Are you setting the right expectations for your employees?

Have you ever worked in a job where you weren’t quite sure where your responsibilities start and end? Confusing and frustrating, wasn’t it? That’s probably because you didn’t have a job description.

Why job descriptions are important:  having job descriptions is one of the indicators that your business is “growing up,” that you’ve gone from a bootstrap startup to an established business. They show that your business is setting up a structure that employees can count on and brings you closer to being an “employer of choice.” 

A written job description helps when advertising a job or interviewing candidates. Job seekers read your posting as a screening tool, and you’re trying to attract the best candidates. 

Internal consistency is important when developing a bank of organizational job descriptions. A specific format, font, logo and other elements streamline and standardize the appearance of your documents. Consistent language such as frequently used terms can help create cohesiveness throughout all your job descriptions. Remember – you’re taking a step up in the world, and you want your documents to have your company’s “feel.”

Good job descriptions need the following sections:

Job title 

This seems obvious, but using the right job title denotes the compensation level. There’s a difference between a sales assistant, salesperson, sales consultant and sales engineer. Use the word you mean.

Job classification 

Specific compensation and responsibility requirements separate nonexempt and exempt employees. Worker misclassification is a big deal with the Department of Labor. You can’t just make everyone salaried. That mistake can cost you five and six figure fines and penalties.

Reporting structure 

To whom will this person report as his or her supervisor?

Job summary 

A one- or two-sentence summary of the job would be the answer to “what does someone in this position do?”

Essential job functions

List the functions an employee is expected to accomplish, beginning each sentence with an active verb, e.g. “answer questions about the product” for a sales role. Note that some functions are more important than others. If a candidate can’t accomplish most of the essential functions, you might want to hire someone else or move a current employee who can no longer accomplish the essential functions into another position. 

Knowledge, skills and abilities

Some are critical for the job. For example, a school bus driver must know the rules of the road, have the skill to drive a large bus and the ability to see. If any of the crucial KSAs are missing, a person can’t do the job.

Physical demands

Some physical demands are essential to the job. For example, a furniture delivery driver must be able to lift heavy items. Someone in building construction needs to be able to work in extreme temperatures. Candidates need to know these expectations before they apply.


Make necessary education, experience, licensures and certifications consistent with the job requirements. Don’t ask for a college degree if it isn’t really required because knowledge can be gained through education, training and experience. If the job requires certification, state the requirement in the job description. You also can distinguish what is required and what you prefer. Other requirements, such as having a driver’s license, could be considered discriminatory if having a license is for your convenience rather than required for the job. Distinguish between need and convenience to avoid discriminatory effects.

Signature line 

At the bottom of the job description, include a line where the employee can sign the job description. If it ever comes to a legal issue, you’ll have proof that the employee knew the expectations. Make sure that you give the employee a copy.

As your company grows and hires more employees, job descriptions may change, and you may need different levels within the job, e.g. assistant, technician, supervisor, manager. Make sure that you’ve classified each correctly so that you don’t run afoul of the Labor Department. If you need help, contact an HR professional or attorney. Using well-written job descriptions is a big step in having your business being taken seriously and becoming an “employer of choice.”

Linda Klingman has been a human resources manager for small businesses through global organizations for over 20 years. She earned master degrees in human resources and education and is certified by the Society of Human Resources Management. Linda owns HRCoastal, a certified woman-owned small business and provides human-resources outsourcing to small businesses in the Lowcountry. 

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