Job Descriptions and Position Specifications

Job Descriptions and Position Specifications

Here we are going to describe 2 key documents which every Human Resources Department should have, how to use them and why you need them to recruit successfully for any position.

Job Analysis

When we use the term Job Analysis we are not talking about a major piece of research, we are referring to systematically gathering the job-related information you need to generate two documents: the Job Description (JD) and the Position Specification (PS).

The focus of a JD is tasks, duties, activities and responsibilities, basically the functions of the job. These should vary very little depending on who is actually doing them, they are all things that the organisation needs doing.

Position Specification

A Position Specification (PS) is sometimes called a Person Specification because that is what is focusses on. The focus of a PS is on the knowledge, skills, experience, training and qualifications, attitudes and personality required to carry out the job effectively.

You can see that although you may have the same JD for a team you may have a different PS for each member of the team – this way you build a varied team with different ways of tackling problems, dealing with customers or achieving the tasks assigned.

You should never start the recruitment process without completing an Analysis and generating these two documents – simply put, you will not find the person you are looking for until you have effectively described that person. The reason so much recruitment activity fails is because this early stage is left out. Business owners and HR staff who do not use a systematic approach are committing their organisation to ‘recruitment by good luck’ – ask yourself how many core business processes use luck to ensure success. Not many!

Writing a Job Description

A Job Description (JD) is a list of the responsibilities and duties that an employee is expected to perform in a position. Even the smallest organisation should have written JDs as they define ‘who does what’ and without them even a company with only 2 or 3 employees can become chaotic. Apart from that, evaluating employee performance becomes impossible if duties and responsibilities are not written down.

If all the JDs in the organisation use the same format then things are much clearer for employees moving from one position to another and for standardisation of the Human Resources functions. It is simpler and more efficient to have a standard format and once you have a standard format set up it is easy to modify a JD and create new ones.

If you need to create JDs a useful tip is to search online using a job title and the words ‘Sample Job Description’. Find one which is suitable and then edit it to add in items which a relevant to your organisation and remove those which are not relevant.

JDs for junior positions can be very short and simple, perhaps only one page. However, for senior positions the JD can have a number of sections covering functional, managerial, and organisational areas.


Here is a list of the minimum points that a JD should contain:

Job Title

The job title should describe the position held by an employee in a very few words. It shows the level of the position and the area of responsibility or function.


This can either be the place where the job is located or the business unit.

Reports to:

This is the title of the Line Manager.

Job Purpose Summary

This states the reason why this position exists.


For junior level positions a list of duties is probably a suitable section for the JD. A duty is an action which the employee is required to carry out, each duty might include a timeframe for the action.

Key Responsibilities and Accountabilities

For senior positions a list of Responsibilities and Accountabilities is a more suitable section for the JD.
A responsibility is a requirement to satisfactorily perform or complete a task.
An accountability is a critical success factor or a clear job outcome that defines any job.

Writing a Position Specification

Because a PS focusses on qualities it can be harder to write than a JD which is focussed on activities but it can still be simplified to a list and this also makes it much easier to write.

Although listing required education/qualifications, skills and experience might be straightforward, it is hard to write a detailed PS which describes clearly the personal qualities, physical, emotional, technical and communication skills required to perform the job.

A very detailed list is sometimes not useful because during the recruitment process it is likely that it will be turned into a ‘wish-list’ and key points may be lost.

Break your PS into manageable sections using headings, add R (Required) and P (Preferred) to each item on the list. Requirements are necessary to doing the job and Preferred are points which would strengthen performance but which are not essential.

This PS can now be developed into a Person Profile which will help with writing job advertisements as well as forming the basis of how you screen, interview and shortlist during the rest of the recruitment process.

You can break it down again into slightly different headings:

  • Personality
  • Specific Job Skills
  • Computer Skills
  • Literacy and Numeracy
  • Commercial Skills
  • Management Ability

You have now described the position and the person. Writing all this down has led you through a process which means that you are now in a great position to start to recruit to fill that position.


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