I see a lot of organisations that don’t have JDs in place, working on the basis that people just ‘know’ what they should be doing. But what happens if someone gets abducted by aliens (it could happen…) and someone else has to take over at short notice? As well as setting expectations for the jobholder, a properly written job description can help to:


– Recruit and select the right person for the job

– Develop standards of performance

– Conduct job evaluations

– Assist in the recruiting and screening processes

– Determine training and development needs

– Appraise employee performance


A new job description should be initiated whenever a position is created or an existing position undergoes a major change in its duties.  The description is best written by the person most familiar with the actual or proposed day-to-day activities of the job – so usually the jobholder and line manager working together, with some help from HR if needed. And also some help from me below! 

The major objective of the position briefly describes the job’s primary purpose, indicating its level of complexity and explaining its value to the organisation. Basically, answering the questions ‘What does this person do?’ and ‘ Why does the job exist?’ So, for example:


– To carry out efficiently and effectively the organising and assisting of the activities of managers in the  department.


– To assist in the preparation and maintenance of the company’s financial records (manual and  computerised) and in the proper handling of its various cash transactions.


The ‘Responsibilities’ describe the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and/or year-to-year principal job responsibilities.  Simply and clearly, it describes the specific ‘what’ the job does – it is the what and not the how that’s important.  The intent of the job description is to capture the job’s essence rather than to detail every activity performed.  Generally 8-12 concise statements will capture the key elements of a job.

Remember to be logical – make the job description easy for the reader to understand.  For repetitive jobs, describe the duties as they occur in the work cycle and for varied jobs, list the major responsibilities first and less frequent or less important duties later.  Cover all the job’s meaningful duties while limiting the amount of detail.

General responsibilities which apply to all staff can also be included eg observing health and safety, corporate social responsibility etc.

After writing or updating the job description, ask the following questions:


1          Does it accurately describe what the jobholder is doing/should do?

2          Is the importance of the position to the company clear?

3          Could someone unfamiliar with the job read the job description and understand the work that is actually being done?


Once you’ve got over the initial hurdle of writing the job description, review it regularly (eg during annual appraisal), for several reasons:


– to update and redescribe duties which have changed to reflect different work patterns, new activities etc.

– to incorporate new duties arising from introducing new technology, work practice etc.

– to adjust the scope of a job (or group of jobs) following re-structuring/re-organisation.

– to transfer duties or group tasks according to a more logical basis or to take into account increasing workload.


Finally, I often hear people referring to a ‘job spec’, confusing a job description with a person specification. So let’s clear up the terminology!  The job description concentrates on the job, its content and organisation – the ‘what’.  The person specification highlights the type of person needed to undertake the duties and responsibilities of the job eg education standards, previous experience, competence in the use of certain equipment or machinery, personal qualities and desirable skills/ knowledge – the ‘who’.  You can put these in one document if you like, but why blur the edges and confuse things? Better to make sure that everything is distinct, simple, and fit for purpose!

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