How to Write a Job Description

What Is A Job Description?

A job description provides information on the added value of a job to the organization. A good job description is an excellent communication tool between manager and direct reports to manage expectations of the organization and its employees.
A job description does not describe what the incumbent is doing, but what added value is expected from an organizational point of view. When jobs are described based on the expectations of the organization, a logical relationship between the company’s and departments' business plans and the job is created.
What Are Job Descriptions Used For?

Job descriptions are a worthwhile investment as they show how the goals of the organization are translated into individual jobs. Used this way, they clarify expected end results and provide a communication tool between manager and direct reports.
A good job description serves multi purposes:

  • A breakdown of the organization results to be achieved by individual jobs.
  • A communication tool aligning the expectations of the organization to job incumbents.
  • A supportive tool for:
  • Performance assessment
  • Job evaluation
  • Recruitment
  • Human resource planning and development

What is Unique In This Approach?

Output Orientation
In many organizations, job descriptions are task oriented. They sum up all tasks that the incumbent of the job has to accomplish. The new job descriptions will be result oriented, as they give more direction to the jobholder as to what kinds of results are expected.
For a Human Resource Consultant for instance, the following illustrates an output of the job description (responsibility) showing what he or she has to do, within what context, and what the end result will be.
What Within End Result
Provide performance planning support to management and staff Corporate and Ministry guidelines Performance and development plans relate to the business plan and are measurable
Core Activities

  • Provide information and advice to management in developing individual performance plans
  • Identify potential opportunities for learning.
  • Assist management and staff develop performance measures.
Focus on Core Contribution
It is not unusual for job descriptions to provide a very detailed level of information on all the different aspects of the job, resulting in relatively long and difficult to read descriptions. Alternatively, we will focus on the core contribution of the job, resulting in a shorter and more focused job description. It is the core elements of the job that are really relevant for performance assessment, recruitment, job evaluation and people development. The advantage of this approach is not only the decreased length of the job description, but an easier insight to the real contribution of the job to the organization. This approach requires that non-core elements be left out of the description although the jobholder is still accountable for these elements. When the focus is on core elements, normally 80-90% of the job is covered by the job description.
Many incumbents think that there is a direct relationship between the length of the job description and job size. This has resulted in job descriptions of over 10 pages. The assumption is wrong. It is not the length of the job description, but the quality of its information that determines its usefulness for job evaluation purposes. The longer the job description, the more difficult it is to distinguish between core and non-core elements.
Overview of Job Description Elements

This paragraph provides an overview of the elements of the job description.
To identify jobs properly for systems and record purposes, specific identification information is required (position number, working title, name, division, branch/unit and date).
This gives insight as to what the job is responsible for and within what context (why does this job exist?). As each job has a purpose, this element tries to give a brief summary of the job, covering the main responsibilities, the framework within which the job has to operate and the main contribution to the organization.
Responsibilities and Activities
This is the most important part of the job description from a job evaluation perspective. The purpose of the job can be broken down into different responsibilities/end results. Normally a job has 4-8 core end results, each of which shows what the job is accountable for, within what framework, and what the added value is. For each end result approximately 3 major activities should be described.
While purpose and end results provide information on job content, scope addresses the need for some specific data illustrating what area(s) the job impacts and defining the complexity, diversity, and creativity of the job.
Knowledge, Skills and Abilities
After focusing on the output of the job (responsibilities/end results), the next element of a job description requires a focus on the input needed for the job: knowledge about practical procedures, specialized techniques, etc., analytical and conceptual skills and abilities, and skills needed for direct interaction with others.
Guide in Writing an Individual Job Description

The following chart illustrates the steps to follow in building a job description. It is a progression that starts with defining activities, up to responsibilities, and ultimately to the purpose of the job.
Step 1: List All Activities

List all activities that are required in the job. Business plans and/or current job documentation can be used. It is also helpful to discuss the activities with colleagues in the same or similar jobs.
Examples of Activities:
Human Resource Consultant

  • conducting job interviews
  • writing job advertisements
  • performing job audits
  • developing performance review standards
  • conducting reference checks
  • discussing development expectations/options
  • assisting management develop leadership continuity options
  • assisting management in organizational design
  • setting salaries
  • interpretation of the collective agreement
Step 2: Group Activities Into Responsibilities

Normally the activities can be grouped into 4-8 different categories, each covering a responsibility. This avoids overlaps in the job description and helps to clarify what the job is responsible for:
For each end result the challenge is to describe:

  • What is the overall responsibility covering the activities that are grouped?
  • Within what context does the job have to operate (legislation, budgets, policies, procedures, processes, etc.)
  • End Result: at this point the purpose of the individual responsibility has to be described.

The following chart shows two of the responsibilities for a Human Resource Consultant based on the previous list of activities.
Examples of Responsibilities:
Human Resource Consultant
What Within End Result
Staffing Legislation/Regulations/ Policies and Directives Management provided with most suitable candidates/ candidates receive fair and equal consideration

  • Develop recruitment strategy
  • Screen competition and chair selection panel
  • Respond to candidate queries
Step 3: Group Responsibilities Into Purpose

Once the Responsibilities are clear, you have to describe the purpose of the job, giving a summary of the different responsibilities: Again you have to write:

  • What is the overall purpose covering the responsibilities that are grouped? (Why does the job exist?)
  • Within what context has the job to operate (legislation, budgets, policies, procedures, processes, etc.)
  • End Result: at this point the purpose of the job has to be described.

An example of the purpose of the Human Resource Consultant's job, based on the identified responsibilities follows:
Example of Purpose:
Human Resource Consultant
What Administer the Human Resource function within a Ministry division
Within Legislation and Ministry Goals
End Result Divisional management provided with information, support, and assistance in its management of human resources
Step 4: Describe Scope

Scope is specific information that illustrates what internal or external areas the job impacts, and the diversity and complexity of the job. Some examples are:

  • variety and size of projects,
  • variety and size of programs/functions and services,
  • distinct stakeholders and/or client groups,
  • geographical spread, and
  • creativity.

Example of Scope:
Human Resource Consultant

  • Significant divisional impact regarding ongoing human resource functions.
  • Ministry wide impact regarding specific area of expertise.
  • Provide alternative solutions to management on issues that fall outside of established processes.
Step 5: Describe Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

Here you should list the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities that are required for the job and not of the incumbent. It is not necessary to provide an extensive list, but a list of the most important knowledge factors, skills and abilities. This includes knowledge about practical procedures, specialized techniques, etc.; analytical and conceptual skills; and skills needed for direct interaction with others. If a specific training is a legal requirement for the job, it should be listed. Other than that, we are asking for information on knowledge, skills and abilities, and not only on diplomas or degrees.
Examples of Knowledge, Skills and Abilities:
Human Resource Consultant

  • Knowledge of the Public Service Act, Public Service Employee Relations Act and related regulations, cross-government directives, collective agreements, ministry requirements, and associated parameters.
  • Strong interpersonal skills.
  • Problem solving skills.
  • Well developed consulting skills.