Many business owners view the process of searching for and hiring a new employee as a necessary evil. The well-documented costs of attrition, and the inevitability of employees needing to be replaced for a variety of reasons, however, necessitate a thoughtful approach to the hiring process. This process should begin with writing a job description.
It is easy to think of writing a job description as a mere formality needed to get a position posted to job boards. However, a strong argument can be made that a clear job description is critical in finding and retaining the right employee for your position.
Consider the following scenario:
Monica, a very capable engineer with a strong work ethic and years of industry-relevant experience, took a new position at a small consultancy firm. Because Monica was a colleague of the business owner at their previous jobs, the process of hiring her was loose and informal.
Monica’s technical skills contributed immensely, and she quickly hit it off with the rest of the team. However, consulting is inherently customer-focused: a job that frequently requires projecting confidence in difficult circumstances with clients. This proved to be a poor fit for a data-driven introvert like Monica. This personality mismatch understandably created a lot of stress for the business owner. Fortunately, the situation was discussed openly, and multiple plans were explored and pursued.
Nevertheless, Monica eventually left the firm, though on amicable terms. Unfortunately, the business owner was back to square one for re-hiring a critical position at the firm.
Arguably, this unfavorable situation could have been avoided if both Monica and her employer had a clear understanding of the expectations for the position from the very beginning.
Your business may have grown to the point where you’re considering hiring a new employee. Or you may be needing to replace an existing employee. As you start the hiring process, be sure that you carefully consider each of these components of a job description. The more clarity you convey on each part, the better a candidate can evaluate for themselves whether they’d be a good fit to apply. And if the candidate progresses to an interview, both you and the potential employee will be referring to these parts in order to clarify expectations.
Having a clear job title helps candidates find your open position. A job title may reveal what a person does on the job, such as Cashier, Optician, Accountant, Landscaper, Pharmacist, etc. A job title may include the level of responsibility of the position, such as Coordinator, Assistant, Supervisor, Manager, etc.
Depending on the size of your business, several jobs may have the same title. It’s important to think about how your business may grow and the potential levels a position may eventually have.
Ironically enough, although this is the leading part of a job description, you may need to come back to this part after you’ve filled in more details about the position.
Who the position reports to
Even if you don’t include this element in a public job posting, you need to be clear to the employee who they are reporting to. In a small business, everyone may report to the Owner/CEO. As your company grows, it will be necessary to have supervisors or managers fill in layers of middle management, as well.
Do not use the name of a person, but rather the title of the person who is being reported to. It can be helpful to include an organizational flow chart that shows the hierarchy of all positions within the company, should a candidate progress to the interview stage.
Qualifications for the position
List the education level or certifications that are required and non-negotiable. Sometimes even certain physical abilities such as lifting or prolonged periods of standing or sitting may be integral to the job.
Special skills like knowledge of certain computer programs or software, prior customer service experience or bilingual skills could be listed as highly desirable. Even something as seemingly trivial as communicating clearly in difficult circumstances, as in Monica’s consulting job, may be crucial to list. However, keep in mind that these are skills that are often teachable, so if you’re willing to dedicate resources on training the right candidate, note that.
You may want to include the location of the job in the posting, if only to help the posting appear higher in job search results.
Write down any activity that will consume 5% or more of the employee’s time. It may be useful to separate responsibilities into primary and secondary responsibilities. Primary responsibilities are what are essential to the position. Secondary responsibilities are duties that are expected of the employee, but are not crucial to the daily operations of the company.
Accurate job descriptions which state essential job functions can assist in defending a company in the case of an employee ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) claim. An employer is never required to relieve an employee of performing essential job functions. This is covered under ADA Title 1.
Employees want to see that there is potential for growth in a position - that it is not a “dead-end” job. Postings that rely too heavily on dry descriptions of the hard skills required, for example, may give the impression that there’s no flexibility or room for them to bring their personal skill-set to the job.
If you’re filling a position that’s soon to be vacated, you could ask the person leaving to write down what they do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Pay/Wage and Benefits/Perks
Research what similar jobs in your area are paying. You can check job search sites like Glassdoor, salary.com, or talk to other business owners. Decide whether the position should be paid by an hourly/non-exempt wage or a salary/exempt. The Fair Labor Standards Act spells out requirements for a position to be considered exempt - click here for the Fact Sheet.
Consider how deductions like social security and tax withholdings will affect the rate of pay to ensure that compensation is still reasonable.
Also think beyond the wage or salary to other benefits like overtime pay, paid time off (PTO), health insurance or retirement plans.
Have a pay range in mind, which will allow for negotiation when you hire the employee. You’ll want to be sure your budget allows for you to consistently meet payroll. (If your financials are not up to date enough for you to figure out a budget, we can help you with that!)
“Sell” your company
Tell your potential employee about your company’s mission and culture. Give examples of what sets your company apart. Remember that you’re not just trying to recruit people actively looking for a job, but you want to give candidates a compelling reason to leave their current job to work for you.
The appearance of your job description can have a direct effect on how long a candidate considers your job opening. For easier readability, opt for bulleted lists over paragraphs. And be concise. According to indeed.com, job descriptions between 700 and 2,000 characters get up to 30% more applications.
As you can see, developing a job description will take some time and effort up front. But you will be rewarded by having employees that come into a job knowing what is expected of them, which translates into a more satisfying career for them and greater employee longevity at your business.
If you have any questions about the pre-hiring process of writing a job description, contact us. As always, we’re happy to help!