When I hear these two words, “Job description”, (or as we in HR call them “JD” or as some people like to call them “Job Specs”) banded about in a conversation about roles and responsibilities my heart sinks.

I want to shout, “Noooooo, there is a difference between the two!” – now maybe I’m just a fastidious HR snob; one describes the job ergo “Job Description” the other describes the specification required for the ideal person for the job…. And never the twain should meet. Well, apart from the person specification should be written after the job description on the same pieces of paper as one document!

But why is this important for a small to medium business to get right? From my fastidious HR perspective it’s important because it is the foundation of pre-employment on which the success of the newly appointed person could depend. Employing that right person to contribute the appropriate outputs for your company as you intended that person to do. Or what on earth are you paying them for?

So where to start from when writing a job description? Brings to mind a quote from “Rudyard Kipling – The Elephant’s Child

“I Keep six honest serving-men: (They taught me all I knew) their names are What and Where and When, How and Why and Who” (see table below)

So when I’m with a client and we are discussing anything, I call upon the “six honest men” to draw out detailed information from them. When discussing their recruitment needs I will delve into:

  • Why they need to recruit?
  • What is the main driver to needing someone?
  • What will that person do?
  • Why will they have to do this?
  • What will be the consequences of this not being done?
  • When will this need to be done? (timelines, deadlines)
  • Where will this be done?
  • How will they know it has been done to an acceptable standard? (output, measures)
  • What will success be; what will it sound, look, feel like?

I can build upon this information to write a full and detailed job description. Ensuring that it focuses on the “what” and the “why” and not the “how”. Emphasising that the objective of a good job description is that anyone within a specialised field should be able to pick up a job description and know what is expected of that role. There should be no abbreviations or acronyms or internal jargon.

When an accurate and complete job description has been achieved successfully then a person specification can be derived from this, to help to more accurately identify the skills, knowledge, experience and aptitude of the ideal candidate. From this will emanate the right “competency or experience” based questions for interviewing. The benefits of this to the small to medium business owner is that the time and money invested in seeking and selecting, inducting and training will facilitate a return to your business.

Time and time again when I discuss this and then deliver an improved JD to clients they will experience the light bulb moment and appreciate how investing the time to write a concise JD has paid off in the long run, especially when compared to the errors or horrors of previous recruits.

It may seem like a lot of work but the benefits will far outstrip the pain of getting it so wrong.  Or to quote another great historical figure – Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

Questions – What, Why, Where, When, Who & How
Place: Where is it done?
Why is it done there?
Where else might it be done?
Where should it be done?
Sequence: When is it done?
Why is it done then?
When might it be done?
When should it be done?
Person: Who does it?
Why does that person do it?
Who else might do it?
Who should do it?
Means: How is it done?
Why is it done that way?
How else might it be done?
How should it be done?

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