Job descriptions: What are they used for?

By Kate Schieldt, SHRM-SCP, ABC of Wisconsin Director of Human Resource Member Services

For many, writing a job description can be time consuming and difficult. A well written job description can provide many benefits to an organization. Not only does it communicate the job title, exemption status and responsibilities, it details the purpose, essential functions, knowledge, skills and abilities, as well as any other items an organization feels necessary to perform the position.

While the focus of the job description is to communicate the expectation of a position, it goes beyond the details required to perform a job successfully. It can be used as a tool for many situations in managing an employee and various communications. Here are some of the areas a job description can be used:

Recruiting Tool: An organization can use a well written job description as a valuable tool for the hiring process, to define and communicate the position requirements, the reporting relationship and working conditions. It can also be used to help formulate interview questions to find the right candidate.

Performance Management: It is tough to measure performance if it is not defined and communicated. The job description can assist in setting performance goals based on the duties defined. A manager can also use the job descriptions as a tool to encourage the employee to perform “above and beyond” the job description in order to receive recognition and reward(s).

Training and Employee Development: Information in the job description can help the employee and manager define needed training and developmental opportunities. The job description can also be a tool to help support discussions on promotional opportunities and motivation to grow within the organization.


Compensation: The information in the job description serves as a reference for determining comparable industry salaries as well as detail to determine exemption status of a position.

Discipline: The job description can be used to define that an employee is not performing adequately to the job functions. Many companies use the job description when communicating and implementing a performance improvement plan (PIP) for an employee who is not meeting job requirement(s).

Essential job function analysis: The job description is important to meet expectations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The job description can provide information on the “essential functions” of a job. This is valuable when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The job description can contain prerequisites for positions such as educational requirements, work experience, physical requirements, supervisory responsibilities and certificates or licenses needed. The job description can also assist in providing a defense against a lawsuit of employment discrimination in the recruiting process or while employed.

Return to work programs: The job description can assist in defining light or modified duty possibilities for a workers’ compensation injury or a leave.

As you can see, there are many benefits in a well written job description. It may be a good time to review your company’s job descriptions to assure they are current. If you don’t have job descriptions now is the time to define them.

If you need assistance with developing job descriptions call or email Kate Schieldt at ABC of Wisconsin at 608-244-5883 or
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