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Article by: Holly Hall — View more articles by Holly Hall

Posted on: August 21, 2020

What Goes into Writing a Job Description?

WHAT GOES INTO WRITING A JOB DESCRIPTION_-1As HR practitioners, we all know the importance of having job descriptions. However, in working with organizations in my HR consulting role, I have found that not every organization stays as up to date on job descriptions as they should. On several occasions, they are non-existent, not current, do not have all of the areas required, or are missing the ADA requirements.

[Keep reading to the end to review the HR compliance and risks involved in not updating your job descriptions regularly. With the potential consolidation of employee responsibilities caused by layoffs and furloughs, it’s incredibly important to review your job descriptions.]

Far too often, organizations believe the job posting is their job description. This is not the case. There are distinct differences between the two:

  • Job postings are an announcement marketing the opening in your organization. It should grab attention to attract candidates.
  • The job description is an internal document that aids in compliance and defines work standards and roles in the company. Some might consider them boring but necessary documents. Job descriptions provide required details for employees to perform their job.

The primary purpose of a job description is for internal use. It communicates to an employee the parameters of their job and provides managers with expectations of the position they should are to coach to. Recruitment uses it to create job postings to attract candidates. Compensation uses it to determine FLSA exemption classifications, salary levels, establish titles, and pay grades. Benefits uses it for compliance requirements with leave of absence, and to understand the essential job functions and physical requirements of the job to assess reasonable accommodation requests. Organizational development uses it to create skills for development and training requirements. And finally, the company uses it to determine where the position fits within the organization’s structure.

There are other uses, but you get my drift.

It’s for these reasons that you need to ensure job descriptions are done right. Let’s start with the basics of how to develop, update, or modify a job description.

The Position Analysis

Facts Myths written on a chalkboardThe position analysis is a method to gather information about the tasks and duties the employee is performing. The employee in the role completes the questionnaire. The questionnaire includes tasks they perform, the percentage of time spent on each task, the decision-making skills that are required, education and experience, any additional non-essential tasks, and any planning or scheduling activities. The employee also completes what knowledge, skills, and abilities they possess and their reporting relationship.

Once the employee completes the questionnaire, the manager reviews the information for validation and identifies any discrepancies based on their knowledge. Once all the information is gathered, the next step is to conduct interviews.

If you find there are a large number of employees in the same role, my recommendation is to select a representative sample of employees to complete the questionnaire.

The Interviews

Position InterviewConduct interviews to clarify or dive deeper into understanding the components of the person’s job. As part of the review, validate the percentage of time a person spends doing tasks. Interviews can be conducted in-person or over the phone but should last no more than 30 minutes. Based on the number of positions evaluated, this requires planning, time and effort to complete. For smaller HR departments serving a large employee population, this means carefully planning or bringing in someone to assist with the project.

The longest part of this process is from the position analysis through completing interviews because of the time it takes to gather and understand the components of the job. However once you have this complete, the job descriptions become relatively easy to prepare.

The Job Description

job description (1)Once the position analysis interview process is complete, you get to prepare the job description. Many of us know what goes into a job description but thought I would provide a refresher on the components. Most companies have job description templates but if not, SHRM has a template to develop the structure and format. The template is a great start, by make it your own in order to make it work for your organization’s needs.

The components that required on a job description include:

  • Position title: Name of the position
  • Reports to: This would be the direct manager/supervisor
  • Job summary: Function and objectives of the job (high level). If a supervisory position, include the number of people reporting to the position.
  • Essential functions: Required job functions that include how an individual is to perform them and the frequency. Tasks performed must be part of the job function and necessary or required to do the job.
  • Required education and experience: Must be based on the requirements of the job and are job-related and in line with business strategy
  • Physical demands: These are the physical demands of the job that will be used to perform the job, i.e. driving, lifting, sitting, lifting xx pounds.

HR and the manager of the position should review the completed job description. Once finalized and approved, evaluate the job for the grade level, salary range, and most importantly, the assigned exemption classification.

If you have a position in which no one is currently performing and you still want to maintain that position in your job family, make it inactive until it is ready to be filled. Then you will want to update and evaluate it before recruiting for the position.

The Risks

Managing risk business challenges uncertainty concept. Elephant with giraffe walking on dangerous rope high in sky symbol balance overcoming fear for goal success. Young entrepreneur corporate worldNot having a job description or having outdated job descriptions pose significant risks to the organization. Job descriptions are critical building blocks that identify employees’ tasks, responsibilities,how they directly support the company’s mission. If the job is not represented accurately, this can create challenges in employment law cases such as employment discrimination or wrongful termination claims.


An employee is terminated due to their inability to perform the necessary work for the job. The necessary work is considered the essential functions of the job noted on the job description. If this is not accurate, you would be challenged to defend your reason for termination

Job descriptions are also a valuable tool for evaluating FLSA exemption classifications. Most organizations make the mistake of only assessing the position based on the salary threshold outlined in the DOL guidelines. However, there are at least two other factors in the DOL requirements: a job duties test and the amount of independent judgment and decision making involved. Job descriptions are used to evaluate these two factors. The combination of the three tests determines the exemption classification for a position.

One other way job descriptions are critical is in the evaluation of a reasonable accommodation request. If you do not have the physical requirements of the position or the essential functions current, this possesses a problem with ensuring appropriate evaluation of accommodation requests.

If you find that you have potential risks with outdated, non-existent, or incomplete job descriptions, it’s a matter of maintaining compliance for your department. If you need assistance due to a lack of time or resources, we can provide expertise and an extra pair of hands.