Writing an Effective Job Description

Whether you’re hiring brand new talent to fill an established role, or creating a brand new role for a rock star that’s already on your team, writing a good job description is essential to making sure both employer and employee get what they want from the relationship. The purpose of the job description is to set the expectations for the employee, show them where they fit in to the organization, and give the employee the opportunity to compare their own strengths and weaknesses to the demands of the role. However, none of those purposes will be achieved if the job description is poorly written. When it comes time to write a job description, keep these best practices in mind.

Summarize Objectives, Duties, and Values

About 60% of employees surveyed by Harris Interactive claimed that aspects of their new jobs differed greatly from the expectations they got during the interview process. Some of the frustrations they elaborated on, like the employees’ own lack of morale or the personality of their boss, aren’t coverable within the template of a job description. But other barriers to employee satisfaction, like understanding the job’s basic responsibilities, the hours they’re expected to work, or their opportunities for career advancement, are easy to express and should be present in the description.1

The job description is also a useful tool to express how each person’s role is influenced and governed by the company’s guiding values.

One good way to start writing the job description is to sit down and make a list of all the essential duties a person in this role will need to complete. If you’re creating a position for the first time, make a list of the gaps in your current workflow that the new role will fix. Be careful not to let what has come before color your opinion if you’re trying to fill a role that already exists. Don’t just summarize what other employees have done, but add in any desire for change you’d like to see. In both cases, outline the employee’s objectives or goals for the first few weeks or months of their employment in addition to their daily duties. This will give a sense of perspective and scope to whomever is assuming the role. If key metrics will need to be achieved in a certain time frame, make sure that’s clear from the get-go.

Describe Connections, Expectations, and Benefits

The job description is also a useful tool to express how each person’s role is influenced and governed by the company’s guiding values. For example, if someone will be expected to handle sensitive financial information, take the opportunity to emphasize that client security is important to the organization as a whole. This is an opportunity to drive home what expectations exist beyond accomplishing literal tasks throughout the day. More practical expectations like dress code, working weekends, telecommuting, or being on-call should also be clearly mentioned.

Job Description Expectations

Any job description template should also include a brief description of how this role connects to others at the company. Who does the employee report to? Will anyone report to them? Make it clear how this role supports others so that anyone applying or moving into the position will know just what they are signing up to do.

After clearly explaining to employees what they should expect from a role, an employer has a better chance of finding a candidate prepared to assume those duties.

Finally, just as a job description will cover an employee’s role within an organization and expected duties, it should address any benefits offered as part of a compensation package. According to glassdoor.com, “nearly three in five (57%) people [report] benefits and perks being among their top considerations before accepting a job.”2 Exceptional benefits could make the difference between a candidate choosing your company over another offering a similar salary, and should be front and center.

Phrasing, Jargon, and Length

According to the Small Business Administration, keeping job descriptions clear and concise is key. They advise structuring your sentences in classic verb/object and explanatory phrases.3 However, when the subject of the sentence is the applicant themselves, it’s also appropriate to eliminate a subject completely for clarity. For example, a sentence describing a job in a call center might describe one of the duties as: "Meet or exceed monthly lead quota."

Keep the job description in the present tense whenever possible. Try to minimize saying that employees “will” do something and instead describe them doing it. Make sure to be specific. For example, if you require your call center employees to document conversations, but just say “keep a record of all conversations,” employees don’t know what they will be expected to do to keep the record. The more detailed sentence "keep a written record of all phone conversations within our existing software” lets them know they will type the record into a software you’ll be providing.

Job Description Perks infographic

Lastly, the Small Business Administration recommends you use unbiased terminology. Try to construct sentences in such a way that gender pronouns are not required, and avoid gendered words like “manpower.” In the same vein, they also advise avoiding using adverbs or adjectives that are subject to interpretation, such as "frequently," "some," "complex," "occasional," and "several." The same applies to specific jargon at your company that may not be known in the greater industry by qualified applicants. Don’t be afraid to use the language in the description to gauge if an employee is qualified, but at the same time, don’t stack the deck against experts who just don’t know your methods yet.4

Writing a good job description is the first step in making sure the job gets done right. After clearly explaining to employees what they should expect from a role, an employer has a better chance of finding a candidate prepared to assume those duties after onboarding (a process which presents its own unique challenges). Employers will also know they have done their part to make the new situation as transparent and accessible as possible. Within the structure provided by an effective job description, your team will find the clarity they need to make each role their own.