How to Write an Effective Job Description

When it’s time to hire a new employee, do you find yourself cutting and pasting from similar job descriptions online, not knowing for sure whether the sections you included will actually lead you to hiring top performers?

Do you find yourself dusting off an old job description to discover it’s no longer relevant—only after you’ve hired someone who isn’t the right fit?

Your hiring process begins with your job description. That means it’s vital to clearly set expectations for candidates. Creating descriptive, thorough job descriptions that are highly relevant to your specific positions is well worth the time and investment.

So what makes a job description effective? Here are a few key elements to include:

Purpose. Why is this job significant? Why does it exist?

Primary duties. What tasks do you expect people in this role to complete?

Requirements. What types of education, training, experience, skills, travel time, abilities, knowledge or other characteristics does this position require?

Competencies. Which competencies does this position require to drive forward the strategic initiatives of the company?

Culture. What is the company’s culture and work environment like?

Values. What are the company’s values? What is the mission?

To create the most thorough and complete job description for your role, consider engaging in a job analysis to explore answers to the following questions:

  • What tasks does the position require on a day-to-day basis?
  • What does success in this position look like? How will you measure it?
  • What does your company need from top performers now and in the future?

And remember to revisit your job descriptions often—at least once a year. As the work world continues to change rapidly, it’s important to update and understand the competencies of each position at your organization. This way, you can ensure the requirements you need for today and for the future not only are accurate, but position your employees for consistent success.

Thomas Schoenfelder, PhD, is senior vice president, research and development at Caliper Corporation. Trevor Shylock, MS, is an industrial/organizational psychology consultant at Caliper.

Why Bother?

A well-developed, up-to-date job description:

  • Encourages unqualified job seekers to quickly self-select out if they feel they aren’t a good fit, while prompting better candidates to complete the application.
  • Provides legal backing should issues arise.
  • Offers a more complete picture of what a candidate needs to succeed in the role.
  • Saves you time and money when you need to hire someone quickly. —T.S. & T.S.