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What are Job Descriptions and why are they important?

Jul 27, 2020

Wendy Kennah
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Wendy Kennah
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Organizations seeking to hire a traditional employee or engage a contingent worker must first develop an internal job description detailing the duties and responsibilities of the job or work being completed. Talent acquisition teams will use this internal document as a guide to create a compelling job posting to attract top candidates. 

In today's current uncertain climate, new jobs are being created, jobs are shifting and job losses continue to surmount as organizations change, recover and adapt to a post-coronavirus world. Now more than ever, hiring the right talent is key to every organization - and hiring begins with a well-defined job description.

An often-overlooked truth in talent acquisition is that the process doesn't actually begin when a job is published externally.  

The first, true step in hiring begins with an internal job description.   

When and where does a job description really being to formulate?

For many, it's the chicken before the egg scenario when it comes to job description creation.  

Does it begin when a new need to fill a position is identified? Is it when tasks need to be completed but there is no one within the organization's team to complete them? Or is it when a hiring team realizes that an existing position has morphed into a completely different need than when it was first identified? 

The answer is that job description creation can begin at any one of these stages, but first - employers must know what they're looking for before going to market to fill a position.    

A common misstep in the job description process is undervaluing their importance

Job descriptions are the foundation to building a successful hiring structure but within many organizations, the documents are not clearly defined with the job duties and responsibilities or reviewed or updated with the thoroughness that's required. Hiring against an outdated job description is a recipe for disaster. It can be quite expensive to keep changing the requirement for a position through the recruitment cycle between advertising, screening and interviewing, but worst-case scenario, employers are opening their organizations up to the costs of a bad hire.

Just exactly what are job descriptions?

A job description sets the foundation for the hiring process while setting the tone for work performance expectations at the same time. When hiring a full-time employee, the document also helps to maintain an equal compensation system. A job description should include the duties and responsibilities required for the position or work being done, the skills required for the work and the job duties that must be completed in order to complete work. It may also include the job title along with the job duties and responsibilities. It's important to remember that a job title should be traditional, like a "social media coordinator" rather than "social media rockstar."

Why do you need to have an up to date job description? 

When organizations have identified the need to engage talent, it's important that job descriptions, job titles and associated compensation are up to date. However, honing a job description is often a low priority task for a busy hiring manager and defaulting to an old job description or cut and pasting a mish mash of job descriptions together doesn’t always attract qualified talent. 

A great job description begins with taking the time to conduct a job analysis. This analysis will give insight into what skills, knowledge and abilities are required to perform the duties and responsibilities. To have a great output, it's important to delve into the tasks and sequences of tasks that need to be completed in order to understand who the best person is to complete them. 

Hiring teams must investigate the past and review the skills needed to perform the duties but also look to the future and determine what skills are more important as this role progresses. 

Why job descriptions are important? 

Realizing the importance of a job description will put organizations at a distinct advantage over the competition when engaging talent. Here's why: 

They pre-identify talent 

Job descriptions are also the starting point to creating job postings that will help determine a job seeker's interest level and whether they have the required qualifications for the work.  For instance, front loading the key skills in a job description will help job seekers to determine if they line up to an organization's expectations.  As job seekers are typically drawn to the first few bullet points of a job description, listing the highest level of skills first can help them assess if they have the qualifications to match, attracting top talent quickly and effectively.

They act as links within an organization 

Job descriptions play a part within the organization to link together different job roles and reporting structures. They also function to provide a framework to both the new worker and the organization in relation to where the job fits within the company.   

The linking of the job opportunity into the existing organization can provide clarity into how the job will interact with stakeholders and other colleagues.    

They add measurability 

A good job description must detail what the ideal candidate should bring to the position, but job descriptions must also include what will be measured and the expected outcomes. Setting realistic job expectations is key to not only finding the right person but ensuring your organization can retain this person long term.    

They help avoid the costs of a bad hire 

Along with must-have skills, knowledge and abilities, there are often key competencies that may be required for the position. These core requirements help to not only align the candidate to the job but can also prove critical to hiring the right cultural fit for the organization.   

Job descriptions are important, but they can be imperfect 

Acknowledging a job description is important, but it's equally as important to recognize that a job description has limitations - this way of thinking allows room for adjustments. 

If the position is newly defined, its future requirements may not yet be fully realized, and it's okay to review the job description, update it or fully re-write it. In fact, an imperfect job description can help: 

Identify blind spots 

Even though the job analysis has been completed, there may be several steps or tasks that may have been left out, inadvertently leaving the job preview with a few blind spots to the new hire. 

Updating the job description or knowing that these blind spots exist can help to highlight to the candidate some of those areas within the job interview.  

Provide flexibility  

As your organization begins to fill more senior job roles, these positions or projects may require more flexibility within the hiring requirements. An ideal candidate should be able to take initiative, drive projects and oversee deliverables within the position. However, engaging this type of worker may require massaging in order to provide for this autonomy.

Keep job requirements up to date 

External or internal changes can result in an out-of-date job description. Systems and processes change, reporting structures get updated and ensuring that all of this is accurately accounted for can be an intensive endeavor.  

The process to create job descriptions within an organization is not always optimal, but keeping them up-to-date and aligned to the organization’s changing systems, processes, initiatives and structures is key to a having a solid framework to begin the hiring journey.  

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