APU Business Original

How to Conduct a Job Analysis and Write a Job Description

By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Associate Professor, Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business

Hiring and recruitment is an important function in any organization that relies on human capital. But understanding a job description and advertising for a job in a way that attracts the right kind of applicants can be a difficult undertaking.

Advertising and Hiring for Any Position Starts with a Deep Understanding of the Role

The first step in advertising and recruiting for any position is understanding the nature of the position itself. For instance:

  • What does the person in this job do?
  • What are the responsibilities of the role?
  • What are the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) a candidate will need to possess?
  • What other departments within the organization will an employee interact with and/or depend upon to perform the job?

There are several ways to go about acquiring this information. Perhaps the simplest method is to simply observe those people doing the job currently. What do they do? How many hours do they work? What are the requirements in terms of skills and experience? Among those who currently perform the role, who is most successful and why?

Conducting a Job Analysis Also Requires Interviewing Current Employees

But just making observations probably won’t provide a complete picture of the position. Why? Because there is always more to a task than meets the eye. So another important component of analyzing and understanding a position is to confer with those individuals who are already doing the job.

This information can be acquired through a variety of methods. For example, the company could issue a questionnaire with either closed-ended questions, open-ended questions or both.

Closed-ended questions (e.g., requiring yes/no or true/false answers) are easier to analyze statistically. But open-ended questions might lend themselves to more helpful qualitative data.

In-person interviews are another way to consult existing personnel about the nature of their jobs. If there is only one person performing the role in question, then such an interview would likely just be a one-on-one scenario.

If there are multiple employees occupying the position in question, then the person collecting data must decide whether interviews should be conducted individually or in groups. Group interviews might be more efficient in terms of time and resources.

However, interviewers should be careful about group interviews, because often the peer pressure of having others present can cause bias or distortion in answers. In other words, the interviewees might influence each other in a way that is unhelpful.

Another problem with interviews – and questionnaires for that matter – is that respondents are likely to give you the answers they think you want to hear or the answers that are most self-serving. For example, let’s say that an interviewer asks an employee about how difficult his job is and what skills are required to do it. Would we expect the employee to say that he has the easiest job in the world? Would the employee say that the function is unimportant and that any moron could perform the duties of the role? Probably not.

No, what we might reasonably expect the employee to say is that his job is difficult, requires unique skills and abilities, and is crucial to the operation of the organization. Why? Because otherwise, the company might undervalue his efforts and actual contributions, so the employee is incentivized to perhaps be less than completely honest.

It’s Also Helpful to Get External Perspectives on Job Positions

For this reason of potential biased input from employees, human resources experts would do well to look outside their organizations for external perspectives on their job positions. For example, if a hotel is looking to hire staff for the front desk, they might observe and interview their own front desk agents.

But they might also look to their competitors in the industry to see what they’re doing. What are their hiring requirements? What KSAs are identified in the job description? How do the expectations of the jobs compare? Is there a difference in pay or benefits offered?

In addition to scanning the external environment of competitors, hiring professionals might also enlist the help of industry consultants. These experts can evaluate the position of a company from an “outside-in” perspective and then offer recommendations on hiring strategies. Such consultants usually come at a healthy cost for their services, but their advice in these employee matters can often be invaluable.

Writing an Accurate Job Description

Once the scope of a job has been fully evaluated and analyzed, the hiring team must write (or revise) the job description to portray an accurate reflection of the role’s circumstances. Details that are typically incorporated into job descriptions should include (but are not limited to):

  • Job Title – The name of the role to be filled.
  • Job Classification This information would normally be an indication of whether a position is considered “exempt” or “non-exempt” for Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) purposes. The determinants of job classification are complex, but I have previously written about this subject in another article.
  • Full-Time vs. Part-Time – This information would indicate the number of hours a prospective employee is expected to commit to the job. Note that this choice has implications for the Affordable Care Act and mandatory employer-subsidized employee health insurance coverages.
  • Schedule – This information would include the number of hours for each workday and which days the employee would be required to work weekly.
  • Pay – I have written previously about how many companies opt not to publish compensation information in job descriptions. Some states and cities have moved to require transparency in pay for anti-discrimination reasons. However, it is often to an employer’s advantage to publish at least the range of compensation that an applicant might expect to earn in a position for reasons of equity and efficiency. In terms of establishing sufficient pay ranges, employers should look to the scope of the job, the competitive environment and the economic landscape in general to determine what pay range is appropriate for the position.
  • Reporting Structure and Supervisory Duties (if any) – Job descriptions typically describe what role or department an employee in that position reports to. A job description will also indicate if the position has direct reports.
  • Functions and Objectives This component of the job description is typically the most robust. It usually details the purpose of the position and describes the duties to be performed. Job routines can be articulated in as much detail as is appropriate; however, employers would also be wise to include language which clearly explains that the job description should not be misconstrued as an exhaustive list of expectations and that other duties may be assigned as needed. This strategy tends to prevent prospective employees from viewing the job description as a kind of rigid contract, as at-will employment typically allows for evolving job duties over time.
  • Required and Preferred Qualities – This section explains which attributes for an applicant are mandatory and which are “nice to have” in the role. Such qualifications might include education, work experience, certifications, training, language-speaking proficiency and other specific KSAs. Availability for travel (and how much) should also be included in this section. Finally, this component should include any required physical dexterity, such as the ability to lift a certain amount of weight or stand for long periods of time. But employers should be very careful about these requirements as they can lead to discrimination claims when they are not precisely tailored to the actual requirements of the job.
  • Work Environment – This section would describe the kind of environment in which prospective employees should expect to work if hired. This information in the job description puts applicants on notice as to whether they will be working in, for example, a noisy factory versus a quiet office environment. Also, many 21st- century jobs have transitioned to remote work paradigms where employees can work from home or elsewhere, so modern job descriptions should detail whether the positions are onsite, remote, or a combination of both.
  • Affirmative Action – Affirmative action programs are optional in the private sector. They may be required in public sector and government contractor contexts, but affirmative action is more complicated than it appears. Whether or not an employer uses an affirmative action policy for hiring, this information should be disclosed to applicants.
  • Updated Timestamp – Job descriptions will inevitably change over time in any organization as the internal and external conditions of the company shift and evolve, so job descriptions should be updated periodically. A date and a timestamp for the last update should also be included on a job description, so that anyone who views it knows how recent (or not) the information contained in the job description actually is.

Job Analysis and Job Descriptions Are Challenging But Also Important

Job analysis and job description authorship are time-consuming and challenging processes. But they are among the most important tasks that any organization can do to promote clear expectations and unambiguous parameters for employees working in service of the company’s mission.

The time spent on these duties may seem tedious when things are moving forward smoothly. But the effort to establish this kind of infrastructure for an organization’s human resources function can pay dividends when urgent and critical hiring needs present themselves.

As with most things, preparation and planning are recipes for success. Consequently, accurate job analysis and job description management should be a top priority for any competent human resources professional.

Gary Deel

Dr. Gary Deel is a faculty member with the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business. He holds an M.S. in Space Studies, an M.A. in Psychology, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership, an M.A. in Criminal Justice, a J.D. in Law, and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches classes in various subjects for the University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, Colorado State University, and others.

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