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The most common time that managers think about position descriptions is when there is a position vacancy. And it is true that defining and communicating expectations through a well-written job description is an important part of attracting highly qualified candidates and eliminating those who may not perform as expected.

But in addition to this, position descriptions are a vital tool for organizations to identify essential tasks and duties, set standards and provide criteria for reviewing performance. It is a formal description of the work that needs to be done, what the position will be held accountable for and the specific authority necessary to do it. A properly written job description with all the right elements can significantly increase the chances of successfully attracting and keeping valuable employees.

The position description also serves as a tool for managers to give their team members the information they need to set clear expectations for their work, equitably manage employee development and performance, and establish clarity for their accountabilities and authorities.

Here are the basic elements every job description should include:

Job Title and Summary of the Position

The actual job title is the first thing a prospective employee sees when they look at a job description. It should be expressive enough to give some idea of what the job entails and even the level or place the position assumes in the organizational hierarchy. A position summary is generally only a few sentences long but is clear and concise enough to capture expected duties, required skills and interactions that might take place with customers and other employees. This section is the most useful for filling position vacancies, and is often used in job postings. But it is also a good snapshot of what the managers expects as the high level deliverables of a position.

Accountabilities and Authorities

Outlining what the employee will be held accountable for and the specific authority necessary to meet those objectives is a critical part of any job description. Most job descriptions are set up like a grocery list, with a series of “duties”. This is appropriate for entry level positions, where work tends to be assigned on a daily or weekly basis. Positions that are higher in the organization are accountable for more complex work; the more so the higher the position. Care needs to be taken between being specific about the work and appropriately describing what the position is actually accountable for. What is often missing completely in job descriptions are statements of authority. What is the authority that is delegated to positions for doing the work? This authority has two aspects. One aspect is managerial authority that is delegated by the manager. The other aspect is cross functional authority – how do I work with others in the organization that are not part of my team?

Qualifications and Skills

Position descriptions also need to include a section outlining the specific knowledge, skills and abilities needed to successfully complete the job. This is often thought of in terms of experience and competencies. While both have value, neither is a panacea. Thought needs to be given to specific knowledge that is required success, and the successful application of this knowledge in a work setting.

Working Conditions

Some position descriptions also include a section on working conditions, particularly for job valuation purposes. This can also be an opportunity to help perspective employees understand any specific job requirements such as travel, overtime, amount of desk time, requirements for lifting objects, and so on.

A clear, unambiguous job description is an organization’s chance to attract highly qualified talent, but also a valuable tool for setting standards and evaluating performance. Make certain to include the right elements and pay particular attention to position accountabilities and authorities. A well-written and precise job description leads to happier, more productive employees, and that’s what performance is all about.