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At the heart of the recruitment process lies the general concept that a company needs to hire people to complete certain tasks or group of tasks within the organization. The description of the various responsibilities of each position can usually be found within the “job description” or “job specification” that is typically put together by business owners or managers.

Recruiters and human resource managers rely on clear and concise job descriptions to streamline the application and interview process and to judge work performance after a person has been hired.  Job descriptions and specifications usually include known duties and responsibilities, required levels of education and work experience, salary and benefits provided to employees in exchange for their labor, and information regarding the work environment. Job description also may include helpful details addressing other work-related issues, such as the position’s travel obligations, normal work schedule, physical locations where duties of position will be carried out, union status, supervisory relationships, bonuses, and any other information directly pertinent to the execution of any and all responsibilities associated with the job.  Effective job descriptions let employees know what is expected from them. If people are going to perform their assigned work, then they obviously have to know what it is, how to do it, and how to measure the results. Either someone has to explain it all to them, or they have to figure it out themselves. 

Researchers, executives, and small business owners all agree that job descriptions -if studied and created carefully and used appropriately as a productivity measure tool – can help organizations, especially in the early stages of a worker’s employment. Job descriptions are potentially one of the most powerful tools available to help managers improve employee performance and productivity. They have greater utility for every phase of human resource administration. From designing jobs and rewards systems, through staffing and training to performance evaluation and control, the job description is literally indispensable if the human resource is to be managed properly. A recent analysis of job description usage uncovered 132 major management uses for job description. Probably no other management tool has such potential for usage in such a wide variety of significant ways.

Job Description and Company Culture

The level of detail utilized in the creation of job descriptions and the monitoring of employee execution of the duties articulated therein can vary tremendously from organization to organization. A multinational corporation, for example, may have job descriptions that are far more formal and detailed in their contents than those used by a small local business. 

Companies in different industries tend to approach the issue of job descriptions differently as well (tool and die manufacturers, for example, are more likely to institute job descriptions for various positions than are fishing charter services). And, finally, some business owners and management teams simply institute and nourish different company cultures that may have dramatically different conceptions of job descriptions and their utility. For example, companies that operate in a flexible working environment in which employee roles are fluid and expectations change may find the quest to define various job parameters to be a daunting one. 

The essence of the problem is how clear directives, where these are needed, can be reconciled with flexible work systems.  One approach to this is for a manager to set up a job as a working hypothesis on how the work should be carried out. Added to this is a system of continuing feedback to check whether the job is proceeding as expected. Thus, the boundaries and content of the job can be defined through an interactive communication process. 

But researchers note that on the whole, larger organizations will often, out of either real or imagined necessity, institute more formalized job description/monitoring procedures. Still, in many companies with detailed plans in this area, job descriptions are usually thought of as something for the low-level people in an organization. Higher ups have ‘mission statements’ which sound good but are hard to measure. So we have all these people doing things which we may or may not have agreed to do. It doesn’t take very long before a great deal of the organizations work has very little to do with the main objectives of the business. 

Other business consultants contend that job descriptions can help business enterprises maintain their focus at all job levels, including top management and ownership positions. Owners of family establishments or very small business enterprises, meanwhile, may simply decide that formal job descriptions are unnecessary. Ultimately, each small business owner needs to consider the unique aspects of his or her own business situation when deciding how to define and monitor the responsibilities of each work position.

Using and Maintaining Job Descriptions

Job descriptions can be valuable business resources when used correctly. But many companies do not take full advantage of these documents, either because they are ignorant of their possibilities or because of the company-wide perceptions that they are of limited use.  Several factors can limit the effectiveness of these documents:

  • Managers unfamiliar with purpose and usage of job descriptions.
  • Vague, inaccurate, outdated, or incomplete job descriptions
  • Managers not motivated to utilize job descriptions.
  • Job descriptions arranged in format that is not standardized or friendly to managers or employees
  • Job in question “escapes definition” because of fluidity, variety of tasks, etc.

Entrepreneurs and managers, then, need to attend to all of these potential pitfalls when creating job descriptions for their workforce. In addition, human resource management experts hasten to point out that job descriptions are only effective if they are subject to continuous review and revision.

  1. Continuous updating – Each employee’s job description should be amended when his or her duties change. Reassigning tasks or simply letting them drift until someone steps in to do them is not a good idea. It doesn’t matter that everyone in the company knows who’s doing the work, and that the situation is understood. One commonly overlooked aspect of this requirement is that employers should react quickly when an employee quits or is terminated. In such instances, each task formerly carried out by an ex-employee should be formally reassigned in writing to another person’s job description.
  2. Proper Classification – Employers who remain cognizant of job descriptions and classifications when assigning various tasks are far less likely to get tripped up on overtime hassles than businesses that are careless about such issues.
  3. Communication – In addition to regularly scheduled performance reviews, employers should make sure that employees who find their duties and responsibilities undergoing change have the opportunity to ask questions – and even raise objections.


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