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How to Write a Job Description


What is a Job Description?
Why are Job Descriptions So Important?
When is a Job Description Needed?
Job Function and Scope
Essential Responsibilities
Supervisory Relationships/Responsibilities
Education and Experience
Reasonable Accommodation
Sample Job Description (Shell)

What is a Job Description?

What is a Job Description? That's easy! We are all familiar with the term and we have a basic working knowledge of what a job description contains. But, it is important that we define not only what a job description is, but what it should be.

A job description is a formalized statement of duties, qualifications, and responsibilities of the job, based on information obtained through job analysis. Its purpose is to describe the job, define it within certain established limits, and identify its scope and content. It may include information on working conditions, tools and equipment used, and/or relationships with other jobs. The job description function and scope should be accurate, concise, and complete.

Why are Job Descriptions So Important?

Advantages of having carefully prepared, properly used job descriptions should be obvious to managers and supervisory personnel. But because so many of us have not prepared and used job descriptions properly, many of these benefits have been lost or overlooked. Consider the following:

  • Job descriptions clarify who is responsible for what within the company. They also help identify relationships between individuals, between departments, etc. When used to advantage, they can settle grievances, "nip conflicts in the bud", and improve communications.
  • Job descriptions help the employee understand the responsibilities of the position. This not only enables the employee to assess the relative importance of everything he or she is accountable for, but also provides a sense of where the job fits into the larger picture.
  • Job descriptions are helpful to job applicants, to employees, to supervisors and to personnel at every stage in the employment relationship. They provide information about the knowledge, training, education and skills needed for each job. They prevent unnecessary misunderstandings about job roles and duties. Best of all, they provide this information in a completely objective and impersonal way.
  • Job descriptions help management analyze and improve the company's structure. They reveal whether all organization responsibilities are adequately covered and where these responsibilities should be reallocated to achieve a better balance.
  • Accurate job descriptions provide a basis for job evaluation, wage and salary survey, and an equitable wage and salary structure. Job Descriptions can be used to either support or discredit comparable worth, and for this reason, they should reflect only the truth about the job in question.

When is a Job Description Needed?

A job description is needed when:

  • Creating a new position.
  • Changing principle responsibilities or performance standards of the incumbent.
  • Revision is made in payroll status, title, or job code.
  • You orient a new employee.
  • You orient a transferee into your department.
  • There is a change in supervision status.

In determining when a job description should be revised, a good rule of thumb is to re-examine the job description when any significant change occurs and make changes as appropriate.

Job Function and Scope

The job function and scope are brief narrative pictures of the job that highlight its general characteristics. They should provide enough information to differentiate the major functions and activities of the job from those of other jobs.

Listed below are several examples:

  • To provide advanced professional skills and abilities in the operation of institutional personnel services and functions. Responsible for providing assistance with major phases of work in personnel specializing in areas such as employment, benefits, compensation, and training.
  • This position will direct both the Advanced Placement Summer Institute Program (APSI) and the Honors Academy Program. All aspects of implementing and running these programs will be the responsibility of this position.
  • To provide professional level administrative support service to relieve an administrator of a number of organizational decisions and to coordinate the activities of the unit. Responsible for daily office management, fiscal management, budget preparations, correspondence, personnel matters, complex level decisions, exercising initiative and independent judgment and supervision of departmental support staff.

Do you see the pattern? The above examples briefly describe why these positions are important and needed by the company.

Essential Responsibilities

A prevailing attitude, heard quite frequently in the higher education area, is that it is not always possible to measure the work of employees.

Some work tasks are more difficult to measure than others, but none are impossible. Measuring work tasks can easily be done by breaking the job down into its component parts or duties. Each responsibility and/or duty should be itemized. The best questions to ask are, “what are the responsibilities that the position is accountable for?” and “what are the major component parts or duties of the job?”

Responsibilities and duties can be further divided into essential and marginal tasks.

Essential tasks/functions are those which a person must be able to perform unaided or with a reasonable accommodation. Employers can require all applicants and employees to perform essential tasks of the job in question. (The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not relieve a disabled person from the obligation to perform the essential tasks of the job).

