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Job Descriptions: A Key to Effective Recruiting

Job Descriptions: A Key to Effective Recruiting
A good job description will provide a clear, concise overview of the role, how it relates to your company vision, a list of key responsibilities, requirements, and qualifications...

How much emphasis should you place on writing job descriptions for your staffing programs? Consider it one of the most important steps. Job descriptions form the foundation for important processes such as job postings, recruitment, selection, setting expectations, compensation, training, and performance management. A good job description will provide a clear, concise overview of the role, how it relates to your company vision, a list of key responsibilities, requirements, and qualifications.

The time you spend on developing job descriptions has several pay-offs. In addition to ensuring that staff duties align with company vision, the job description plays an integral role in allowing you to make informed hiring decisions, especially when it clearly outlines to applicants their role and responsibilities. Job descriptions can and should form the foundation for the development of interview questions. After the hire, they can also be used to determine areas in need of training and development when expectations or requirements are not being met. Clear job descriptions also allow for a basis on which to develop plans that ensure jobs are being compensated in ways that reflect their levels of responsibility and qualification in the organization. Finally, when used as a means to communicate expectations, job descriptions can also be used as a basis for performance management. For the employee, having a clear job description allows them to understand the responsibilities and duties that are required and expected of them.

Job descriptions typically have the following sections:

  • A high-level summary of the key duties

  • Identification of the values that should be demonstrated by all staff

  • A detailed list of the responsibilities

  • A description of the experience, knowledge, skills and abilities required

  • A list of any special working conditions or minimum physical requirements – e.g. must be able to lift 20 lbs.

No state or federal law requires job descriptions, but they can be important and helpful tools for both practical and legal reasons. Here are some of the most important:


Job descriptions can form the basis of effective communications after the hire; for example, they may address quality or quantity of performance standards, or even the work rules that apply to a particular job. Without such clear communications, employees may not perform to your expectations.


Job descriptions can help identify particular skills or abilities that are necessary for a position, as well as the environmental pressures and demands of the position. After reading the job description, some applicants may decide that they are not a good fit for the position or are not interested in it. If an applicant withdraws his or her application, then a prospective employer cannot be held liable for any adverse action under any applicable laws.


Some state or federal laws require reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities. Job descriptions can help with the interactive process that such laws require. A job description serves as a starting point for what the employer believes to be the essential job duties. The applicant or employee then must identify which of the listed duties he or she cannot perform.

Once those duties are identified, the employer and individual with a disability can begin an interactive dialogue about what accommodations may help the individual to perform those duties without being an undue hardship on the employer or without creating a direct threat to the individual or others. A job description can also be helpful in soliciting the advice of professionals such as physicians, chiropractors, counselors or rehabilitation therapists about whether the individual can actually perform a particular job.


If a job requires a particular certification, such as a commercial driver’s license, a particular degree, or professional designation, it should be listed in the job description. Similarly, if a negative drug test is required before starting or continuing work, that should be stated.

Other objective, minimum qualifications can be listed as well, including basics such as the need for good attendance and the ability to work well with others. Then, if a person seeks a position and does not possess the required certification or qualifications, you have a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not placing the person in the job.


Job descriptions will not, by themselves, determine whether a person should be exempt or nonexempt under applicable wage and hours laws. A job description must first accurately reflect the duties of a particular position. In addition, other elements of the applicable exemptions must also be present with respect to each individual worker to qualify as exe

But if you claim a person is exempt from minimum wage, timekeeping and overtime requirements under the “executive” exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the job description should state that the employee manages a “recognized department or subdivision” of the company and regularly supervises at least two or more full-time equivalent employees every week. Other managerial duties should also be referenced in the job description.

Similarly, for those employees that you are attempting to qualify as exempt under the “administrative” exemption, the job description should state that the employee “regularly exercises independent judgment and discretion about matters of significance” or words to that effect. Again, describing duties that involve such independent judgment and discretion, such as “negotiates” or “decides,” is also helpful.

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