Job descriptions are a fundamental HR management tool that can help increase individual and organizational effectiveness by describing the tasks, duties, and responsibilities that an employee will work on. For the organization, good job descriptions contribute to organizational effectiveness by:
- Making sure that the work carried out by staff is in line with the organization’s mission.
- Showing where and when responsibilities between jobs overlap.
- Helping management identify the most appropriate employee for new duties when changing how work is shared between positions.
In addition to their use for organizations, job descriptions also help employees understand:
- Their duties and responsibilities.
- The relative importance and frequency of their duties.
- How their position contributes to the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization.
A job description can be viewed in two parts. First, the description of duties (what needs to get done) and second, the Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Other Factors (KSAOs) required to do the job (what it takes to do the job).
Job descriptions inform most HR management activities, including:
- Recruitment: You can use job descriptions to help develop your recruitment strategy, ensuring that it clearly articulates the duties the successful candidate will perform and the experience and competencies required by the organization for the position.
- Selection: Interview questions, hiring criteria and the screening process are based on the duties and qualifications outlined in the job description.
- Orientation: Job descriptions help the employees see how their position relates to, interacts, and works with other positions in the organization.
- Training: You can use job descriptions to identify areas where employees do not meet their position's qualifications and require training.
- Performance management: Supervisors can use job descriptions alongside work plans, to monitor, evaluate, and manage employee performance. Job descriptions can also be used to make decisions about advancement, transfers, or succession plans.
- Compensation: Your organization can use job descriptions to help develop a consistent salary structure based on the relative level of duties, responsibility, impact, and qualifications of each position.
- Legal Compliance: You have an obligation to respect employment standards and the contract that you have with an employee. If you must terminate an employee for poor performance, an accurate, complete, and up-to-date job description will help you justify your decision.
Developing a job description
When developing a job description, consider the following:
- Are the responsibilities and duties accurate?
- Does the order of the duties and responsibilities reflect their importance for your organization? Descending order is most typical.
- Are the qualifications appropriate for your organization and/or the market?
- Does the language, including the title and content, suit your organization — alternatively, will it make sense for external candidates?
If a job description is being developed or revised for an existing and filled position, actively involve the incumbent in the process.
Any significant changes to an employee's responsibilities need to be discussed and negotiated with them, and their written consent to the changes should be obtained. Fundamental changes may attract claims of constructive dismissal.
A typical job description contains:
The title of the position and some alternative titles for the same position.
The job purpose, sometimes called the job statement, is a brief overview of why the job exists, and its impact on the organization.
Primary duties and responsibilities
Examples of the common duties performed by individuals in the position. The duties listed cover most of the tasks that an individual would perform in the position. The list is not exhaustive — some of the duties may not be appropriate for every organization and additional duties may be required by an organization.
Some jobs have tasks and duties that vary or change a lot. To account for this, some organizations choose to name larger responsibilities that are less likely to change, focusing on a field of impact, rather than an extensive list of tasks and duties. While tasks often change, responsibilities are less likely to shift regularly.
The minimum qualifications necessary to successfully perform the job. Minimum qualifications are used to ensure that:
- Candidates who do not possess the minimum qualifications are not considered for the job.
- Qualifications are not inflated, and therefore potentially discriminatory.
- Capable individuals are not screened out during the recruitment process.
The qualifications described are education, professional designation, knowledge, skills, and abilities, plus other factors such as personal attributes.
Asset qualifications, sometimes referred to as “nice to haves”, are those elements that candidates may have and that employers would see as giving a candidate an advantage while still not being a required quality to be considered for the job.
Important: Make sure job requirements are rational, made in good faith, and absolutely necessary to perform the job — as per Bona Fide Occupational Requirementsopens in new tab (BFOR).
The number of years and types of required experience to be successful in the position. Job descriptions may also mention relevant or related experience or a range of experience required for a job.
Working conditions explain the context or environment in which employees are expected to accomplish their work. The working conditions are an essential part of the employee’s experience of a job. Some common working conditions include working outside under the elements, working indoors, having to bend and crouch all day, exposure to hazardous materials, working with unhappy clients, or working fully remote. These accurately describe the nature of the environment that someone can expect their work to take place in.
Some working conditions are a required part of a job, but it’s important to make sure that you don’t create unnecessary or illegal barriers for people with disabilities. For example, a job may require heavy-lifting — and this would be a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR) — however, falsely stating heavy-lifting is required can create a problem for applicants and leave you vulnerable to legal action.
You can add a benchmark to your job description, referring to an external database of job information. It acts as a useful point of reference when comparing jobs outside your organization. Consider:
- The appropriate occupational description in the National Occupational Classification (NOC) as a comparison. The NOC provides a standardized framework for describing occupations and can be used to link to labour market information.
- O*NET, the American equivalent of the NOC. While the information on salaries and some statistical analysis on the workforce is not appropriate for benchmarking Canadian jobs, the database of job information is huge and full of useful task descriptions, responsibilities, job titles, job statements, working contexts and other demographics that could be very useful while designing or comparing jobs, or when you write your job descriptions.
All job descriptions should end with an equal opportunity and inclusion clause. This ensures that members of traditionally marginalized communities are encouraged to apply and considered for these positions.
Example equity statement:
We provide equal employment opportunity for all applicants and employees and do not discriminate on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status, disability, or any other characteristic protected by local law.
An accessibility clause can also be included. One that allows for persons with disabilities to know that accommodations can be made for the interview process. This way the company is committed to removing any potential barriers that may prevent them from participating in this process. For example, using an accessible version of zoom or other video conferencing tool with closed captions or conducting the interview in a well lit, accessible space (if meeting in person).
Example accessibility statement:
We welcome and encourage applications from people with disabilities. Accommodations are available on request for candidates taking part in all aspects of the selection process.
Job description approval
Your organization should have a job description approval process. For example, in some organizations the job description would be unanimously voted in a consensus-based structure, or it might be a department that approves it, or it might be a unionized environment that would stipulate a special procedure in the collective agreement. That said, the most common scenarios include:
- The board or a sub-committee of the board approves the job description for an executive director.
- In small organizations, the executive director approves all staff job descriptions.
- As organizations grow, the executive director may delegate job description approval to an appropriate manager or team.