A job description is important as a baseline for employee development.

I must admit, I have never been much of a fan of job descriptions. I think it is because I did not want to take the time to write them. I did not fully understand how to use them and why such communication was so important with employees. I also suspect somewhere in the back of my mind, I had attributed them to some type of legal mumbo jumbo required to satisfy the lawyers of the world. I have come to believe that a job description is important as a baseline for employee development.

A job description specifies what an employee should be doing at this point in his or her career. Over time, we can use this job description to take the employee's job to the next level. It can expand, or skills and production goals can be built into it. It is a living document, not a one-time attempt to put details on paper. A job description should reflect your overall long-term business objectives. A job description outlines an employee's duties, responsibilities and role within your business. It should specify the requirements and abilities an employee must possess to succeed in the position. Since business objectives change, job descriptions have to be rewritten from time to time.

We first start by gaining an understanding of the basic components of what makes up a job description. These components are the job title, a summary of the position, a listing of the basic qualifications, and a listing of some of the basic job functions a person might do.

Job Title and Position Summary

Titles can be tricky. An appropriate job title describes what the person is expected to accomplish during day-to-day operations and clearly specifies both your company and your customers' expectations of the position.

Keep it simple. Avoid the urge to use "sanitation engineers" instead of garbage truck drivers. Also, remember that if you call someone a vice president, this might serve a useful purpose, but it also might overload their ego and get things out of hand. The best job title is always a simple title that clearly defines what the person's activities are.


By detailing job qualifications, there is no question about the skills required for the job. This also helps deal with internal promotion decisions because the skills required for advancement are predetermined. As an owner, long ago, I learned there was no such thing as the perfect employee. We employ people, not robots. Developing some basic qualifications really helps in getting employees to accept training and understand the responsibilities of the job. You will usually be hiring the best available candidate and then developing that candidate into the kind of employee you need.

For example, if sales estimators are expected to type their own estimates and change orders, the requirement of minimum computer abilities plainly identifies what is expected and avoids future arguments. The person understands when they take the position that they are going to have to learn this new skill if they are not already proficient with a computer. The same holds true of a field person being promoted to foreman. If paperwork is part of the job, it can really help keep people who are not qualified from applying and also make it easier for their ego to accept that they must work with your office staff to gain a minimum standard regarding their ability to fill out paperwork.

Unless it is a technical position such as engineering or accounting, focusing on a degree for the sake of a degree can be dangerous. Some of the smartest and most successful people I have known did not have a college degree. You do not want to make the mistake many corporations make of passing over good talent who may not have had the money or opportunity in their lives. This does not mean people do not need to meet minimum educational levels.

If you do take the position that you must hire people who may be over educated for a position or more qualified than what you need, then this may be a great way to build future leaders in the company. Such recruiting also puts serious pressure on the organization regarding growth and opportunity. If you do not provide advancement, these individuals will leave. So the rule of thumb is to recruit the best possible person you can.

In any position, work ethic is extremely important. Search for people who have a strong work history and good work ethic and can be developed into the kind of person you are looking for.

Job Functions

The focus here is on essential duties an employee must accomplish in his or her day-to-day job performance. Listing such duties can be overwhelmingly detailed. It is best to concentrate on the big picture and by stating only the broad components of the job.

Correct: To manage and coordinate job scheduling.

Overly Detailed: To manage and coordinate job scheduling by calling the customer, making sure the customer accepts the job start date, filling out a schedule sheet for the crew, ordering all material and setting up job details.

Focus on the broad job tasks the employee must do every day. Too much detail will overwhelm both you and the employee. I had to laugh when one of my networking contractors sent a job description for his new estimator. It contained three pages of massive detail and was, in reality, an overwhelming to-do list. He was in amazement when he presented it to the employee and the employee was overwhelmed. He came back a few days later requesting a pay increase.

Start by merely listing all the duties you want this person to do. List as many as you can and then try to combine this list of tasks into things that can be broader in nature. Remember, your goal at this point is not to detail every minute job detail but rather to develop a starting point for hiring and developing people.

Stuck and don't have an idea of where to begin? Here are some ideas you can use:

Try the Internet. Do a search for job descriptions, print samples and get an idea of what other people are doing. Samples are out there by the hundreds, even thousands, and as you look through them, you will begin to develop a sense of what a good job description looks like and how to put one together.

Ask one of your employees to write his or her own job description and then you write one and compare the two. Remember, the purpose of this exercise is to improve communication, not come up with the perfect job description. What better way to start the process and ensure that your description is clearly understood?

Remember, job descriptions are not meant to limit an employee's development and draw lines around a person's job and "box" in what he or she does. It is just a communication tool. Probably the real benefit of writing descriptions is to help you, the owner and/or manager, to develop an understanding of what you are looking for. The formulation of your own thoughts is much more powerful than you might think. If you don't clearly know what you want, it is pretty hard for employees to figure it out.