Why Small Businesses Need Job Descriptions

Writing a Job Description
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Job descriptions, when done right, provide a good foundation in the employee/manager relationship. This is especially important in a small business where jobs can include a wide variety of duties and change quite a bit as the business grows. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, having HR basics like job descriptions can help a small business build a good foundation.

Set Clear Expectations

Even with only a few employees, it is important that the people who work for you know what you expect from them. Show the job description to a candidate in an interview to give them a clear picture of what you are looking for. On a new hire’s first day, review the job description with them and have them sign it to confirm they understand it.

If you are creating job descriptions for existing employees, include them in the process. Have them talk to you about what they do. This is not only a good way to write a job description, but it is also an opportunity to make sure you have a clear understanding of what your employees do all day. When the job description is complete, have them sign it as an acknowledgement that they have reviewed it.

Update Job Descriptions

Regardless of the size of your business, it is important to regularly review job descriptions and make updates as jobs change. At a small business, a job can change rapidly as business increases. An office manager may cover accounts payable, accounts receivable, HR, facilities and more. As a business grows, they may hire people to specifically cover some of these duties. The office manager’s job description will need to be revised to reflect the shift in responsibilities.

Review the description with the employee currently doing the job. Delete tasks that are no longer relevant and add in new duties. One of my early jobs out of college was as an administrative assistant at a small business. The position was new, so the initial job description was very basic. During my three years there, the job evolved to incorporate managing Excel spreadsheets that tracked event registration, writing and designing flyers and monthly newsletters, and supporting two departments. The original job description made no mention of these skills, so it would have been a bad idea to find my replacement without updating it.

What to Include

Your job description should include a section at the top with the basics (e.g. title, schedule, pay range, department and supervisor). Then have a quick summary of the job in one or two sentences. The next section should be the summary of job duties. This is where you detail the regular tasks required of this position.

Then list the minimum qualifications and essential functions of the job. These are the skills someone must have to perform the job. This includes things like computer skills, degrees, special certifications, lifting requirements, other physical requirements and previous experience. An employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Do not automatically exclude disabled candidates because many can perform essential functions with a reasonable accommodation.

You can also add a section for skills desired. These are the skills that your ideal candidate would have, but they are skills that are not required. For example, it would be nice to hire a cashier who has previous experience using your type of register, but this is not necessary. You could train someone on this skill in their first week on the job.

Keep it Simple

Just as you do with good workplace documentation, avoid flowery language. I one time had a manager send me a job description for a data entry position. The job was mostly taking orders by phone and fax and entering them in to the order system. The manager had such a detailed description that she had to put the text in 9-point in order to get it to fit on one page. A job like this can easily be described in a page without relying on overly detailed descriptions.

Write simple explanations that avoid being overly detailed. For example, “Enter employment status changes in the HR system and file backup paperwork in employee files.”

Focus on the key tasks, and do not get bogged down on uncommon tasks. Remember to include a statement in the description of duties that says, “Other duties as assigned.” This gives you a little room for the job to grow.

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