Small Business Tips: How To Write An Effective Job Description For Employees

Do your employees know what they're supposed to be doing? They will if you've prepared a detailed and accurate job description.

Whether you are hiring a new employee for a home-based business, a retail shop, or a traditional office setting, it's important to have a clear set of job duties written down. These descriptions serve three distinct purposes. During the interview process, they allow you to make the best match of candidate skills and position requirements. Once the employee is hired, the written guidelines provide a framework of expectations on what he or she should be accomplishing each day, week or month. During the employee's tenure--and particularly at the end of probationary periods or on anniversary hire dates--the defined job duties provide a measuring tool regarding performance standards and consideration for an increase in pay or responsibility.

The level and scope of detail in a job description is, of course, contingent on the degree of job difficulty and repetition. A restaurant hostess, for example, is responsible for welcoming the clientele, taking reservations, keeping track of which tables are available, showing diners to their seats, and handing them menus. In some restaurants, the hostess may also be in charge of operating the cash register. These duties, once learned, will not change from day to day.

Contrast this to the job of personal assistant to a Hollywood mogul. This type of job not only involves managing the mogul's calendar and appointments but picking up celebrities at the airport, arranging events, reading scripts, dropping off dry cleaning, taking the dog to the groomer's and--well, you get the picture. Every day in a job such as this is going to be different and calls for a high degree of flexibility in accommodating shifting priorities.

There are three effective ways of writing a job description.

The first way is to identify the tasks on a percentage basis. This gives the job applicant/employee an estimate of how much time per day will be given to each task. For example, an office assistant who will be answering the phones for you during the morning hours and doing product inventory during the afternoon would have a job description that something looks like this:

Receptionist: 50%

Supply Inventory: 40%

Other Duties as Required: 10%

The "other duties" designation is the catch-all for minor activities that take only a few minutes a day (i.e., making coffee) or on an irregular basis (an emergency run to the post office). This block of time should not exceed 5-10% of total duties and should be commensurate with the individual's skill level and knowledge.

The second type of job description applies to those positions which don't follow a daily routine. Let's say, for example, that you are advertising for a litigation secretary for your law firm. The various tasks, plus a short description of each, would be listed as follows:

Preparation and filing of court documents: Familiarity with standard court correspondence and briefs. Knowledge of court filing procedures and docketing of cases.

Liaison with clients, applicants' attorneys, doctors and judges: etc., etc., etc.

Such a description communicates that, although these activities don't occur every day and are predicated on the ebb and flow of the attorney's caseload, the candidate still needs to possess the requisite skill and knowledge in order to perform them whenever they are required.

The third job description applies to future performance/production objectives and primarily applies to individuals involved in sales and marketing. Since the assumption is made that the applicant already knows how to sell products or services, the spec sheet addresses the company's expectations of increased business as a result of that expertise. For instance:

Attract 20 new clients per quarter.

Conduct 3 trade shows per year.

Decrease team members' absenteeism by 10%.

The exact allocation of time to perform these objectives is, thus, vested with the employee rather than defined by the hiring authority.

For a job description to be a useful management tool, of course, it needs to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Oftentimes what is set forth on paper isn't always a mirror of the actual job. The introduction of new equipment, the hiring of more employees, or the implementation of streamlined procedures by the incumbent will impact the time commitments and scope of activities. In addition, the expansion and successful performance of "other duties" could justify a salary increase or promotion.

In concert with an accurate job description for each position, you should also encourage your staff to put together desk manuals that address the particulars of each task. For instance: where certain forms are kept, what to do if a piece of machinery jams, how to contract a vendor, etc. This will not only assist in ensuring that the tasks will still get done during extended illness or vacation but that there will be a much shorter learning curve for the next new hire.

© High Speed Ventures 2011