very unusual for someone to work totally alone. Even those who are highly independent, work from home or who are individual contributors tend to have managers, colleagues, or mentors they work with, or turn to, for advice.
Most people are in jobs that rely on other people to achieve goals and targets. These people could be co-workers on a project, team colleagues all working toward the same goal, or partners and/or suppliers working together to meet customer needs.
When writing a good job description, it’s worth laying out the key relationships or stakeholders that are important to success. A sales manager, for example, might need to build good relationships with the product team, marketing team, customer services team and the external sales training organisation that work alongside the business.
Qualifications, Skills and Knowledge
All jobs require some level of qualification, skill, and knowledge. While many companies offer on-the-job training to get people up to speed to be able to tackle a job well, other roles require job applicants to already have a certain level of attainment.
It’s easy to over-egg what’s required regarding qualifications, skills, and knowledge, creating a list that requires super-human capability. The key is to distil down the absolute requirements – those things vitally necessary to do the job.
For example, job advertisements will often state a degree or equivalent is required. You should ask yourself if this is necessary and what equivalent experience looks like? Equally, be specific about the skills and knowledge needed.
For example, the installation engineer mentioned above might need a mechanical engineering degree, but also a fire and safety NVQ. Perhaps they must have worked on a certain type of boiler in the past and know certain related protocols?
Personal traits and qualities
Whether people like to admit it or not, most hiring managers look for certain personality traits or personal qualities that will fit with the team and organisation. These qualities are often similar across jobs for the simple reason that we all want to work with friendly, honest, fun, and likeable people.
But beyond the obvious human qualities that everybody likes to see, there’s a good chance that some jobs need certain personal traits specific to the nature of the work. For example, a learning and development specialist who lacks curiosity about people and learning is unlikely to be very successful. A care worker who lacks empathy for others isn’t going to be as good a carer as who is self-aware and tuned in to other people.
Think carefully about all the personal qualities that would make a job holder a good fit. Explain to candidates why these traits are important.
Job grade, salary level and associated benefits
Job applicants today are smart enough to work out the value of a job role. They can look externally to the company or generally find out from colleagues what the associated benefits are like. You may need to include reward ranges to create more flexibility. Either way, bringing transparency in this space is good business practice.
Knowing how to write a job description will help you develop as a leader and manager. It will also help you influence what you do in your job if you are a new hire.
Want to find out more? Download our templates on job descriptions or job/role profiles.