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This article is part of our “Business Startup Guide” – a curated list of our articles that will get you up and running in no time!

Whether you’re hiring your best friend, or someone you’ve never met before, it’s important to make sure you’ve written a job description.

A good job description isn’t simply a list of to-do’s, but rather a guide, something that will benefit both you and the employee.

If you’ve taken the time to think it through and write it well, your employee will have a clear idea of what is expected of them, and will therefore be able to do the best work possible. And you will be able to measure their performance and hold them accountable for work completed.

If you aren’t at the hiring stage yet, take the time now to start thinking about the type of person you may want to hire in the future. Your new employee’s values will have a big impact on your company, especially if you’re small.

It’s all about first impressions

There’s another benefit to spending a good amount of time writing job descriptions: You will have a better chance of enticing the right candidates to apply.

Consider: If you require your employees to have a master’s degree, you’re probably going to cut out a whole chunk of the talent pool. If that’s a must in your line of business, that’s fine.

But, what if you’re looking for a people-person, someone who can answer the phone and troubleshoot customer problems? In that case, a master’s degree probably isn’t going to mean much. You’ll want to hire someone with the right attitude—someone with compassion. Someone who can hop on the phone and do what an introverted computer scientist can’t.

The question is: How do you get all of this across in what is likely to be a single page of text?

The 3 essential parts of a good job description

The best way to think of writing a job description is like you might a high school or college essay:

  • First, you’re going to want to do your research. What should you include in the description? What does your competition include?
  • Next you’re going to draft your outline. This is a good time to make a bullet list; include the duties you want the employee to fulfill, required qualifications if you have them, and any performance standards you’d like the employee to meet.
  • And last, you’re going to tie it all together. Make sure that your business values are reflected in your tone of voice, that you’ve shared a sense of company culture with your applicants via the style, and that you’ve recorded all the important nitty-gritty details.

Let’s break it down a little further and talk about what you’re going to want to cover:

1. Specific details of the position

A good title: A good title is relevant to your industry and to “the times.” If you’re looking to hire a marketer, should you advertise for a digital marketing executive, a content marketer, or an internet marketing manager? Well, this truly depends on where in the world you’re located, on what is popular at the moment, and on the information you need to convey.

Avoid titles that only have meaning internally; “Business Representative III” doesn’t mean anything to an outsider. It’s better to opt for a title like “Business Development Manager.”

It’s also a good opportunity to get your company culture across. For example, might you convey more or prompt a different audience to apply by hiring a “Happiness Manager” instead of a “Customer Service Representative”?

You may have to do a bit of research first.

A short summary of the job: The keyword here is short. You will want to give potential candidates an overview of the key responsibilities and the purpose of the position. Is this a full-time position? Is it part-time? Is it an internship? Be clear!

A brief overview of the company: In one to three sentences, say who your company is, what your goal is, and what you’ve achieved. You’ll want to strike a balance between honesty and marketing here. Yes, you want to paint a good picture so good applicants will apply; no you do not want to lie about how big your company is, how much you’ve achieved, or what you’ve done.

Skills, qualifications, or certifications required: Are there any industry, state, or other legal certifications your employee needs? For example, a bartender will need a license in order to serve drinks. List both the required and the preferred qualifications. This will help sort the wheat from the chaff.

Manager and supervisor information: Who will the new hire be reporting to? What department will they work within? This information isn’t always necessary, but can help to paint a more complete picture, ensuring there are no surprises for the new candidate, and no issues you have to work through.

Location details: This doesn’t have to be a stand-alone section in its own right, but it’s worth clarifying some of the details to avoid any potential confusion. Where is the position located? Is it remote work? Is it a nine-to-five job? Will any travel be required and if so, does the employee need to have a driver’s license or their own car?

Salary: It’s ideal to include the salary or the salary range within the job description. This is also a good place to include any benefits. Some employees opt for a slightly lower salary than industry standard, but then have great benefits. If you have space, include the benefits, number of vacation days, and any other perks.

2. Duties the candidate will be expected to perform

This section is arguably the most important part of the job description, as the duties detail exactly what the candidate should be able to do, and what they will be doing in this role on a daily basis.

They will also reveal more information about the level of responsibility the employee will have, the scope of the work, and its complexity. This should help weed out those who can’t perform all of the duties you require of them.

If you’re as of yet unsure about how to come up with a list of duties, but broadly speaking know the role you need to fill, here are a couple of things you can do to help you think it through:

Exercise 1: Brainstorm a list of all of those duties that are taking up a lot of your time, or taking away from something more important you could be doing. For example, are you answering all the customer phone calls, when really you’d be getting a better ROI going out to meet people? Think of all those things you could delegate. Jot them down. While you may not be able to include all of these duties in one job description, many of them probably can be tied together to fit under one title.

Exercise 2: Go back to your vision or your goals. What things do you need to be able to do competently in order to get you where you want to go? List out those duties. Now, work backward. What role should that person be able to fulfill?

When you’re listing out duties, try to make them as “active” as possible. Instead of writing a broad list of general duties like “customer service,” “writing skills,” and so on, make the duties more descriptive.

This will prompt you to think more deeply about the type of help you need, and will give the candidate a better idea of what you’re looking for.

A more explanatory list of duties might be, “answer incoming telephone calls, liaise with suppliers and order new stock, write press releases, and maintain the company’s social media profiles.” Immediately, you have a better idea of what the job will entail.

You could even frame the duties in a more story-like fashion. Consider going down the route of, “A typical day in the life of [insert job title here] will include [a list of the duties].”

3. Performance standards

A job description is often used as a means to an end: to fill an open position.

In reality, it’s a lot more than that. It’s an opportunity for the employer to lay out his or her expectations and is the first document that can be used as a basis from which to measure performance.

Consider: In six months time, when your employee asks you for a raise, how will you know whether or not to give them one?

If they’ve done everything required of them and gone above and beyond, provided there are no financial or cash flow issues, maybe you will want to give them a raise to reward their efforts and to encourage them to keep doing great things.

But, if they’ve not performed well enough, this is a great time to use the job description to explain why you won’t be giving them a raise or promoting them.

Start thinking about the job description as a training tool. What knowledge, skills, and abilities does your employee need to have in order to complete all of their duties to the best of their abilities? If they don’t yet have these skills, the job description will detail what they need to work toward, and will give you something to use when it comes time to evaluate their performance.

For the sake of clarity, separate this section into a list of its own. For example:

Performance standards

  • All customer-facing, written communication is expected to be error-free and grammatically correct
  • Knowledge of Quickbooks accounting system is essential
  • Work well and collaborate with team members

What’s next?

If you’re still not sure about where to start, a great first step is simply to get out there and start reading similar job descriptions for the position you want to fill.

Search LinkedIn, check out popular job sites like Monster and Indeed, and take a peek at competitor’s sites or other similar business sites perhaps in neighboring states. You could even try Glassdoor.com to find out what salaries people in your area are paying for a similar position.

Once you feel you’ve got a good sense of what to include and how to write the description, follow that “essay format” we recommended earlier. Write your skeleton framework, then fill in all the details.

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