Why Job Descriptions Matter & How To Write The “Right” One

Just because your firm’s advertisement resulted in thousands of applicants, this doesn’t mean the candidates are right for the job.

Job descriptions are exceedingly important these days. More unemployed workers means more responses to every job post. For the firm, this means filtering through resume after resume.

For the candidate, there’s no love lost by applying to every job that looks like a close fit. However, for the firm, the hours it takes to narrow down a pool of applicants and then interview them can cost a pretty penny.

Furthermore, hiring an individual who is under-qualified becomes a drain on firm resources. Hiring an individual who is overqualified may create employee retention issues. This, too, results in sunk costs, as the whole hiring process must start over again.

Even if the wrong job description happened to nab the right canddiate, the new employee and his employer may not be on the same page in terms of the scope his role. Effective job descriptions will guide employees’ expectations for their position, including what they will (or will not) do for your firm in the future.

Where should your firm begin?

1. Start with an Elevator Pitch. You may think the elevator pitch exercise is just for job candidates. Not so. Job descriptions should begin with a short, one-sentence summary of the position.

Consider writing a one-statement elevator pitch for your ideal candidate. Then, explain further down why this summary statement would get a person hired at your firm.

2. Describe job functions. Most job descriptions use lists: first, a list of day-to-day job functions and activities, then ideal attributes of the candidate, and final other requirements of the position (education minimums and salary maximums, for example).

Don’t be afraid of full sentences. Few people craft lists with the attention to detail needed on job descriptions. Often, for the sake of brevity, employers become vague and repetitive with their requirements.

Write a paragraph for the functions of the position. So, for example, “legal assistants are expected to greet all guests and employees with an upbeat, yet professional demeanor at all times. Legal assistants will be responsible for briefing firm partners every morning on messages and upcoming meetings. Legal assistants are often asked to fetch lunch for the firm partners or other employees and are expected to keep regular and balanced expenses for such errands…”

Lists are terrific functional tools. But, to make sure future employees are fully aware of the functions of the job, stick to easy-to-read paragraphs.

3. Describe candidate requirements.

If the requirements for candidates are easy—diplomas required or technical skills—than a list can be efficient. However, avoid ambiguity by writing full sentences, in the least, to describe your future employee.

4. Be specific about non-negotiable details.

If the salary is non-negotiable, be clear about it. These days, most candidates believe salaries represent some sort of median price a firm is willing to pay. However, this is not always the case.

In the same way, be clear about any other non-negotiable aspects, such as benefits or language skills.

Otherwise, any person who ever took Spanish 1 in college will consider themselves “optionally” fluent.

5. Be clear about the organizational hierarchy.

Job descriptions vary in purpose. Some describe contractual work, others salaried positions. Some, however, describe careers. In all of these cases, it’s important that a job description explain the reporting scheme of the particular position, and any future opportunity for promotion.

If there’s no room for movement, i.e., there’s no position above paralegal (e.g., junior vs. senior), then make this clear at the outset.

6. Describe the office space.

It may seem petty, but describe the office space. This is your firm’s chance to hint about the office culture. Is it open-plan or offices? How many floors?  Does every employee get an office? What are the perks—free soda, coffee, pastries?

You’ll be surprised to find how seemingly superficial additions to the job description soon become its main attraction.

7. Detail application procedures.

In the end, many candidates may still apply. But, being specific about the application process—when applicants will get notice about the position and from whom—will keep many individuals from checking back or clogging your inbox with follow-up emails.

Let individuals self-select for legal positions. With a detailed enough job description, your firm won’t need to put as much effort or expenses in the process of hiring.

Once you hire the right candidate, the job description should become a part of this individual’s hiring packet. There should be no surprise responsibilities or expectations excluded from the original job description.

If that wasn’t enough pressure, the perfect job description must also think about legal compliance. Just one poorly written job description could leave you exposed to devastating liabilities. Job descriptions are often the first document looked at in legal disputes or during a regulatory agency’s inquiry.

Recent changes to the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) and the tricky rules surrounding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) add another level of complexity you just can’t overlook.

So, read The Center For Competitive Management’s guide, “Crafting Legally Compliant Job Descriptions,” a no-fluff, plain-English report you can use to create or update your job descriptions.

You can’t afford to run the wrong job description. Find the right candidate today by using a few of these simple steps.

And, happy head hunting!

-WB

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