Editor's Note: The process of writing job descriptions doesn't have to be a pain in the butt, says Chuck Csizmar. In this Classic post, he shares some practical tips and strategies for working with managers to get these done!
After enough gloom and doom about managers hating job descriptions (last month's article), let’s take a fresh perspective and look at how writing descriptions should be handled. Call this a beginner's guide, a how-to procedural or simply a few tips ‘n tricks that can work wonders.
The Beginners Checklist
The process of writing descriptions doesn’t have to be a pain in the butt. It may never be a favorite activity, but we can take away a lot of the sting. It’s my view that a win-win strategy with your managers is to take a more simple and straightforward approach.
The basic needs:
- A simple, short and standardized form so that all descriptions look the same. Two pages, no more.
- The Basic Purpose of the job – a short summary you could verbalize in sixty seconds. Answer the question, "why does this job exist?"
- Focused bullet statements that describe only critical responsibilities. Explain what is key to the impact and import of the job.
Unfortunately many organizations require more than the basic essentials. They're looking for what I call the “extra toppings,” a combination of ancillary information, feel-good statements and subjective information that often doesn’t help.
If the idea is to describe the job, do we need to talk about candidate qualifications? And who is deciding this? Check whether incumbent employees meet those qualifications.
Length of experience? That’s another subjective area whose inclusion is intended to distinguish between core and senior level jobs. This is a short cut that avoids differentiating responsibilities.
More useful is a list of knowledge and skill requirements that a candidate must (or is preferred to) have. This helps recruiters screen candidates, but make sure you qualify the data.
Have a care before you ask for educational requirements, unless your legal staff can defend you. Many use an “equivalency” phrase, but who understands that?
Is heavy lifting required? Perhaps travel? Maybe it’s an outdoor job with dusty working conditions. Nothing wrong here, but does it need to be written down, or could it be verbalized to the recruiter / candidate – or simply assumed?
Sometimes an organization will add text to a description in order to comply with state or federal regulation. When ADA was announced, companies scurried to revise descriptions to provide acceptable language. That language didn't change the role of the job, and arguably didn’t have much of an impact on candidate selection, but the lawyers were happy.
Like I said, extra toppings. Have a care that your additional content requirements don’t become too extreme.
- Use bullet statements, not run-on sentences. Short and sweet. Focus on key words. A rule of thumb is to have at least four, and no more than eight bullets. Beyond that you’re either repeating or listing secondary tasks.
- Start each bullet with a strong verb, like plan, develop, advise, operate, design, prepare, etc. Powerful action more easily identifies either a direct or support role.
- Avoid weak verbs like assist (what does that mean?), coordinate or work with. Here the reader isn’t exactly sure of the job’s impact or import.
- Focus on the key responsibilities. The reader should come away with a clear understanding of the job's main points.
- Avoid flowery language, puffery that adds little clarity. “Drive and have a passion for x”, “Be the expert for . . “ and “serve as a thought partner” are taken from an actual client description.
- Throw away subjective adjectives that aim at the how, not the what(excellent, strong, persuasive, collaborative, successfully, smart, solid, immense, aggressive, etc.).
- Write the description as if there's no incumbent. Don’t be influenced by an employee's background and experience.
- Write the Basic Purpose last. Once you’ve already prepared the bullets it’s straightforward to complete the summary.
- Know when to stop. Some writers can’t help themselves – especially when listing the job tasks. They go on and on detailing secondary and minor tasks , as if everything is equally important.
The Manager's Friend
Remember what you're trying to accomplish. On the one hand to prepare effective job descriptions, but at the same time to make the process easier for the manager – the one responsible for getting them written. You want a win-win scenario.
So here are a few thoughts to help elevate you to hero status with your managers.
- Short and simple; managers can get behind that. Resist the temptation of “specialists’ who tell you all the extra toppings you need. Short forms are completed faster – with less complaints.
- Purchase a job description source book. A Google search will show several quality sources. If you send managers a generic copy of a likedescription, they'll have an easier time writing the proper description.
- Use the Manager as the “editor,” the subject matter expert who reviews the description. They should do that anyway, but it’s a treat when you’re not expecting them to write the darn thing.
- Offer to help. Careful here, so you don’t get sucked in, but offering support (training, reviews, Q&As) up front can remove some of the sting of having to do something they'd prefer to avoid.
- If some of the "extra toppings" are generic (i.e., ADA or other compliance language), tell the manager that they don’t have to worry about that stuff. HR will add it in later.
Good luck out there. Now you know how to keep managers from chewing off your head.
Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations. He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant. Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation. He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a clowder of cats.
Creative Commons image courtesy of fantasy prof