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A guide to writing and updating job descriptions

Each job should have a written job description and person specification. These should be reviewed every time a vacancy occurs to ensure that they remain relevant and are flexible, including making reasonable adjustments should people with disabilities apply.

Person specifications should outline the genuine minimum requirement and, where appropriate, any genuine occupational qualification (GOQ) necessary for the job to be done effectively. Emphasis should be placed on quality, rather than length of experience, and consideration should be given to experience gained outside paid employment.

What are job descriptions?

Job descriptions describe an employee's role, what is required to do the job and not how they do it or their personal contribution.

Accurate job descriptions provide the basic building blocks on which the recruitment process is built. They act as:

  • a tool in recruitment - to assist in the writing of job advertisements
  • a tool in selection - to help make decisions about who to employ
  • a basis of employment contracts: frequently employers make reference to the job description in their contracts of employment
  • as part of an employers defence in cases of unfair discrimination
  • as a means by which the employer's expectations, priorities and values are communicated to new members of staff.

In most cases they will include some kind of generic statement indicating that the jobholder from time to time may carry out other duties.

Creating and updating job descriptions

When creating and updating job descriptions consider:

  • identifying the tasks involved in the job
  • how, when, and why tasks are performed
  • the main duties and responsibilities of the job
  • the physical, social and environmental conditions of the job.

Job descriptions should be clear, concise, and accurate. They should be accessible for all staff. It is useful to make explicit the implications for jobholders of other human resource policies, eg, compliance with the organisation equal opportunities policy.

Consider what is essential and desirable for the job role. The following categories may be useful when identifying tasks, duties and responsibilities:

  • autonomy - what level?
  • communication - who/how/what?
  • computer literacy?
  • counselling skills - who? what?
  • clinical skills - what?
  • leadership skills - what?
  • management skills - what? - Organising, planning, etc?
  • negotiating skills - to do what?
  • qualifications - required for the role and not what you may have?
  • relevant experience
  • teaching/training - what and who?

Writing a job description

Job descriptions should be based on an analysis of the job and should be as brief and factual as possible. The typical headings to consider are:

  • job title - should indicate as clearly as possible the function in which the job is carried out and the level of the job within that function
  • grade/rate of pay
  • main location - where the job will be based
  • reporting a manager - the job title of the manager or supervisor to whom the jobholder is directly responsible
  • reporting to jobholder - the job titles of the posts directly reporting to the jobholder.

Summarise overall purpose - describe as concisely as possible the overall purpose of the job. The aim should be to convey a broad picture of the job, which will clearly distinguish it from other jobs and establish the role of the jobholders and the contribution they should make towards achieving the objectives of the organisation.

When preparing the job description, it is often best to defer writing down definition of overall responsibilities until the activities have been analysed and described.

Principal job duties or main tasks should cover the following areas:

  • identify and produce an initial list of main activities or tasks carried out by the jobholder
  • analyse the initial list of tasks and group them together, so that no more than about 10 main activity areas remain. Most jobs can be analysed into seven or eight areas and if the number is extended much beyond that, the job description will become over complex and it will be difficult to be specific about accountabilities or tasks
  • define each activity as a statement of accountability, ie, what the job holder is expected achieve (outputs). The emphasis should be on "what gets done" rather than "what workers do", as this provides a far more effective description and gives less room for ambiguity. Give a more precise meaning to the activity being described by using terms such "communicates with", "explains", "clarifies", "discusses" or "inform"
  • define who the jobholder is accountable to in one sentence
  • start with a positive indication of what has to be, eg, plans, prepares, produces, implements processes, provides, schedules, completes, dispatches, maintains, liases with, collaborates with etc
  • describe what is done as succinctly as possible
  • state briefly the purpose of the activity in terms of outputs or standards to be achieved.

Each item in the job description should relate to "outputs" that the jobholder will be expected to achieve or produce, and that each should  state what the jobholder can be held responsible for. Where a job task is performed under supervision, this should be clearly stated. Any work deadlines should be included, or at least acknowledged in the job description.

Consider using the following categories. Look at each desirable and essential and expand the content. For example:

Management

Does your role:

  • influence policy and procedures - locally, trust wide?
  • involve analysing and responding to situations? At what level, locally, trust wide?
  • require budgetary responsibility? - To what level - i.e. complete responsibility or signatory?
  • require you to business plan?
  • involve planning shift rotas and allocating staff on a regular basis?
  • involve recruitment?
  • require you to be responsible for a group of staff and or clients/patients? Is this continuous or shift work related?
  • require risk assessments?
  • require a level of responsibility regarding health and safety - what is it?
  • involve using HR policies i.e. investigating disciplinary, grievance etc?

Leadership

Apart from yourself, who are you accountable to? Consider an organisational chart.

Does your role require you to:

  • be a team leader? What does this entail?
  • be in charge of your area?
  • manage your own caseload - how large?
  • performance manage and formulate personal development plans? For who?
  • influence/make and implement changes too clinical practice, locally or trust wide?

Clinical

What skills are required to undertake the role? Suturing, IV administration, catheterisation, etc?

What responsibilities do you hold in assessing/planning/implementing and evaluating patient/client care - supervised or unsupervised?

Does your role require you to:

  • work under supervision?
  • refer to other disciplines/professions unsupervised?
  • advise and recommend treatment (final say)?
  • accept referrals from other disciplines unsupervised?
  • manipulate instruments? How much skill is needed?
  • manually handle patients/heavy objects? Is this a regular/constant feature of the role?
  • be exposed to hazardous/biological substance - frequency?

Research

Does your role require you to:

  • undertake research and audit?
  • participate in research?
  • organise clinical trials?

Education and experience

  • What qualifications are required to undertake the role?
  • Are you expected to undertake further educational qualifications?
  • Do your qualifications require registration?

Remember that the Agenda for Change Job Evaluation scheme measures what qualifications are required to do the job. If you have a qualification not actually required to do the job it doesn't count

What sort of experience does the role require, eg, would you have had to work in the particular speciality?

What sort of experience required by the job could be transferred/transferable from another job.

Training

Does your role require you to:

  • train staff - who?
  • mentor/facilitate staff and their development?
  • facilitate courses, study days?
  • lead on any in-house forums related to your role
  • undergo mandatory training - what?
  • train patients/clients/carers/relatives?
  • undertake health promotion?

Communication

  • Who are you expected to interact with on a regular basis, (key working relationships), social services, relatives, patients, clients?
  • Are there special needs/requirements to ensure communication is effective - challenging behaviour, learning disabilities, and bereavement?
  • Does your role require you to discuss complex issues - planning care, advising others regarding management of care?
  • Do you participate in case conferences?
  • What type of records must you maintain?Reference to other documents (such as collective agreements)
  • Review date? Where the job description is explicitly incorporated into the contract of employment, it is also wise to state that the content and reporting arrangements may be reviewed and subsequently changed.