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What Are Some Issues to Consider When Drafting Job Descriptions?

by Terri Williams

Creating an effective job description is a delicate balancing act. It must include enough information to clearly define responsibilities, but at the same time the description can’t be so long that it reads like a novella. A job description is also essential for evaluating work and promoting, disciplining, or firing an employee.

Measurable and Attainable Performance

Each item in the job description must be measurable and attainable. For example, “obtain 1,000 new clients each month,” is measurable, but it’s not attainable in almost any company. On the other hand, “obtain new clients,” is attainable, but not measurable because there is no time frame or quantity. It is unclear if the employee should obtain five new clients every week, 10 new clients every month, or just two new clients a year to meet the requirement. It is difficult to supervise or fairly promote, discipline or fire an employee if job performance is based on descriptions that can’t be measured or attained.

Essential Functions

The job’s essential functions must be clearly defined, and according to the website, HR Advisor, they should be separated from nonessential tasks. The job description should be divided into sections of "Essential Functions" and "Nonessential Functions." Essential functions can be determined by considering if the position exists to perform the function, the number of other employees who could perform the same function, and the level of skill needed to perform the function, according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. Other determining factors include how much time must be spent performing the function, and the consequences of not having an employee performing the function.

Fair Labor Standards Act

Among other things, the Fair Labor Standards Act governs overtime pay. This law states that all employees must be paid at least one and one-half times their regular rate when they work more than the maximum number of hours, whether hourly or salaried, unless they are exempt. As a general rule, blue-collar workers are nonexempt, and the Department of Labor states that exempt employees are usually white collar workers such as managers, teachers and other professionals. However, there are many stipulations -- for example, computer professionals paid at least $27.63 an hour are exempt, while those paid less are not. It's best to refer to the DOL for guidance when drafting a job description in regard to classifying employees. In addition to pay, duties are also used to determine if jobs should be classified as exempt, so job descriptions should clearly define tasks that would correctly categorize employees as exempt or not.

Job Posting Considerations

When filling open positions, remember that employment is a two-way street. While the employer gets to select desirable candidates from a pool of applicants, the candidates get to decide if they want to respond to the job ad. If the job description is convoluted or contains too many tasks, some candidates may refrain from applying. In addition, job descriptions that are too rigid may also cause companies to lose out on the most talented applicants. For example, a TV station might post a job for a news anchor and require five years of experience. As a result, they may be bombarded with applications from local candidates who have five years of experience working at small stations; however, the requirement disqualifies candidates with only two or three years of experience who worked at national or international news networks, which might be much more desirable.

About the Author

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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