How to write a job description

Earlier this week, I attended an excellent training session run by Cathy Hamer at the Bodleian Libraries.  Here is my summary of her presentation and my own notes.

What is the purpose of a job description?

  • Gives clear outline of the job
  • Helps applicants decide if the job would be suitable for them
  • Helps applicants apply for a job (suggests what skills/experience they need to demonstrate in their statement or covering letter)
  • Forms the basis of the recruitment and selection procedure (gives clear criteria against which to judge applicants)
  • Helps managers with appraisal of the post-holder

Source: http://gospeldrivendisciples.blogspot.com/2010/12/pastoral-job-description.html

The job description is also necessary when grading the job, and forms part of the contract of employment.  At the University of Oxford, jobs are graded using Higher Education Role Analysis (HERA) – an analytical job evaluation scheme which is used by the majority of universities in the UK.  Here are some other useful documents on the University of Oxford website which may be of interest to a wider audience too: UAS Job Description and Person Specification Template, Grading Review Request – notes for guidance, Recruitment procedure – guidelines for managers.

Dos and Don’ts for job descriptions

Do

  • Be specific about the duties associated with the job
  • Break down the list of duties into sections.  Bear in mind how each can be measured – at interview and at appraisal.  Distinguish between regular, occasional and emergency duties, and those tasks for which the post-holder is involved in or responsible for.  Include the line “such other comparable duties as may be required by the Head of Department”
  • Be as honest as possible (no point in describing the job as other than its true nature, as the person you appoint may quickly become disillusioned and leave)
  • Use verbs when outlining the job holder’s duties e.g. “resolve enquiries in person and by email” is more descriptive than “communication”

Source: http://www.savagechickens.com/2006/02/job-description.html

Don’t

  • Use jargon
  • Use acronyms or abbreviations – spell these out in full
  • Use names of other post-holders – use job title instead e.g. “reports to Library Manager” is more meaningful than “reports to Sue Denim”, especially to an external applicant who probably isn’t familiar with the organisational structure and the names of people already working there
  • Include details of how tasks should be carried out

What information to include

  • Job title
  • Salary
  • Job purpose/aim
  • Reporting lines
  • Key responsibilities and duties
  • An organisation chart if possible
  • Could include why the job has arisen e.g. funding for a specific project has allowed the creation of this post to manage the project…

The HERA Summary of Elements provides a useful list for describing the different areas of a person’s role.  It lists the following 14 elements:

  1. Communication
  2. Teamwork and Motivation
  3. Liaison and Networking
  4. Service Delivery
  5. Decision Making Processes and Outcomes
  6. Planning and Organising Resources
  7. Initiative and Problem Solving
  8. Analysis and Research
  9. Sensory and Physical Demands
  10. Work Environment
  11. Pastoral Care and Welfare
  12. Team Development
  13. Teaching and Learning Support
  14. Knowledge and Experience

Working through each of these, decide what is required of the person for each element and use this to create the job description.  Some examples:

3 Liaison and networking – are they involved in any committees?

10 Work environment – only necessary to include if the post holder has responsibility for Health and Safety

13 Teaching and learning support – include frequency and scale e.g. annual induction to 5 students or weekly presentations to large groups?

Aim for a maximum of 15 duties.

Selection criteria

Why are selection criteria important?

  • Allow the candidate to match up their skills and experience to the job and assess its suitability
  • Enable the panel to evaluate candidates and shortlist for interview
  • Form the basis of the selection decision
  • Using selection criteria makes shortlisting easier – use a matrix to evaluate the applicants (can also give different weightings to different categories)

  • Enable a focused approach to interviewing – can identify areas where skills/experience need to be explored
  • Provide a basis for feedback to candidates (especially if they were unsuccessful – you can explain that in their application, they did not demonstrate [skill or experience])

When deciding if a selection criterion should be Essential or Desirable, consider if the skill can be taught on the job.  If not, make it Essential.

Ensure that all criteria are justifiable, non-discriminatory, objective, realistic and measurable

Don’t specify age limits or physical fitness.  Instead of asking for “10 years’ experience”, focus on the type of experience, not the time.

For more posts in this series, click the “Recruitment” tag below.

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6 Comments

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