8 tips for writing powerful job descriptions

Job Descriptions are a powerful document when written correctly. They can be used across all aspects of managing people.

So, it is important to understand that a good job description is more than just a bullet point list of what someone does in their day. It is a wonderful document that combines the day-to-day tasks of the role with the necessary skills, experience and qualifications, framed within a touch of marketing and understanding of the company and culture.

I know that sounds a little overwhelming so here the 8 key things to get it right:

1.Title: Match the role and company culture and keep it consistent

Your titles should reflect what the job is but it is important to match the brand and culture of the business too. If you run an accountancy business and your target clients are more mature and brand is more traditional, you might choose a title like “Tax and Business Services Accountant”.

Whereas an accounting practice that works with predominantly younger professionals and has a funkier feel might choose Accounting Angel. As titles normally go on email signatures, LinkedIn accounts and (if you still have them) business cards, titles need to work both internally and externally. Creative titles can help your business stand out but they can also scare away clients who don’t feel aligned to the brand.

Also keep those titles consistent. If you use the word lead not manager in one department do it for all departments. It saves on confusion and reduces difficult conversations about individual title preference later.

Over-the-top language like “rockstars,” “ninjas” can be off putting to anyone who is more reserved. Some of the best people, don’t feel comfortable with these labels and will be less likely to apply and less like to stay.

2. Position summary: Add structure, requirements and location

For me this information is usually presented as a table and covers important information such as:

  • whether the position is a full time, part time or casual position
  • who it reports to and sometimes who reports to it
  • location
  • significant requirements for example if there is a lot of travel involved or evening / weekend shifts etc. 

3. Company summary: Why do you want people to join your company

One of the ways a position description adds value to your business is creating common language. If everyone who joins your business or is promoted receives a position description with a shared vision and values we are more likely to strive to create that vision.

The company summary should be short, a one to four-sentence overview that nails what you want people in your team to be thinking about and why they do their job.

4. Position summary: Why is this role important

This important summary covers a description of the job’s major function, how it contributes to larger company objectives and why it’s important not just to the company, but to your clients or the community. Once again from 1 to 4 sentences is ideal.

ALSO READ: Why a good job description can save you time and money in the future

5. Detailed task list: Create a range of activities

For many of us, this is what they think about when “job descriptions” are mentioned. It is important that when people are asked they should be able to recall many of the key tasks. As a result, don't just write a long list. Spend some time grouping the activities together in a way that makes sense for example “Team Management”, “Client Development” and “Reporting” involve a range of activities that can be collected under the same heading.

Use language that will assist you in managing the performance of your team. For example rather than “answer the phone” a Receptionist should “answer the phone politely and in a timely manner.”

6. Qualifications and skills: Be clear - do you want degrees or experience

There are certain positions that require qualifications or certifications. If that is the case for your business, be specific. But challenge yourself to be realistic. Does it really need to be a degree, or can significant experience in a similar role provide the same knowledge? For example, a Doctor must have a degree. This is non-negotiable. But if you have an external accountant, perhaps an experienced bookkeeper is enough?

If the role needs to present at meetings/conferences or manage a team, it is appropriate to document it as something that requires proven experience.  Go through the tasks and look at what experience will assist them to be successful in the role.

Some of the skills might not be necessary as you can provide training and develop the skills, but they may be desirable. If you are recruiting, finding someone with these skills may be a bonus.

7. Behaviours: What kind of a person are you looking for 

Our behaviours build a culture. They are descriptors of how we work and might include being a team player, being able to work without supervision and attention to detail. Take the time to navel gaze about the qualities you need in your team and document them.

8. Acknowledgement: Make sure they understand and agree with the document

To ensure your team know and understand what’s expected of them, always include an acknowledgement section with space for the employee’s signature and date. 

Now that you’ve done the hard work, make sure the position descriptions are living documents. Use them regularly and as things change don’t be afraid to update them. Reviewing them with your employees at least annually is a great way to stay close to what is happening in their roles and ensure that if you need to use the document for any other purpose they are accurate.

About the author

Therese Ravell is an innovative Human Resources strategist with over 20 years’ experience across a diverse range of industries. Now, as the director of Impact HR, she provides HR guidance and support to other small business owners and managers for all their people needs.