Are your job descriptions accurate and up to date? Maintaining job descriptions is a time-consuming task that is easy to let slip down the priority list. A recent study by a global staffing firm found that 57% of employees believed their job description did not accurately reflect their responsibilities. This suggests that many organizations struggle to keep job descriptions aligned with their employees’ actual roles and responsibilities. While it may be a time-consuming project, accurate and up-to-date job descriptions are essential for defining and documenting roles within an organization.



What is a job description?

Before we dive into the value of job descriptions and how to write them, let’s start with an important distinction. While often used interchangeably, job descriptions and job postings are not the same thing. There are similarities, but the goals and purposes differ considerably.

Job descriptions

A job description is an internally facing document that is the cornerstone of an organization’s hierarchy and compensation structure. It outlines the duties and responsibilities of a position and details the work environment and conditions and other factors about the execution of the role.

Job postings

A job posting or listing is an externally facing document that announces an open position. It contains central components of the job description but also provides potential applicants with details about the company, the application process, salary and benefits information, and requirements for consideration.


Why are up-to-date job descriptions important?

Job descriptions are cross-functional, serving many purposes within an organization. Setting the scope and requirements for each role, they provide a framework for attracting talent, establishing performance expectations, supporting a compensation structure, and compliance with employment laws. Let’s take a look at each of these key areas where job descriptions provide value.


Well-crafted job descriptions enhance the ability to attract the best candidates for open positions. They draw candidates with the necessary skills, qualifications, and experience. By accurately outlining the responsibilities and requirements, you can attract genuinely interested and well-suited individuals for the position, saving time and resources in the recruitment process.

Performance management

Accurate job descriptions assist with setting success criteria and performance expectations. Employees understand the scope of the role, the specific tasks and responsibilities they are to perform, and the goals they are expected to achieve. This clarity reduces misunderstandings and ensures that employees have a realistic understanding of their roles.


Carefully crafted Job descriptions lay the foundation for defensible compensation practices and are essential for developing a stable compensation structure. Once defined, they provide a basis for accurate market benchmarking, reliable compensation surveys, and internal equity. This allows organizations to ensure that compensation is appropriately aligned based on the level of responsibility and requirements of each job within the compensation structure.


Job descriptions facilitate compliance with employment regulations and HR best practices. When developed with intention, they help organizations ensure alignment with minimum wage laws, overtime pay eligibility, and pay equity requirements. Accurate job descriptions help mitigate legal and compliance risks by ensuring that roles are defined within legal boundaries, considering factors such as fair employment practices, equal opportunity regulations, and compliance with labor laws. They also provide a reference point for addressing issues related to employee classification, wage and hour requirements, and reasonable accommodation requests.


How to write a job description

Keep your job descriptions concise and to the point. Because they state the essential duties and responsibilities of a position, it may be tempting to over-include. However, the job description should not replicate what is in an employee handbook; it needs to be limited to the execution of the job itself, not to broader aspects of employment. A job description should be at most two pages and include roughly ten duties and responsibilities.

Tone and terminology

Pay close attention to language and tone to ensure that everyone viewing the job description understands it:

  • Write concisely and directly, keeping the sentence structure as simple as possible.
  • Include explanatory phrases which define why, how, where, or how often the tasks and duties are performed.
  • Use gender-neutral language.
  • Avoid abbreviations and acronyms; if these cannot be avoided, define them on first use.
  • Be careful with ambiguous terms like “assists” or “performs.” Define these actions with modifiers like “the employee assists by doing certain tasks” or “performs clearly described functions.”
  • Include only the duties the employee will be responsible for at the time of hire or at the time the job description is updated. Do not include future responsibilities, and delete any tasks that no longer fall under the auspices of the job.

What should be included in a job description?

A job description should include the following:

1. Job title

The job title should be brief and reflect the job’s content, purpose, and scope. It should be consistent with other job titles of similar roles within the organization and have a clear place in its hierarchy.

2. Job purpose

This is a high-level overview of the role, level, and scope of responsibility consisting of three or four sentences providing a basic understanding of why the job exists.

3. Reporting structure 

It is helpful to clearly state the role the position reports to, by title.

4. Essential job duties and responsibilities

This section describes the duties and responsibilities assigned to the job. It should focus on those elements of the position that will take up most of the employee’s time.

5. Additional duties and responsibilities 

This section lists tasks the employee may do regularly, which are of secondary importance, or tasks that the employee may be called upon to do occasionally. This section should also make clear that the employee may be responsible for assignments not explicitly listed in the job description.

6. Supervisory responsibilities 

If the role calls for the employee to manage or oversee other workers, those managerial tasks and the employee’s place in the hierarchy should be clearly stated here.

7. Qualifications and proficiencies 

In this section of the job description, list the skills, proficiencies, experience, education, licenses, and certifications expected for the role. This can be important if there is a conflict over the employee’s ability to complete all aspects of the position.

8. Working conditions 

Identify the working conditions and physical demands that relate directly to the essential job duties and responsibilities. Describe the type, intensity, frequency, and duration of physical or mental capabilities required. This section should discuss the working environment, exposures that may be regularly encountered, essential physical tasks, and travel requirements. Aside from setting expectations for the employee, this section is helpful for determining appropriate compensation where there may be danger or intense physical activity required to perform the functions of the job. It is also helpful when facilitating a request for an ADA accommodation enabling a doctor to understand if an employee can perform the functions of the job or if an accommodation may be needed.

9. Signature field 

The job description should be dated, and the employee and manager should sign the document. Copies should be provided to the employee and manager.

Developing and maintaining job descriptions is an essential HR task that requires time and diligence. Carefully crafted and accurate job descriptions will save you time and money by attracting appropriate applicants, providing a roadmap for employee success once hired, establishing a foundation for pay practices, and mitigating compliance risks. If your organization lacks the bandwidth, resources, or expertise required to establish and maintain job descriptions in-house, consider partnering with an HR services provider that can ensure your job descriptions are written in a way that supports your recruiting, performance management, compensation, and compliance goals.


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