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by Bridget Miller | BLR

Job descriptions are not just a “nice-to-have.” They serve several important purposes for employers, employee, and applicants. How many can you name?

What is the Purpose of a Job Description? 

Let’s take a look at some of the many purposes a job description serves. A job description: 

  • Keeps everyone on the same page in terms of what is required from a role. This helps applicants, employees, and the employer. 
  • Helps with meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) obligations by delineating essential versus nonessential job functions.
  • Helps the employer to find the best fit during the hiring process. It also helps applicants assess whether they are a good fit for the organizational needs. Clarifies who is responsible for what tasks.
  • Explains the primary objectives and responsibilities of a position.
  • Outlines the qualifications needed for a position.
  • Assists with performance reviews by acting as a basis for employee goals and performance expectations. This improves employee accountability.
  • Identifies where a role fits within the organization.
  • Helps to determine employee training needs.
  • Can be a tool to convey the company’s core values, mission, and goals. 
  • Helps an organization determine gaps and overlaps in responsibilities and roles.
  • Can be the first basis for determining what pay grade a job fits into, and can also be used as a basis for comparison of pay among various job grades.
  • Can help to assess whether a job should be classified as exempt or nonexempt for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). 
  • Can be used as an assessment tool for compliance with other employment laws, such as equal pay laws.

This list is long, but it’s not intended to be comprehensive. It’s meant to serve as a thought-starter when assessing the true purpose and role of a job description in your organization. 

Keeping Job Descriptions Up to Date

With job descriptions fulfilling all of these varied purposes, it’s easy to see why it’s important to keep them up to date. They’re certainly not a “set it and forget it” type of task. Here are some reasons why it’s important to continually update job descriptions: 

  • Jobs evolve over time and essential tasks may be added or removed.
  • Needs change.
  • Technology changes.
  • Teams grow and jobs get more specialized.
  • Keeping the job descriptions continually updated is also what allows it to be used as part of the performance review process.
  • Keeping job descriptions up to date at all times is better than scrambling when a role becomes open and needs filled quickly.
  • It allows the job descriptions to fully serve the organization in all of the ways described above.

For all these reasons and more, job descriptions should be periodically reviewed and updated to reflect the most accurate depiction of what the role actually entails. Updating a job description typically requires speaking with the person in the role and his or her supervisor (and maybe even others on the team). This allows HR to fully understand how the job is evolving and what updates are needed.