The Value of Job Descriptions

By Davon Cook on December 23, 2015

An important issue in strengthening human resources in family businesses is writing useful job descriptions. When you start to hire, the job description is important for two reasons:

  1. The process of writing it forces you to think through the what, where, and how of this employee’s role. That helps you recruit more effectively and increases your chances of successful retention.
  2. The information provided helps the candidate make an informed decision. Most people looking for a job have some anxiety about the unknown changes ahead. A job description eliminates some of the ambiguity and helps him/her ask informed questions.

What should it include? I will outline a common format, but you will see many variations in practice.  In my opinion, the category titles are less important than the quality of the information included--and the value of the reflection that helped create it. The example below assumes you will be posting this publicly.

  • Position title:  Come back to this at the end of the process, after you really understand what you want the person to do and how he/she fits into the organization.
  • Purpose: You may choose to further clarify the main goal of this position, particularly if it’s management. Why is this person there? What goal are you asking them to accomplish for the organization?
  • Company background: This is an optional and brief description of your company to educate and recruit. (2-4 sentences)
  • Responsibilities or Duties: List the tasks this person will do every week. There is a happy medium of how specific to be.  For example, you need not list every implement, but you could say, “Operate commercial scale farm equipment, including 120 ft. sprayer and combine” since those require a higher skill set. Segment the year by months as you build your duties list to remember major activity themes. This is likely the longest section of the description.
  • Qualifications: This describes the “checklist” that a candidate must meet to be considered. It would include education required and/or preferred, work experience, experience required in specific situations (e.g. use of specific software), language skills, etc.
  • Expectations or Standards: If you wish, emphasize work standards or expectations that are particularly important to this position or your organization in general. This could include statements like “Must be able to work independently with little direction” or “Attention to detail is critical to this position”.  You may also include values that you wish to emphasize such as “Teamwork is a core value that our organization stresses. You may be asked to assist in other tasks when team members need help.”
  • Relevant details: This includes work location, supervisor, a general statement of work hours, and list of benefits, if any. There is certainly more conversation needed in the interview and hiring process to clarify expectations of hours and benefits, but including general guidance in the job description helps screen for realistic candidates at the beginning. This section also would include compensation (or a range) if desired; however, it is also common to say “Compensation based on experience” and discuss that after you consider the candidate.

Sometimes writing job descriptions seems tedious, but the return on investment both for yourself and the applicant is significant.