With so much on the desks of talent acquisition professionals, job descriptions more than likely aren’t at the top of the list. However, they should be.

Quality job descriptions not only help you attract top talent, but they also protect you, your employees, and any future job applicants. True, job descriptions delineate the demands and requirements for open positions, including both hard and soft must-have skills along with preferred or “nice-to-have” skills. However, they also help manage job expectations, helping employers hold current and future employees accountable for the jobs they are hired to perform, while holding employers accountable about the requirements of the job. 

Because of this, job descriptions should be part of your overall compliance plan, and talent acquisition professionals should be up to speed on employee and labor laws and regulations impacted by job descriptions.

The Basics

Job descriptions are not the same as job advertisements. Instead, these are internal documents providing written summaries of the job requirements, duties, responsibilities, educational training, licensure, and any other performance standards required in your field or with your company. 

Once an employee is hired, they should sign a copy of their job description, formally acknowledging and accepting the job’s requirements and expectations. Although job descriptions are different from job advertisements, talent acquisition professionals should use the description as guides when creating advertisements. Keep in mind that job descriptions not only communicate expectations and help frame recruiting methods, but they also serve a critical legal purpose for both you and the employee.

What Should Job Descriptions Include?

When drafting a job description, use clear, unambiguous language, using present, active tense. Where necessary, explain when, where, why, or how job requirements should be performed. This helps with added clarity, reducing any employee or employer misunderstandings.  

When drafting a job description, here are some topics to address:

  • Job title
  • Summary of the positions’ scope
  • Summary of responsibilities, functions, and duties
  • Education and/or licensure requirements 
  • Classification as full-time, part-time, or contract
  • Classification as exempt or non-exempt
  • On-site, hybrid, or remote locations
  • Physical requirements needed to perform the job

When writing your job descriptions, you’ll also need to keep in mind applicable legal requirements, helping to protect both you and your employees. 

Advantages of a Well-Drafted Job Description

Let’s look at five advantages of writing, updating, and maintaining well-drafted job descriptions.

1. Improve Your Recruitment Strategies

A well-drafted job description can help boost your recruitment efforts. For example, job descriptions help applicants determine whether they’re a “fit” for the position. If the best candidates are applying, then the employer can enjoy a well-qualified candidate pool – the more detailed and specific the job description, the better the applicant – and with this, the more successful the employee will be. 

2. Ensure that Expectations Are Met

As we’ve mentioned above, having a well-written job description can establish expectations for both the employees and the employer. Through job descriptions, employees understand what’s expected of them, allowing them to work more effectively. Additionally, it provides a structure to ensure that the duties are being handled by the employee, which establishes objective criteria by which the employer can measure the employee’s performance.

3. Improve Employee Accountability

In addition to ensuring that expectations are met, well-drafted job descriptions also improve employee accountability. Employers can better hold employees accountable to the position’s needs, expectations, performance, and decisions, while having a solid understanding of requirements. If the job description is not specific, then employees may find themselves performing tasks not fit for the role. Additionally, employers will find it challenging to address performance – and areas of improvement – if it’s unclear what the job entails. With a well-drafted job description, employees aren’t left to question their employers’ expectations and both parties are provided a structure that ensures that the duties and responsibilities are being met.

4. Better Assess the Value of the Job Position

With well-crafted job descriptions, employers can perform more market research on the value of that role, translating that value to a competitive salary and benefits package. Further, it can help employers determine the internal value of the role, determining where the position falls in line with company pay structures. 

5. Mitigate Risk and Limit Any Liability Through Legal Compliance

Finally, employers can mitigate risk and limit any potential liability with well-drafted job descriptions. Although there is no state or federal law governing job descriptions, employers must ensure that the description is legally compliant. The last thing you want is to end up in a lawsuit over the job’s exempt or non-exempt classification, gender pay differences, or essential functions of a job (and how those functions apply to disabled applicants).

Potential Pitfalls in a Poorly Drafted Job Description

Even if you’ve been in talent acquisition for a short period of time, you know that potential pitfalls are often related to legal compliance. It’s no different with job descriptions. Read on to learn more about seven existing (and evolving) labor and employment laws to keep in mind when creating your organization’s job descriptions. 

1. Non-Compliance With Federal And State Laws

Laws like the  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended protect against forms of discrimination during recruiting processes, job descriptions included. 

Also, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) “establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.”  Related to these issues, the FLSA also addresses job classifications, such as exempt and non-exempt positions, which directly impact overtime availability. As this is a critical classification, it’s best that you describe the exempt or non-exempt status in your job description. 

Employers need to not only be concerned with federal laws, but state laws as well. For example, in 1963, the Equal Pay Act was passed federally, requiring that men and women receive the same pay for the same work.  Since then, all states (except Mississippi) have adopted equal pay laws at the state level. Some have taken equal pay and disclosure of compensation even further, focusing on salary history bans.

2. Failure To Attract The Right Talent

If you don’t give your job descriptions the attention they deserve, top candidates may be reluctant to apply with your company. Further, you increase the possibility of hiring someone that’s not the right fit for the job. 

If your job description is vague and written poorly, when sorting through resumes and cover letters, you may find that only a handful meet the criteria you’re looking for. More is not always better, especially when it comes to finding the right talent for your open role.

Having a detailed job description where all the necessary skills and requirements are showcased, there will be an increase in qualified applicants. Even if your job description doesn’t include all of the requirements or information you’re seeking for in the open position, you’ll still receive more quality applicants than if you didn’t include the right information and left the description more general.

3. Disagreements Between Employees And Employers

If you don’t have well-written job descriptions, employees and management may disagree on requirements of a particular position. For example, different job titles may mean different things at different companies or across different industries. Further, if you need back up for another position, that employee may argue that those tasks “aren’t in their job description.” This also relates to the “other duties as assigned” umbrella that many job descriptions have. When job descriptions include this, it can be difficult for candidates and employees to see how the work in the role is contributing to the success of the team or company, leading to performance and accountability issues.

Not having a well written job description also showcases that there’s poor role definition, which can make it difficult for employees to understand what is expected of them and set goals – which can in turn lead to conflict, stress, and a decrease in an employee’s motivation.

4. Unclear Career Progression

Unclear job descriptions lead to unclear career progression for both employees and managers. Without a job description setting out responsibilities, expectations, hard skills, and soft skills, employees may not understand how to get to the next level. Additionally, employers may not understand the best way to train employees to get them to the next level. Your job description should create a roadmap of career progression for both employees and managers.

What Next?

Writing a job description is not a once-and-done activity. Employers should continually re-evaluate positions, processes, and budgets, causing continual edits to job descriptions. By keeping your job descriptions up-to-date with industry trends and compliant with the myriad of labor and employment laws, employers can better identify what talent they need at each stage of their business. 

Thus, talent acquisition professionals should schedule frequent reviews of job descriptions, eliminating descriptions (or parts of descriptions) that are no longer relevant while updating descriptions for new industry trends or legislation. By scheduling bi-annual or annual reviews of job descriptions, employers can proactively identify issues that could inadvertently lead to non-compliance.

Having a strategy for compliance reviews can help you conquer any potential pitfalls resulting from poorly drafted or out-of-date job descriptions.