Job descriptions can help you identify the essential functions of the job and the qualifications needed for a role. They can also help you set clear expectations with employees, evaluate performance, make compensation decisions, identify training needs, handle requests for reasonable accommodations, and make exempt vs. non-exempt classification decisions. To help you make the best of yours, here are seven key ingredients for an effective job description.
Job identification and job summary
The job identification section and job summary can be key when your job description is needed for recruiting and hiring for a role. They are elements that candidates often see first and help them know if the role is right for them.
The job identification section should be listed at the top of the job description and include basic job details, such as:
- Job title (for the purposes of job advertisements, choose a simple, clear and accurate job title that is likely to be found in job searches)
- Supervisor's title
- Exempt vs. non-exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- The date the job description was created or last revised
The job summary is generally a brief (one or two sentences) synopsis of the job. Consider defining the essential functions of the job before creating the job summary. The summary should include the most important functions of the role.
Every job description should list the essential functions of the position. Essential functions are the job duties that an employee must be able to perform with or without a reasonable accommodation. Consider:
- Whether the job was created to perform that function;
- How often and for how much time the employee is expected to perform the function;
- The number of other employees available to perform the function; and
- The degree of expertise or skill required.
Note: Some employers also consider the ability to collaborate with other employees and teams to be an essential function and will list it in the job description.
Use brief sentences in the present tense, beginning with an action verb. For example, an essential function for a maintenance technician might read: "Diagnose mechanical problems and determine how to correct them."
When listing job duties, use clear, precise language, so applicants and employees understand the role. Avoid words and expressions that are vague, confusing, or used so often they have become meaningless and/or can discourage qualified applicants from applying. For example, replace terms like "team player" or "self-starter" with more precise descriptions of the job's requirements (such as, the position requires working on group projects with several different departments).
If there are additional functions, include them in your job description. These are functions that don’t meet the definition of essential and could be removed from an employee’s job responsibilities if the employee were unable to perform them for some protected reason, such as a disability. It's a best practice to list these responsibilities separately from the essential functions. For instance, an employer has multiple data processing clerks, but they are occasionally asked to make phone calls to help another team. In this case, the task of making phone calls is a marginal one and should be listed as a non-essential function.
Job qualifications and skills
Job qualifications include the training, education, certification(s) and years of experience needed to perform the job. Differentiate between required qualifications and preferred qualifications. For example, "Three years of industry experience is required; five years is preferred."
Avoid inflating requirements. In some cases, education may be a substitute for the requisite experience and/or vice versa. If so, indicate that in the job description.
Make sure you use inclusive language and avoid terms that may discourage otherwise qualified workers from seeking the position. For instance, use gender-neutral language and avoid terms like “ideal for a recent graduate.” While applicants of all ages can be a "recent college graduate," this statement may disproportionately exclude older workers. If the pay is lower, you can say that the job is entry-level or simply list the wage or salary. Never assume a worker wouldn't be interested in a job based on their age or the salary offered.
Also, identify the knowledge, skills or abilities required for someone to be successful in the role. Below are some examples:
These skills may reflect the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to perform the job, as well as those required to be successful within the company as a whole.
Physical demands and work environment
If the physical demands and/or work environment are essential to the job, include them in your job description.
If you include physical demands, focus on the task that needs to be done, rather than how it should be done. For example, say that the position requires "moving" 50 pounds, instead of "lifting" 50 pounds, or "traversing" the length of the warehouse instead of "walking" the length of the warehouse. Employees with disabilities may be able to perform the essential functions of the job with accommodation, such as using a cart, dolly or mobility aid.
If the job involves work in hazardous or adverse conditions, or a particular work environment (outdoors, extreme heat or cold), include that information in your job description as well.
You may choose to indicate the frequency with which the employee is expected to perform each of the physical demands.
The work environment should describe the conditions under which the job applicant must perform their duties. For example, exposure to:
- Extreme heat or cold
- Wet and/or humid conditions
- Outside weather conditions
- Moving mechanical parts
- High or precarious places
- Fumes, toxic chemicals or airborne particles
- Sounds or a pitch that may cause marked distraction
- Whether the work will be performed in a traditional workspace or remotely
This portion of the job description can also include any protective or other kinds of equipment needed, such as:
- Protective clothing: gloves, steel-toed boots, etc.
- Protective equipment: protective eyewear, respirators, etc.
- Hand tools: hammer, shovel, screwdriver, etc.
- Power tools: radial saw, reciprocating saw, drill, etc.
- Vehicles: automobile, truck, tractor, lift, etc.
Scope and changes
In each job description, include a statement indicating that:
- The job description is not intended to cover every single requirement of the job.
- The company reserves the right to change job duties at any time.
Equal opportunity employer statement
It’s a best practice to include an equal opportunity statement to demonstrate that you don’t discriminate on the basis of any characteristics protected by law. In certain circumstances, such as if you contract with the government, you must include a statement that you are an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE), and there are specific rules on what must be included in your EOE statement.
What about salary range?
Some states and local jurisdictions have enacted laws that require employers to include the salary range for a position in advertisements for jobs, promotions or transfers. Thus, if you post (internally or externally) a job description as an advertisement for an open position, you may be required to include the pay range for the position. Check your state and local law for details.
Maintain a written job description for each position within your company, and keep relevant copies in employees' personnel files. As job duties can change, review and update job descriptions on a regular basis. To ensure accuracy, seek the input and buy in of current employees and supervisors when developing or updating job descriptions.