5 steps for writing an effective job description

An incomplete and out-of-date job description could lead to discrimination lawsuits under the Civil Rights Act and the American with Disabilities Act in addition to wrongful termination lawsuits. Specifically in the restaurant industry, job duties listed in the job description also determine if an employee is entitled to receive tips. For example, judgment in a case brought about by servers of Chili’s Restaurant against Chili’s parent Brinker International for including expediters in the tipping pool was held in favor of the servers to the tune of $1,772,000 in 2011. Based on the job description of the expediters, the court ruled that they should not be in the tip pool. An Austin-based Tex-Mex chain, Iron Cactus, also was sued for the same reason in 2012.

So, what are the steps for creating an effective job description?

Step 1: Conduct a job analysis.

Job analyses define the knowledge, skills, abilities and responsibilities needed to successfully complete a job. The top-down or fresh start method is recommended for new organizations or new positions. The nature of work in this method is defined based on the organization’s mission statement, goals and objectives. The job inventory approach, where job related information is obtained by conducting an audit of tasks performed by job incumbents, is well suited for existing organizations. The job element method focuses on identifying characteristics of satisfied workers. Once identified, these characteristics are used to develop appropriate selection tests.

Step 2: Include all essential components of the job description.

• The job title
• The title of the immediate supervisor; i.e., who the new hire will report to.
• Job summary: This states the purpose or objective of the job.
• The duties and responsibilities derived from job analysis: For task-oriented, semi- or lower-skilled positions, the duties can be arranged in the order in which they occur.
• The what, how, how often, and why (What are the physical and mental activities needed to successfully complete the job? How will the activities be completed? How often will various duties be performed?).

Step 3: Include a statement about performing duties outside of the job description.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, it is legal to require an employee who is 18 or older to perform work outside of his/her job description. A provision for this can be made in the job description by including the following statements:

• “May be called upon to perform related tasks not specifically included in the job description.”
• “Other duties as assigned.”
• “Other tasks assigned based on business needs and the supervisor’s request.”

Step 4: State job specifications in the job description.

Job specifications include qualifications needed to perform the job. These include:

• Physical characteristics
• Education
• Experience
• Personality traits
• Skills

The job specifications help make the hiring process fair and uniform and also aids in the development of interview questions. To minimize discrimination lawsuits, it is best to generate the list of qualifications based on an analysis of incumbent employee behaviors and job activities.

Step 5: Review and update, review and update, review and update!

If there is one thing that is constant, it is change. As technology evolves and business needs change based on supply and demand trends, job duties will naturally and continuously evolve as well. The job description should be updated, preferably twice a year, to reflect these evolving duties.

Here's more information about why updated job descriptions are crucial.

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Swathi Ravichandran

Swathi Ravichandran is an associate professor of hospitality management at Kent State University in Kent, OH. She received an MBA in Marketing and PhD in foodservice and lodging management from Iowa...
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