Marginal tasks/functions are all the other work tasks; those that are non-essential to the position. Marginal tasks must be assigned to someone else or other accommodations must be developed if a disabled person cannot perform them. (Remember, it is discriminatory to disqualify a person from a particular position because he/she cannot perform a task which bears only a marginal relationship to a particular job.)

The determination of which tasks are essential may be critical to the determination of whether or not the individual with a disability is qualified to perform the job.

The following are factors to consider in determining whether a task is essential:

  • Has the employer actually required employees (in the same position) to perform the tasks that the employer asserts are essential?
  • What number of other employees is are available to perform that job task?
  • What is the degree of expertise or skill required to perform the task? (In other words, does a particular task require a specific skill or expertise thatonlythe person in this position can perform or can it be assigned to someone else?)
  • What are the consequences of not requiring the person to perform the task?
  • What is the amount of work time spent on the job performing the task?

From the essential and marginal functions you will basically be building the principle responsibilities.

For Example: You have identified “conducts weekly meetings” as an essential function; you would then elaborate on that concept to form the Essential Responsibility.

*This position conducts weekly meetings with those directly supervised and provides written evaluation of performance of duties not less than annually, or consistent with university policies and procedures.

Supervisory Relationships/Responsibilities

This section contains two different types of information:

  1. The status of the incumbent"s supervisory relationships; and
  2. The psychosocial conditions under which an employee is expected to perform.


Received General review of work performance by Clinical Supervisor
Given Regular review of work performance of Caseworker (2)

* Special instructions may be indicated such as, "employee must work with little supervision", or "this position requires extensive independent action".

Education and Experience

Job qualifications assist in the course of job analysis and make possible a meaningful comparison of jobs for evaluation purposes. Job qualifications should describe job requirements, not human characteristics or qualifications.

Minimum qualifications are typically driven by the education, training, and experience required to perform the job successfully.


Minimum educational requirements are established by the position audit process and the Human Resources department. Certain jobs may have strict requirements that are the result of licensing agencies or funding sources and this should be noted. Keep in mind, only the minimum qualifications must be met.

You may be interested in a higher level of education; however, this will need to be contained in the "preferred" section of the qualifications.


Does this position require specialized training? Example:This position requires training in heating and air conditioning systems.


How much experience (in years and/or months) is required to successfully perform this position and what type of experience are you willing to accept?

Example:This position requires three years of experience working with emotionally disturbed children.

Example:This position requires two years experience in an office and clerical setting.

Reasonable Accommodation

It is discriminatory for an employer to refuse to make reasonable accommodation to a known physical or mental limitation of an otherwise qualified applicant or employee unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business.

Reasonable accommodation is defined as an adaptation to a program, facility, or workplace that allows an individual with a disability to participate in the program or service or performance of a job.

Once a qualified individual with a disability has requested provision of reasonable accommodation, the employer must make a reasonable effort to determine the appropriate accommodation.

The reasonable accommodation obligation does not require employers to provide adjustments or modifications that are primarily for the personal use of the individual with a disability. If an adjustment or modification assists the individual throughout his or her daily activities, on and off the job, it will be considered a personal item that the employer is not required to provide. Employers may be required to provide items that are customarily personal-use items which are specifically designed or required to meet job-related needs.

Employers may require individuals with disabilities to provide documentation of the need for reasonable accommodation when the need for a requested reasonable accommodation is not obvious.

An employer must consider allowing an individual with a disability to provide his or her own accommodation if the individual wishes to do so. The employer may not require the individual to provide the accommodation.

Employers are not required to make a particular accommodation just because a disabled employee/applicant requests it. So long as the need is accommodated, the employer can choose the means to do so. (The employer can choose a less expensive accommodation.)

Any accommodation that would pose a significant health or safety risk to the employee or to anyone else is not considered reasonable.

Please review Fiscal Rules and Regulations 3-49 for the University's policy concerning a request for an accommodation.

Sample Job Description (Shell)


Job code