Why job descriptions are important

By Doug Sayed, Applied HR Strategies

As a compensation and benefits specialist, you might not see the usefulness in spending your time developing job descriptions. Some human resources (HR) professionals think their resources would be better spent on tasks other than developing a document that has limited uses. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Developing strong job descriptions is an important part of a compensation and benefits specialist's job. Job descriptions are essential to the successful development and implementation of many HR programs, including compensation plans.

How can I use job descriptions?

Job descriptions (JDs) have several uses within HR departments. Many HR programs and functions rely on the existence of high-quality JDs. If compensation and benefits specialists consider JDs only an option or consider developing JDs merely a bureaucratic exercise, many HR programs will lack a strong foundation. For example, JDs are essential for:

  • Employee recruiting and selection     JDs are necessary for creating advertisements and appropriate interview questions and for supplying job candidates with specific information.
  • Employee orientation     New employees have a better understanding of job expectations with detailed JDs.
  • Employee training and development     Accurate job training depends on accurate JDs.
  • Establishing job performance standards     Without a detailed description of a job and its essential functions, it is difficult to develop performance standards.
  • Benchmarking your organization's jobs     JDs are necessary to benchmark your organization's jobs with those in the external labor market.
  • Developing compensation programs     Developing and maintaining equitable and competitive compensation programs depend on the existence of solid JDs.
  • Performance reviews     A well-developed JD helps employees track their job performance goals and on-the-job progress.
  • Goal setting and performance management     Detailed JDs ensure that your organization can track employee and organizational goals and performance.
  • Meeting legal requirements     Compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other legal requirements depends on high-quality JDs.

Developing JDs is an essential part of managing organizations from an HR perspective. Compensation and benefits specialists should develop JDs as the first step in the development of base-pay compensation programs. JDs are needed to benchmark your organization's jobs to those in the external labor market.

Where can I get information for job descriptions?

To write an effective JD, you need sufficient information about the job. You can collect this information from several sources:

  • Existing job documentation such as previous JDs, job postings, and employment ads.
  • Job questionnaires filled out by job incumbents and their managers. These questionnaires are also called "job analysis questionnaires."
  • Observations of incumbents performing the job. This approach often works well with more labor-oriented and skill-oriented jobs.
  • Interviews with job incumbents and their managers about the job and the work performed.
  • Brief descriptions from salary surveys.

Who should write job descriptions?

After you have gathered sufficient information to develop the JD, you might wonder who is the ideal author for the description. The answer depends on your organization's resources and subject matter experts, and where those resources and expertise are located. Typically, HR professionals develop JDs and use them for a variety of purposes. If there are few HR resources, managers might develop JDs for jobs within their own departments.

What is important is not who develops the JD, but that the JD is accurate, based on information from reliable sources, and subject to a review process. Professionals in the same line of work or HR professionals with experience in developing JDs should review the JD before its approval.

Get ahead with job descriptions

Developing strong JDs and keeping them up to date is time well spent. As a compensation and benefits specialist, you are responsible for programs such as compensation plans that are based on JDs. Creating your organization's JD ahead of time can lead to success down the road.

About the author     Doug Sayed is founder and principal of Applied HR Strategies, Inc., a strategic human resources and compensation consulting firm based in Kirkland, Washington. Doug is a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP) with over 20 years of human resources and compensation experience.

Applies to:
Word 2003