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An easy way to do those dreaded staff job descriptions

It’s not fair to hire someone without fully explaining the requirements of the job—from the very large to the very small.

Neither is it fair to evaluate someone without fully explaining what performance and behaviors the office expects to see—again, from the very large to the very small.

Many employers don’t have job descriptions at all, and many more have descriptions that haven’t been updated in years.

There should be no surprises once somebody takes a job. Nobody should ever say “I didn’t read a job description when I was hired.” And no staffer should have to suffer through a review that covers points that weren’t explained at the outset.

For any office that has zero descriptions or descriptions that are outdated, it’s time to start afresh. And the place to start the task is with the current staff.

Tell them to draw up summaries of the responsibilities and education and training and skills their jobs require.

But don’t expect them to know how to do that on their own. They’ll need guidance, and the most effective guidance is a questionnaire that breaks out the individual elements and requirements that need to be covered.

Tell them to write down facts along with their opinions. Tell them “take yourself out of the position and tell what qualifications you believe are needed for this job.”

Explain that the questionnaire is not something they can complete in an hour; instead, they will be adding things as they think of them.

Give them at least a week to finish the job and explain that the manager will use their responses to draw up first drafts and then will meet with each person individually to discuss them.

To promote thoughtful answers and a serious meeting, put each staffer somewhat in charge of the process with “tell me when the best time is to come back and talk with you about this.”

Four drafts, possibly five

The first draft should include everything the staffer has written. Then at the meeting, manager and staffer discuss the points covered and come up with a mutually agreed-on version.

Draw up the second draft, discuss it with the staffer’s supervisor, and do it again.

Meet once more with the staffer to check the third draft for errors, and then take the completed fourth draft to the partners for their approval. Depending on their response, there may even be a fifth version.

The key is the questionnaire

It’s the questionnaire that holds the key to a good job description. It needs to cover every possible corner of the job.

Here is one format that is several pages long. The employee applies the individual job to basic topics.

  • The title of the position.
  • The licenses or certifications the job requires.
  • The supervisor to whom the employee reports. That’s the direct report. It’s the person who gives the performance reviews for the position.
  • If it’s a supervisory position, the people who report to the employee. And along with that, the staffer explains what the supervision entails such as reviewing work assignments or training or doing performance reviews.
  • An explanation of the purpose of the position. Just a few sentences will suffice. For a human resources job, for example, it might be “The purpose of this position is to provide guidance to management and employees on human resources issues, including recruitment, administration, compensation, payroll, benefits, and separation of employment.”
  • Principal responsibilities. This is the most important part. To make sure the answers are complete, set out a dozen or so numbered blanks and tell staff they can add more if they want. Here staff list all the duties of the job and tell whether each is performed daily, weekly, monthly, annually, or on no particular schedule. For example, an HR manager might list checking backgrounds of new hires, overseeing payroll, coordinating leave and vacation, and so on.
  • The personal qualifications for the job. These are the education, training, technical skills, and years of experience required. This question can be multiple choice. For example, education can be divided into no high school necessary to associate degree to master’s degree to doctoral degree.
  • The skills needed. Ask for skills in several categories and allow multiple choices. There are language skills—the ability to compose business correspondence, write reports, speak before groups, or communicate with clients. There are mathematical skills—the ability to do simple math on up to percentages and ratios and statistics. And there are reasoning skills, which run from carrying out instructions to analyzing data.
  • Computer skills. These include word processing, spreadsheets, graphics, database management, and knowledge of various software.
  • The physical demands of the job. Here the staffer outlines requirements such as climbing or walking long distances. If lifting is required, the staffer should tell what the maximum amount is.
  • Working hours. Besides listing the regular hours for the job, staff tell how much overtime is required and whether there are after-hours meetings and if so, whether those extra hours are paid for. The job description will also need to tell whether the position is exempt or nonexempt from overtime pay.
  • Location. If the office has several locations, give the location of the specific position.
  • Travel. If the position requires travel, ask how often it occurs and what it entails, perhaps occasional day-long travel or overnight travel as much as 30% of the time. That information often determines whether someone is suited to the job. It can also avert problems. A single parent who takes a job without knowing it requires travel may not be able to stay in the position.
  • Organizational relationships. Ask the staffer to list the external and internal customers. External customers are the clients. Internal customers are the people in the office who rely on the position for assistance with their own jobs.

Finally, an essential disclaimer

A final point to include in every job description is a disclaimer. It’s a safety statement. It says the description gives information about the job but is not a contract. It also says the employee can be reassigned or given other duties at any time and must follow instructions from the supervisor whether or not those instructions are included in the description.

There’s a real need for the disclaimer. It nixes the argument of “that’s not in my job description.”

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