The majority of job descriptions are written today for a computer system. Many are written without any purpose at all. Very few are written with the employee and their supervisor in mind.

At the most basic level, job descriptions for employees need do only two things. They communicate the purpose of the job and the tasks which need to be completed.

Write both the purpose of the job and the tasks in an active form. Do not add embellishments and qualifications. Employees reading a job description written in this style are more likely to clearly understand what they have to do.

For example, a guest service agent in an hotel has the purpose of: Serve guests by taking reservations, welcoming, checking-in, escorting to room, responding to requests, listening and responding to complaints, providing room service, checking out and farewelling.

The tasks of a guest service agent in an hotel are:

  1. Attain the standard for grooming
  2. Take reservations by phone and walk-in, attaining the reservation standards
  3. Input reservations into the hotel system
  4. Check-in guests, attaining the hotel standards for greeting and check-in
  5. Maintain the guest experience by promptly responding to their requests
  6. Check-out guests, attaining the standards for farewells and check-out
  7. Improve product knowledge by attending training, reading brochures and using the products
  8. Improve guest service agent skills by attending training, seeking coaching and mentoring
  9. Protect guests by adhering to safety and hygiene policies and handling difficult guests
  10. Contribute to the hotel success by welcoming new and different requests and tasks, helping other associates

Note that some of the tasks have a standard which must be attained. The job description is not the place to write a lengthy piece on what standard must be achieved. Write a separate document specifically to communicate the standard, and the work instruction, when necessary.

Add a sense of priority to the tasks in the job description to aid the guest service agent’s understanding of what their job is about.

Priority can be added in two useful ways. One way is the element of time expected to be taken, as a percentage perhaps. Another more useful way is to nominate in bold the most important tasks. The employee then knows what tasks they should not do when put under time or other resource pressure.

A job description written in the way described lets the employee and the supervisor know exactly what the job is about. It is simple and easy to read and unambiguous.

Job descriptions are used for purposes other than telling an employee and a supervisor what the job is about. Whilst taking care to not dilute the prime purpose of a job description, the following elements may be added to suit.

Organisational hierarchy: Add in a box at the top of the job description what position the job reports to.

Authority: Add two boxes at the bottom with any monetary authority for requisition and for approval. This is the most used authority. Don’t complicate it any further with capital authority, authority to hire and fire or total budget authority. Leave that for a proper delegation of authority document.

Supervisory requirements: Add a task: “Supervises team tasks and manages team growth by?”

Working conditions: In some rare cases, this may be important. Only add a few lines about this if it is significant E.g. working outdoors in inclement weather, working in very hot conditions. Most job descriptions would not need this.

Equipment used: Add a few lines about the equipment to be used only if this is a significant part of the job and it is not normal for people to attain competence without training. Most job descriptions would not need this.

Physical requirements: Add in the specific requirements if this is significant in terms of strength, flexibility or size. Most job descriptions would not need this.

Qualifications required: Add in the minimum required to communicate the actual qualification required if there is a regulatory requirement, e.g. responsible serving of alcohol.

Experience required: Resist the temptation of putting in the experience required unless a competency framework or a competency rubric for positions has been developed. The same experience given to two people will result in two different levels of competency. It is the competency requirement which needs to be communicated, not the experience. If there is a well thought through and tested competency framework or rubric, put in the required competences for the job.

Key Result Areas (KRAs): If the tasks are well written and prioritised, then KRAs will be superfluous in the document. KRAs are useful when thinking through strategy and determining what the tasks for a particular job are and developing some KPIs for it. Once that is done, however, they serve little additional purpose in a job description.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): KPIs belong in a process document or a standards document. They should not be confused with targets E.g. Do something by a date to an agreed level of quality. Targets belong in planning documents and cascade down into appraisal documents, not job descriptions. KPIs are better put into process or standards documents to measure the process and set boundary conditions for the process. The job description needs merely to refer to the process document or standard with a requirement to attain the required standard.

Job descriptions are usually written and forgotten. They usually offer little to the employee in terms of understanding what their job is about. Often they become full of generic terms so that they may easily be stored, searched for and cross referenced in a computer system. Head office HR loves them for making life simple. Workplaces ignore them.

Write active, simple job descriptions if you want employees to benefit from the effort taken in writing them.