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9 Common Problems You Might Be Facing With Your Job Descriptions

It was just stated that job descriptions fail to cover general responsibilities that apply across many workers. But it is perhaps even more common and more of a problem when JDs do not reflect adequately the uniqueness of each different position.

Here are 9 ways to make sure you’re writing the job descriptions you need to attract top candidates. Read more here.

Not position specific.

Often companies try to write one job description to cover all workers doing essentially the same kind of work. But such an approach may miss vital, though subtle differences. For example, different department heads in an organization may have essentially the same types of major responsibilities, but specific duties, time spent on various areas, and task priorities may differ substantially from one manager to the next. One department manager may be loaded with routine and planned work, while others spend more time with spontaneous execution and troubleshooting. Job descriptions should reflect the unique character of each position and not attempt to cover too many different positions. If this is not done the job description does not accurately reflect the actual work design.

Being descriptive rather than prescriptive.

Job descriptions are frequently prepared after the fact--after the work is designed--and are prepared largely with data submitted from the incumbent. The result: a picture of what is, rather than what should be. Managers at all levels must get involved in job description preparation to control design and to assure that the work done is what is in the best interest of the organization. Job descriptions should prescribe what ought to happen. Periodic performance reviews should compare what does happen with what ought to, and should lead to adjustments when discrepancies are found. Too often companies let jobs evolve into "products of the incumbent"--jobs compatible with incumbent interests rather than with organizational interests.

Mixed with performance standards, person specs, and/or rules and regulations.

Many so-called job descriptions attempt to incorporate performance-level expectations--quantity, quality, timeliness, and cost criteria--with defined standards of performance. Some companies have adopted these results-oriented descriptions in an attempt to improve the value of their job descriptions. But performance criteria--ways of measuring-a-re not part of the design of the job and are, therefore, best left for a separate performance evaluation instrument--perhaps attached to the job description but distinct from it.

Extremely common is the practice of including personal qualifications and required abilities, skills, and knowledge in the job description.

These are vital for getting the right people for jobs but they are descriptions of the kind of person needed for the job, not descriptions of the job. Again, there may be considerable merit in attaching person specs to the job description, but the distinction between the job description and person specs should be clear. They are not the same thing.

A relatively recent trend that adds to the confusion in writing job descriptions is incorporating skills, knowledge, and abilities that one should become proficient at while on the job. This practice has a worthwhile objective--to show incumbents or prospective workers how they can expect to progress while on the job, which helps in plotting job change trajectories--but such information should not be crammed into the job description. A separate document to the job description can help clarify.

Often rules and regulations get mixed in with duty statements.

Statements like "Avoids carrying two acid-filled beakers at once" or "Wears hard hat when doing warehouse stacking" are not really statements of work to be done. However, a statement like "Checks floor daily to assure not slippery," may be a legitimate duty statement. Admittedly, it can be difficult to show the appropriate line between what should go in the JD and what would be better left for a separate document.

Temporary work gets left out.

Most jobs will have temporary assignments built in from time to time. Special projects, committee assignments, and one-time tasks, for example, may have to be delegated to employees. Any duty planned in advance for execution over a year or less duration should go in the job description in a special Temporary Assignment section. It is a fully legitimate part of the design of the job and should be acknowledged as such. Not acknowledging such work (which is a frequent occurrence) leads to flaws in end-of-year performance evaluation, work load assessments, and so on. A good practice is to add each year--perhaps during the performance review--a Temporary Assignment section to the job description. This section makes it a dynamic document. Recognizing how essential temporary activity engagement is and accepting the practice of acknowledging it in the job description stimulates that all-important periodic review of the job description.

Does not show how non-task time is spent

If you add up the time percentages associated with duty statements in many a job description, you should get to 100 percent. This, you know, cannot be right. No worker ever spent 100 percent of his or her on-the-job day doing work. Managers and operative employees are idle waiting for delays, taking breaks, socializing at work, and engaging in semi-work activities such as in-plant or out-of-plant travel. Job descriptions should recognize how one's time is truly spent by indicating time allotment to these non-work and semi-work engagements. On some jobs these are significant time-consuming categories. Failure to acknowledge them in the job description highly misrepresents the design of the work.

Tell what but not where, when, how often, with whom and under what conditions

Most traditional job descriptions describe what the worker does. Left out are descriptions of where, when, frequency, who else is involved, and conditions under which the work is performed. A fill picture of work is missing without these additional data. What good is a statement that says, "Files documents" if left out is the fact that this is done only six times a year, at the beginning of odd numbered months in six different cities with help from forty assistants?

Leaving out definitions of the conditions under which work is performed can be misleading

Two job descriptions for different workers may both say, "Files documents," but one of these people may perform this task in a physically cold, socially isolated environment under very little pressure. The other person may have an extremely demanding filing task-expected to file as many as thirty legal documents within a five-minute time span, every hour, in a busy office, while the telephone is constantly ringing.

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