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Effective Job Descriptions

Effective job descriptions ensure that potential hires will know exactly what’s expected of them. And that, in turn, will result in them being happy and productive.

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BSB Contributing Editor Mark Claypool has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of workforce development, apprenticeships, marketing and Web presence management with SkillsUSA, the I-CAR Education Foundation, Mentors at Work, VeriFacts Automotive and the NABC. He is the CEO of Optima Automotive (www.optimaautomotive.com), which provides website design, SEO services and social media management services.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s not my job?” It’s enough to make a manager’s blood boil. Where’s the team spirit? Why must someone view his or her normal duties as his or her only responsibility and nothing more? That’s unacceptable.

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Perhaps it’s because there’s no formal job description. Or, the existing job description is poorly written. A poor job description can allow employees to use it against their employers. So, how do you write an effective job description?

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) teaches business majors that effective job descriptions start with a full analysis of the job itself before putting the job description together in the first place. Full analysis considers:

  • What does the worker do?
  • What are his duties and tasks?
  • How does the worker do it?
  • What are the methods, tools and techniques used?
  • Why does the worker do it, what’s he producing, what’s the end result of the work he does?
  • What are the qualifications for someone to be able to do this work?
  • What skills does he need to have, what knowledge and abilities are required?
  • What are the physical demands?

The completed job analysis is an effective tool for selecting the right employees by helping you formulate selection criteria and checklists for screening job candidates. The job analysis is helpful in setting the standard for performance reviews. One job analysis, built upon another, can be helpful in creating your own career ladder within your organization – something job seekers say is, believe it or not, more important than compensation.

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From there, UCLA teaches that a business must begin to actually put the job description together, starting with the job objective or purpose that describes the job. Then, you describe the duties to be performed. A duty is defined as a major subdivision of work performed by an individual and includes similar tasks that make up one area of responsibility. UCLA suggests that each job have between four and eight duties. Other experts feel that more can be added. Where do you draw the line? Some experts suggest that anything that takes at least 5 percent of the employee’s time be on this list.

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The next part of describing the job is listing the tasks that are essential in the performance of each duty. Tasks help to define the methods, procedures and/or techniques required to carry out a duty. Tasks also describe the action or what’s done and how it’s done, including the procedures, plus the use of materials, tools and equipment.

Each task description starts out with an action verb in the first person present tense, such as “write,” “disassemble,” “answer,” etc. Often, you’ll find the following words in job descriptions, but these need to be clarified carefully: analyze, handle, supervise, manage and prepare.

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Task descriptions should be no more than one simple sentence. Don’t use abbreviations. Try to avoid vague terms like “assist,” “responsible for” and “involved in.”

UCLA then suggests that you define the skills, knowledge and abilities required for the job. These are the essential things a person needs to successfully perform the duties of the job. The skills, knowledge and abilities refer to such things as technical skills, reading and math skills, problem-solving ability, interpersonal skills, management ability, self-management and mentoring ability.

A good job description must be practical, dynamic, functional, relevant and up-to-date. Avoid one that’s inflexible and rigid; it will deter employees and managers from attempting new things. You want to have a job description that you can easily change when necessary and encourages lifelong learning.
A good, flexible job description will enable your people to grow, learn and be even more effective employees. The initial full job analysis can be used to create training plans, too, based on real needs as opposed to perception.

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Is your parts manager stuck with a job description like, “Routinely orders parts as requested and keeps common day-to-day items in stock”?

Or does his job description include a more dynamic description like, “Develop and implement a system for ordering necessary parts and supplies that promotes cost savings, accuracy and efficiency”?

What a difference!

Good job descriptions typically follow this type of outline:

I. Job Title

II. Job Objective or Purpose – This is a summary of the general nature of the job, a description of the job functions and the scope of the job’s operations. Keep it between two and four or five sentences.

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III. Job Duties to Be Performed – This is a list of the specific duties, responsibilities and accountabilities of the job itself. By specific, we mean all the duties critical to the success of the job. The list should start with the most important duties first, and then work on down the line.

IV. Job Tasks to Be Performed – Describe the methods, procedures and/or techniques required to carry out a duty.

V. Job’s Relationships to Other

Positions – This describes the relationship the job has with other positions within the company, such as supervisors, subordinates, internal customers, etc.

Some job descriptions are used for recruiting and hiring purposes. Well-written job descriptions are of great assistance in making the right hiring decisions. Hiring the right people is essential for your future success. With that in mind, and with the information you gather in your job analysis, you can easily include the following important items in your job description:

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VI. Job Specs, Standards of Performance and Other Requirements – What are the minimum qualifications required to perform the essential job functions? What experience is necessary, what education level, special training, etc.? Is there a specific skill set necessary for the job?

VII. Job Location – Describe where the work will be done.

VIII. Tools and/or Equipment

Necessary – This includes any tools or equipment the employee will be using, either supplied by the employer or owned by the employee. If your operation is PC-based and your candidate has only Mac experience, this needs to be taken into consideration.

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IX. Non-Essential Duties – Any duties that are deemed non-essential to the job yet are to be performed nonetheless. This is often listed on a job description like, “Perform other duties as required by management.”

X. Salary Range – Some companies freely list the salary range for the position.

Using “he/she” makes the use of gender pronouns unnecessary.
Finally, where appropriate, describe why, how, where and how often the work is to be performed. Also, make the description easy to understand.

Clear Communication
When done well, effective job descriptions help an organization stay focused on the true jobs to be done. They make it clear to staff what’s expected of them. Without them, confusion and chaos can take over, giving employees the green light to say, “That’s not my job.”

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Effective job descriptions clearly communicate where an employee fits in the big picture of your organization. Put another way, if everyone understands that they’re part of the engine that makes your shop run and they clearly understand what their roles are and perform them, the engine will purr. But if one of the “parts” doesn’t do its job, the engine misfires. If several “parts” aren’t functioning properly, the engine runs poorly or shuts down entirely.

Job descriptions are also important to cover yourself legally. You’ll want to be sure to list the physical requirements for the job in order to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Should you ever be sued for wrongful dismissal, you can always pull out your effective job descrip-
tion to establish, in court, what the expectations were and how the dismissed employee was falling short of those expectations.

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Effective job descriptions also help set the stage for meaningful performance reviews. Employees crave feedback from management. When they think they’re doing a good job and are carefully following their job description, a positive performance review from management validates it and motivates them to continue to go down this positive path. This is especially true when you build in continuing education and training requirements and continuous improvement measurements.

Be sure to revisit your job descriptions annually and edit them to keep up with the changes in the industry, processes, roles, etc. A job description is a living, dynamic document.

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The U.S. Department of Labor provides a description of various positions in the automotive repair industry. Here’s a link to the DOL’s description of a collision repair tech:
www.bls.gov/oco/pdf/ocos180.pdf.

Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to writing and using effective job descriptions, thus communicating the specific responsibilities for each and every position within your company.

BSB Contributing Editor Mark Claypool is the president and CEO of Mentors At Work. He has nearly 25 years of experience in the fields of workforce development, business education partnerships and apprenticeships. Claypool is the former executive director of the I-CAR Education Foundation and the National Auto Body Council (NABC). He was the director of development for SkillsUSA and still serves, on a volunteer basis, as the TeamUSA Leader for the WorldSkills Championships.

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