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Putting Job Descriptions into Practice

by Corporate Relations and Business Strategy Staff

Whether you're just thinking about hiring office staff, have a well-established team of employees or need to reorganize your practice, job descriptions help communicate the essential nature of a job and lay the foundation for effective communication and streamlined practice operations. This article outlines core elements of a job description, provides tips for their effective construction and highlights useful resources to get you started.

A job description is a written synopsis of a job that specifies what work needs to be done, how it should be completed, the typical working conditions and the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform the job successfully. In short, a job description should clearly communicate the most important aspects of the job and the major duties you expect an employee to accomplish.

A good job description not only provides clarity for the jobholder, it is also an important tool for your practice. A good job description can:

  • help you identify qualified job applicants
  • lead to more effective and efficient hiring and selection practices
  • facilitate the process of assigning monetary value for compensation
  • help with employee training and development
  • provide adequate structure for employees
  • prevent role ambiguity and diffusion of responsibility
  • serve as a valuable resource for performance reviews
  • improve employee retention
  • help protect you legally

Potential job applicants make decisions about applying for a position based on the job description; therefore, carefully constructing it will help you attract the most qualified people. While a well-written job description serves as a springboard for successful performance, a poorly developed description can hinder communication and leave employees unsure of your expectations.

What's in a Job Description?

A job description is written for the novice, not the job expert and as such, should help someone unfamiliar with the job get up to speed quickly. There are a variety of ways to format a job description, but as a rule, it should be succinct. Job descriptions typically contain the following elements:

Job title and identifying information. Jobs are identified by title, such as office manager, billing clerk or staff psychologist. Identifying information provides further detail about the job, such as whether or not the position is exempt or nonexempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime and minimum wage provisions, the date the job description was last revised and the supervisor's title. Department or location of the job, as well as its pay scale or job grade may also be included in this section, if appropriate.

Job summary. The job summary should communicate the primary functions and general nature of the job. For example, the job summary for an administrative assistant might read, "Under limited supervision, provides assistance, coordination and administration of all office activities to support busy psychological practice."

Duties and responsibilities. This section describes the major tasks a jobholder is responsible for and clearly explains the scope of the incumbent's authority with regard to hiring, supervision and personnel issues, decision making and approval of purchases and other budget responsibilities. Each job duty should be listed separately and briefly described.

Other relevant information. Performance standards, working conditions and job specifications (i.e., the education, training, experience, skills and qualities needed to do the job well) are examples of what to include in this category. Sometimes job specifications are described more thoroughly in their own section, or in a separate document.

Tips for Writing a Job Description

Organizing job duties. One way to organize tasks and duties for a job description is to describe the position in terms of the percentage of time spent on each function. For example, if 30 percent of an administrative assistant's time is spent on day-to-day administrative tasks, 30 percent is interacting with computers, 20 percent is obtaining information from relevant sources, 15 percent is communicating with patients, clinicians and colleagues and 5 percent used to organize and plan work, then both you and the jobholder have a good idea of how time should be spent.

Flexibility is key. A job description is not set in stone. Descriptions for jobs should be updated whenever job content, requirements or qualifications change and should be reviewed annually. It is ideal for the job description to reflect the changing nature of the work environment so that employees feel there is room for growth. One way this can be accomplished is by choosing the wording carefully. "Puts patients' files into appropriate folders" is limiting, the same task could be reworded "Uses the most effective filing system to organize patients' files" which allows room for creativity. Remember, the goal is to use the job description to illustrate the most essential aspects of the job, not limit employees to performing specific tasks.

Additional Tips

  • Be brief, clear and specific
  • Use action words and present tense
  • Only use objective information
  • Leave out unnecessary filler words such as "a," "an," "the"
  • Avoid using generic phrases like "and other responsibilities"
  • Stay away from vague words like "often," frequently," "several"

For example, rather than writing, "The employee will be responsible for entering the data into the computer frequently," you might state, "Employee enters data into computer daily."

Additional Resources

When gathering information to write a job description it may be helpful to review the following websites. These resources contain a wealth of information and can serve as a good starting point for writing job descriptions. However, keep in mind that while a generic job description may be similar to a position you are trying to describe, you, your employees and your practice will be best served by customizing it to fit the unique characteristics of your practice.

In short, a well-thought-out, up-to-date, well-written job description will help attract the best employee for the position, ensure that his/her job responsibilities are clearly defined, and make the most of your staffing resources.

Note: The material presented in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Many aspects of hiring, selection, classification and personnel management are governed by equal opportunity, ADA, and other employment law and may vary by state. Be sure to consult with your attorney and/or a human resource management professional, as necessary.

Date created: 2007