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Recruitment and Selection: Job Descriptions

In a global, competitive environment it is most often the people in an organization that make the difference between success and failure. 

Author: David Johnson

Types of job descriptions

A tool of this importance attracts a fair bit of commentary and of course a variety of opinions about the instrument.  In the more traditional approach to writing job descriptions they are considered “a snapshot of what’s needed at a particular point in time” (Moravec & Tucker, 1992) and the “knot that ties what should be done with what is being done” (Busi, 1990).   This type of job description focuses on the “how” of getting the job done and often relies on the incumbent’s experience to develop the descriptions.  There seems to be a lack of flexibility, when using this approach, to account for technological change or other innovation that will impact the job or the tasks of the job.  A second approach to this issue is the use of generic job descriptions.  The underlying principle in this endeavor is to recognize the tool as a communication device that “describes the job to the applicant; facilitates communication between the supervisor and the employee about the employee’s role; outline the principal expectations and specific accountabilities associated with the position; and identify work flow” (Sunoo, 1996).  The generic job description is flexible because it focuses on expectations and accountability without discussions of how to perform.  There has been some movement away from the standard job description model to accommodate the requirements of multi-national corporations who need to tap into the strengths of employees throughout the world despite the variety of legislation and working conditions. Moravec and Tucker (1992) describe a third option that has been successfully deployed by BP Exploration Inc that creates a set of matrices to fulfill the role of job descriptions which focus on creating a framework of increasing proficiencies in certain skills against a career path.  In the context of a global organization this allows for pathing and career planning across the organization regardless of the country the employee is currently located.

Elements

Whether they use the traditional approach or follow the generic version model there are common elements in any good job description.  John Ivancevich (2004, p174) suggests that a well written job description should have five elements: 1) Job Title, 2) Summary, 3) Equipment, 4) Environment, and 5) Activities.  The literature on the topic is quite extensive and in most instances, it mirrors these categories although often under different names.  Appendix A illustrates these similarities by comparing the material presented by Ivancevich in a table using three alternate sources.  There is some divergence on the need to include equipment in the description; however, it seems the difference is more because the articles are aimed at markets that would be creating descriptions for jobs where equipment is not a factor, or the category is included in under another heading.  

The other interesting difference, both in the literature and in the examples selected, is a disagreement about including the education and experience requirements. The inclusion of this element has strong support, but it is certainly not unanimous and I would argue should be treated an addendum designed for the hiring process.   This is useful information for recruiting purposes and is included to assist in the interview and screening process.  The data is of little value to the supervisor or the employee once she is hired so, in my opinion, should not be part of the actual job description.  

Despite the fact that there are no definitive standards for job descriptions it would seem that, at least from a theoretical stand point, there is a common acceptance of the elements described by Ivancevic.  If I were to choose a model to emulate the material presented by J. George-Falvy (2004) is a thorough and easily read description of the elements.

Conclusion

The proposition that a well written job description will contain five elements: 1) Job Title, 2) Summary, 3) Equipment, 4) Environment, and 5) Activities seems to be confirmed both in the literature and in practice.  In both instances where these “rules” were followed the document clearly defines the job and develops a set of expectations to guide the employee and the supervisor.  They also created a valuable instrument to assist the recruiter to screen for the most qualified applicants and hire the best candidate for the job.  The job posting which did not account for the elements was just the opposite.  The applicant did not have a clear idea of the job and the recruiter was left with a vague idea of who to screen into an interview and ultimately hire.

Appendix A: Comparison of elements of a job description from various sources:

Human Resource Management (1) Women’s Business Centre (2)
Leading Edition (3)
Writing Job Descriptions (4)
Job Title: title of the job and other identifying information such as its wage and benefits classification Job Title: (no description for this heading) Organizational Information: job title, department, reporting relationships, is the job full or part-time etc Identification: job title, code (DOT), alternative title, department  
Summary: brief one or two sentence statement describing the purpose of the job and what outputs are expected Job Objective:  the summary should describe the broad function and scope of the position and be no longer than three or four sentences Job Summary: two to four sentences to answer the questions “what does this job exist?” Job Summary: should be used to summarize “what the worker does”, “how the worker does it”, “why the worker does it”. What includes physical and mental actions, how includes machinery and tools used and why states the purpose of the job. 
Equipment: clear statement of the tools, equipment and information required for effectively performing the job     It is suggested by the author that this topic be included in the job summary section
Environment: description of the working conditions of the job, the location of the job and other relevant characteristics of the immediate work environment such as hazards and noise levels   Working Conditions: the physical, mental and environmental conditions in which the work is performed.

Working Conditions: list the conditions the worker will be exposed to along with approximate times of the exposure

Physical Demands: include standing, lifting, carrying and other demands
Activities: includes a description of the job duties, responsibilities and behaviors performed on the job.  Also describes the social interaction associated with the work.

List of Duties: item by item list of principle duties, continuing responsibilities and accountability of the position.

Relationships and Roles: includes all supervisory positions, subordinating roles or other working relationships
Duties /Responsibilities: listing of major duties, and responsibilities

Supervision: identify supervision received or performed

Functions and tasks: critical duties and elements the incumbent performs, include an indication of what, how and why for each function

    Job Specifications: the minimum education, work experience, knowledge, skills and abilities required for the job Training and experience: describe educational requirements, previous experience that are needed to perform the job 

(1) Ivancevich, J. (2004). Human Resource Management (9th ed). New York: McGraw Hill

(2) Writing effective job descriptions.  Retrieved August 28, 2005 from Online Women’s Business Center web site: http://www.onlinewbc.gov/Docs/manage/descriptions.html

(3) Well written job descriptions are worth the effort. (2004, April) Leading Edition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors. Retrieved from Purdue University web

(4) George-Falvy, J. (2004). Writing job descriptions. Retrieved October 4, 2005 from the University of Washington Business School, Jane George-Falvy personal web page: http://faculty.washington.edu/~janegf/writingjobdescriptions.htm


Bibliography:

Busi, D. (1990). The Job Description: More than bureaucratic control. Supervisory Management, 35, 5-6

George-Falvy, J. (2004). Writing job descriptions. Retrieved October 4, 2005 from the University of Washington Business School, Jane George-Falvy personal web page: http://faculty.washington.edu/~janegf/writingjobdescriptions.htm

Ivancevich, J. (2004). Human Resource Management (9th ed). New York: McGraw Hill

Lidner, J. (1995). Writing Job Descriptions for Small Businesses. Retrieved September 17, 2005 from Ohio State University, Community Development web site:  http://ohioline.osu.edu/cd-fact/1376.html

Morave, M., Tucker, R. (1992).  Job descriptions for the 21st century. Personnel Journal, 71(6),  37-41

Sunoo, B. (1996). Generic or non-generic job descriptions. Personnel Journal, 75(2), 102-103

Well written job descriptions are worth the effort. (2004, April) Leading Edition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors. Retrieved from Purdue University web site: http://www.purdue.edu/hr/LeadingEdition/LEdi_404_job_descriptions.htm

Writing effective job descriptions.  Retrieved August 28, 2005 from Online Women’s Business Center web site: http://www.onlinewbc.gov/Docs/manage/descriptions.htm

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