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Why job descriptions matter more than you think

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Woman looking for job by pressing search button on virtual touch screen.
A good job description makes it easier for an employee to know what is expected of them in terms of their duties. Photo: Getty

You’re looking for a new job in marketing and you come across a posting with a company you’ve heard of. You’ve got years of experience, but despite this, you’re still confused by the “digital strategy dynamo” role advertised — and whether the job is entry-level or a senior position, and what it actually entails. Frustrated, you ignore it and scroll past to another listing.

When hiring, employers usually have a good idea of the role on offer and who they want to fill it. But if they’re in a rush to find someone, the job description is often quickly put together without much thought, in order to get candidates through the door as soon as possible.

Of course, the perfect hire may come along despite a dodgy job description. But businesses are likely to have more luck hiring the right person if more care is taken when advertising the position.

Why good job descriptions are important for employers

“Accurate job descriptions are critical for employers for a number of reasons, including attracting the right candidates, creating the right expectations for performance, and setting fair compensation ranges based on someone's responsibilities,” says Jeff Smith, a psychologist and director of the Best-Self Academy at 15Five, an employee engagement company.

READ MORE: How employers can make the most of remote working in the future

It can be hard to strike the right balance between including relevant information and making it eye-catching, but failing to include details can lead to problems down the line.

Without clearly stated duties and performance standards, you increase the chance of hiring someone without the necessary skills, experiences and personal qualities for the job.

A good job description makes it easier for an employee to know what is expected of them in terms of their duties, too. Often, job descriptions state that “other duties” may be assigned, with the expectation that workers should be team players and help out with extra tasks if necessary. However, it can be unclear which tasks are “extra” and which are key duties for the role.

Some job descriptions will have sections which outline qualifications and or attributes which are required for the role. Employers need to be wary that it can be easy to unintentionally fall foul of a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Therefore, the wording of job descriptions should be checked carefully for discrimination.

Why candidates need clear job descriptions

“For employees, having clear expectations is a fundamental need at work, and an accurate job description can act as the foundation for a great relationship between a manager and a direct report,” Smith says.

It can be a good idea to simplify a job description and focus on what the role actually entails, rather than including dozens of responsibilities and required skills.

“Instead, ask yourself, ‘What are the outcomes this team member will be responsible for?’ and ‘Why do these outcomes matter to our organisation?’ Consider focusing on the top three to five responsibilities and the top three to five skills.”

READ MORE: What is 'job crafting' and how can it help during 2020?

Good job descriptions are also essential when it comes to helping employees progress too. If a job role is unclear, it’s tricky for a boss to give a good appraisal or give constructive feedback, which is key when it comes to career development. Without a sense of direction or purpose, people can easily become disengaged and frustrated, impacting their wellbeing as well as their work.

“Job descriptions should always include the outcomes that someone is responsible for, why the outcomes are important to your company, and your company's values,” Smith says. “When prospective employees can see how their values align with the companies they’ll feel more supported and connected even before joining.

“Values also help employees, once hired, to have a clear understanding of what they should be focusing on and how it contributes to the company’s overall strategy,” he adds. “This helps open the door for more transparent communication and motivation for success.”