Influence managers to value Job Descriptions

Jul 15, 2021 | Job Descriptions


“But I hate writing job descriptions…”



Many people in Reward have observed that the average line manager dislikes being asked to draft a job description for a job in their team, and some become distinctly irate when asked to write job descriptions for all the jobs in their team. You may have head managers even say that they hate it. This reluctance to engage in what they see as a waste of their time, an unwelcome administrative chore, and a burden on their time is really quite puzzling It’s true that some managers have a lived experience of time-consuming meetings, problems they must respond to, and demands from their own bosses, they often prefer to delegate writing JDs. But it’s a missed opportunity in several ways. Would you like your managers to approach it positively? Yes, I’d guess you would.



Good job descriptions help in many ways



It’s assumed that managers must plan over a longer time horizon than the people reporting to them, yet daily they’re dealing with a list of problems that mount up, depriving them of time to attend to those tasks that could really make a difference. Over 80% of candidates reckon a well-written and informative job description is essential when looking for the next role. Yet just over 35% believed that employers actually provided information good enough make any judgements on. A good description helps both sides during recruitment – candidates can judge the technical aspects of the role, and have sufficient detail on company culture to judge if they fit, while the company gets a clear picture of the sort of candidate they’re looking for. Instead of regarding the writing of job descriptions as a chore, you might suppose that managers would welcome it as an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the jobs in their team and function (and some managers learn to enjoy writing JDs, becoming curious about the jobs in their area, and actually learning). If your job descriptions aren’t good enough, you could be missing out on some excellent candidates. Move them from a mundane view towards being interested and engaged.







Where one job ends …and another begins




Interestingly, most managers believe that they do a good job of drafting job descriptions, but having seen thousands of job descriptions over the years, I can safely say that there’s a wide variation in quality. For instance, it’s not unusual to get e.g. Procurement Advisor and Procurement Manager JDs that are completely verbatim. Or where they are identical in every respect but the manager has one extra line saying that they manage people. Or where most of the responsibilities are couched in the same terms, making it impossible to say who is responsible for what. Or where lazy terms like “assist” are used frequently. It taught me that people are often bad at knowing where one job ends and the next job up/down begins. If you did a straw poll of HR people, you’d be lucky to find half the group saying that the JDs were fit for purpose. Shoddy job descriptions also do little for company brand and reputation. Good JDs help reduce time-to -fill, cost-per-hire and the time it takes for a new hire to become productive. Recruiters, HRBPs and line managers all win from a good JD.



It’s not only on recruitment that JDs matter. Reward team need a JD that’s good enough to complete a proper job evaluation on. They’re useful for identifying training needs, and to help inform performance reviews. Jobs do change of course, so they also provide a record of what’s changed or been added, in case the job has to be re-evaluated at some point.



What’s in the job description?



Firstly, the job title. It’s best to have a sensible title that sums the job up, and wiser to avoid salesmanship or exaggeration e.g. by calling the job of Cleaner something else like a Hygiene Assurance Operative, which most people would consider ludicrous. You want the JDs in a format that corresponds with the job evaluation scheme’s factor headings. In a good JD you want it to include –


  • Job title
  • Reports to (which team leader, manager, director, etc)
  • Department or function
  • Organisation chart showing where the role sits  (it helps to visualise the context)
  • Job purpose statement
  • Main accountabilities – probably around 6 and no more than 10
  • What it looks like when you are doing the job well
  • Dimensions of the job e.g. budgets, number of direct reports, assets managed
  • Narrative that expands on the main accountabilities – probably 2 pages or so describing what the job holder delivers under the JE scheme’s main factors e.g. knowledge required, mental and physical demands, influencing and communication skills needed, range of problems solved, range of contacts, thinking challenge, planning, impact required, working conditions, etc.
  • Qualifications and experience required
  • Specific competency requirements (technical, behavioural)
  • Other essential requirements
  • Date, approved by (name, job title), and version control



It’s worth recognising that some managers can become quite adept at “working the system” and that they learn how to describe jobs with the aim of getting them upgraded (and also, because this means the manager’s job in turn may be upgraded. We call this “talking the job up”. This is why job analysts and job evaluators can’t afford to be credulous, and the bottom line is that all involved in conversations about the job have to be convinced that an accurate portrayal of the job is provided in the JD.




How can you support managers?




You can support managers by coaching them through any aspects of writing the JD that they may find difficult. A good JD template can help, with a clear and self-explanatory layout, and so can guidance notes for managers. Some JDs might go through a few iterations before arriving at a final draft which reflects the job properly, and neither overstates nor understates what the jobholder does.



When you detail the precise skill-sets and qualities required, it’s much more likely that hiring managers will succeed in finding the right person for the job. How long should it be? A couple of pages should be enough for any job description, although I’ve seen more than a few at over 20 pages – usually where the jobholder was tasked with writing it, and has tried to capture every one-off activity instead of the main core activities of the job. A good JD should be long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest in the reader. Concise is better.




Honest picture of the job




It saves a lot of time, reduces retention problems, and supports effective onboarding when job candidates understand the honest facts of the job and the company. In a world of unconvincing corporate sales talk, honesty is often innovative and effective. Expectations are managed effectively, and accurate JDs support the recruitment process. Your recruitment team will also appreciate having concise and accurate JDs from which they can draft good quality job adverts. If your managers, HR team and talent acquisition people would value the experience of someone who has dealt with thousands of job descriptions and many hundreds of job adverts, or if you need effective templates (for free), help capturing the essential facts  of a set of jobs, or with redesigning and rewriting JDs, get in touch on the Contact page, or DM me on LinkedIn or Twitter to discuss your requirements.

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