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My Love-Hate Relationship With Job Descriptions

Topics: Growth

I used to have a truly unreasonable hatred for writing job descriptions. It was so unreasonable that the complaining and avoidance tactics I used were legendary. There was a day in my career that I thought for sure I had been dealt bad karma when I was assigned the task of writing job descriptions for an entire department (50+ job descriptions). With no way of getting out of doing it (because quitting my job would have been a slight overreaction), I had to work out a plan of attack.

(Before we move on, please know that I am not in any way minimizing the importance of job descriptions. Job descriptions are critical for recruitment and retention as well as ensuring compliance with laws and regulations. They are also the go-to document for Comp and HR professionals for activities such as market pricing, designing incentive plans and analyses for internal equity. But, that said…)

A New, More Insightful Approach

I decided the most expeditious way to get the information I needed to do all of that writing was to interview the manager(s) of the jobs. This was not typical job-description writing behavior. Typically someone breezed by my desk, told me 35 seconds worth of information about a job, and I had to run off and magically create a job description. See how this deep hatred evolved?

With this new methodology, I began conducting brief interviews with managers and learned all I could about the jobs and the area they managed.  I decided that I wanted to prevent death by boredom in these meetings and made my objective to get the manager talking. And I don’t mean talking in a job description format (or to fill in lines in a job description); I informally interviewed this person to gain all the knowledge I could. As I started doing this, I couldn’t believe the depth of information I was gaining. Sure, I was learning about job duties, but I was also learning about what was happening on a day-to-day basis in this area of the organization. After a few of these interviews, I realized I had absolutely hit gold. The knowledge gained during these sessions paid me back 1,000-fold in every other comp process I was involved in. I was gaining details and insights about the jobs as well as the department and the business. In addition, I had the added benefit of building a relationship with the managers.

Write Like Software Would

I took my epiphany one step further. Truth is, I had gained all of the value I really cared about from the interview process, but needed to remain employed and actually produce those job descriptions. After I recovered from mourning the fact that my organization could not support my impassioned plea (begging?) to buy that life-altering software that streamlines writing job descriptions, I decided I had to do something about this task. I took the most loathsome part of the process – the writing – and mechanized it. I became the software. I set up a standard format for the job description, made my statement plain and to the point and dropped the creative writing and thesaurus at the door (ah, maybe the details on “how-to” will be a future blog?). I got the information I needed in the interview and spent as little time as possible agonizing about what to spit out on paper. No fluff, just get it done.

Change Your Mindset

Are you calling B.S. because you’re still stuck with the responsibility of writing job descriptions? Yes this is true, but don’t stay stuck in the mindset that your job descriptions have to be written to rival the flair of Shakespeare — think of the organizational knowledge you gain through the interviews! Having the responsibility of writing job descriptions is an incredibly powerful opportunity to gain insights into areas of your organization that you might not get any other way. Be the machine and compartmentalize the activity of the actual writing and realize the power of the knowledge you gain during the process.

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If somehow you didn’t glean one kernel of wisdom from reading this, then chew on this: Everyone abhors writing job descriptions. Is this because the stone-cold fact is that we, as a profession, have completely overcomplicated the process of job description creation? If software can do this so well, and is so swift, straightforward and painless, shouldn’t that be the gold standard – either using software or by pen and paper/keyboard to Word?

Michele Kvintus
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Daniel Wan
Daniel Wan

Thanks Michele. Love the practical / no frills approach and eagerly awaiting to hear your other tales.


With the rate of change today, I’m of the view that writing JDs is a waste of time (they’re outdated as the ink dries). I merely categorise all activity into the 3-5 main responsibilities an employee carries. That saves so much time and gives space for flexibility + innovation (allowing good people to flex their performance muscles outside defined boxes).
And if you have poor performers – then of course you may need to be more detailed and describetheir job more specifically.

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