“Not in my Job Description” – Not any more… 6 tips for successful position descriptions

Position descriptions might seem like an optional extra – but in many ways they’re an essential people management tool. The good news is they’re not hard to prepare and they’ll be useful for recruitment, selection, training and performance management. Here are six tips to help you develop effective position descriptions:


1. Put the role in context

Give applicants a clear idea of what your organisation is about – its values, goals, priorities and direction. More importantly, explain how this role fits into the bigger picture – how does this role contribute to the organisation’s success?

It is also important to explain the practical context of the role. What team or department does the position fit into? Who does this position report to? Does this position have any direct reports? And what are the position’s key relationships? You may want to consider including an organisational chart to answer these questions.


2. Give a clear idea of what the role is about

You want prospective employees to gain an accurate picture of what they’ll be doing day to day. There are lots of ways you can frame this information – you may want to focus on duties and responsibilities.

Try to prioritise the role’s key activities – avoid a lengthy laundry list of tasks and instead try grouping duties into key areas. To give a clear picture, you might consider allocating percentages of time spent on particular tasks or projects.


3. Identify what you’re looking for – skills, experience, attributes

When you’re looking at skills, experience and attributes, think carefully about the essential requirements of the role. Is a particular qualification essential or would equivalent experience provide the same level of knowledge? Your selection criteria should tie closely to the duties and responsibilities of the role. You may want to sort your criteria into “essential” and “desirable” categories. But be realistic about what you’re asking for – if every criterion is “essential”, you risk creating a position that no one could possibly fulfil.

Also be careful of being discriminatory. Employers often run into trouble when they make certain characteristics (age, gender, physical capability) essential criteria.


4. Explain the employment conditions

The completed position description should underpin the eventual employment agreement, so be clear about the employment conditions of the role. Remember to identify the location, working hours, the type or term of employment (part-time, full-time, fixed-term, ongoing) and any compliance requirements.


5. Be honest

There is no point painting an unrealistically rosy picture of the role. Prospective applicants want to understand the job, the organisation and the environment – warts and all. If phone-answering, tea-making and photocopying are significant parts of a job, make this clear. There is little to be gained by misleading applicants. Be truthful about where the organisation is and where it is going – it’s a great way to help employees feel engaged in the company’s future and goals.


6. Use them

Once you’ve written a position description, make sure you use it. Position descriptions are useful for more than just recruitment – they should form the basis of the employment agreement and should be a foundation for performance reviews. Make your position descriptions active documents – encourage employees to consult them regularly and be prepared to revisit them if something changes significantly in the employee’s role.