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How to prepare job descriptions

BY MEMORY NGUWI

A JOB description summarises what individuals do in a particular job and what attributes are required for a person to do the job well. Every employee in a normal situation must have a clear job description when they start a new job. This job description should be updated when the job changes. Job descriptions, unfortunately, come in different formats and sizes. The scope of what is covered in these job descriptions vary depending on who has prepared the job description

How to prepare a job description?

The approaches to preparing job descriptions vary from one organisation to another. Here I will share with you the best way to prepare job descriptions that work. This approach to job description writing is based on a scientific approach often used by Psychologists when preparing job descriptions used in test development. So far, this is the best approach to developing job descriptions that will help organisations hire the best candidate for each job.

Develop a job description template

To develop a credible job description, you need to build a template for collecting information about each job.  In creating a job description template, you must ensure that the template is based on a sound theoretical and research foundation. As an example, the best job descriptions are those that tape into the following framework;

Cognitive ability — We know from research that cognitive ability or general mental ability contributes the most to individual job performance. Therefore when developing job descriptions, it is important to gauge the level and variety of cognitive ability skills required to perform a particular job. There are off the shelf templates you can use to gather information on cognitive abilities. I recommend that you customise such job description templates to suit your organisational circumstances. In the cognitive ability template, you need to ensure that you have questions covering the following areas; memory,  numerical ability, critical thinking,  verbal ability, attention to detail and oral communication.

Manual dexterity — You would need to have a component of the job description template to cover issues to do with manual dexterity. This should cover finger dexterity and hand coordination requirements. In the same section, you could cover all matters to do with physical fitness and eye coordination requirements. There are well-researched template guidelines to use in all these areas.

Personality — Every job requires some level of personality alignment. Therefore it makes sense to collect this information when preparing a job description.  It is important to work under established personality traits like the big five and its sub-factors.  For example, under the Agreeableness dimension, you may want to cover sub-factors such as flexibility, gentleness, and patience.  In all this, you are collecting information on how each subfactor contributes to job performance in the target role and how important that factor is for someone to succeed in that role.

Job duties — Under here, the job duties are collected from subject matter experts and put together in statements. These job duties statements are rated for importance by the same subject matter experts or another group of subject matter experts.

Qualifications — Under this dimension, you are targeting to find out what minimum qualifications are required for someone to succeed in a particular role.

Experience — Under this dimension, you want to get the minimum experience required in the target role for someone to be effective.

 Use Subject Matter Experts

Once the job description template has been designed and agreed upon, you need to decide who will participate in completing the template or provide information about the job. Most people make a major mistake when developing job descriptions because they tend to rely on job incumbents to provide this information. Job incumbents are interested parties and therefore conflicted. The information often provided by job incumbents is not reliable and therefore is misleading.  They often inflate what they do. They often inflate the qualifications and experience required to make their job more important to the organisation’s detriment.

To address this flaw, it is advisable to use subject matter experts as your sources of data. Identify at least five subject matter experts per role and use them as a source of data. You should consider people who have done the job before and are now in higher roles. It is important to note that such people must have been deemed competent.

Each of the subject matter experts is given the job description template to complete. The template will have a rating scale to rate various statements under each of the dimensions. Once the experts have rated each statement, you can then average the ratings to get the relevant scores. Normally the statements are rated in terms of how important each of the statements is to the performance of the target job.

On the market, we see more generic job descriptions that do not address the needs of any particular organisation. . The approach will help the organisation and enhance the credibility of the human resources profession.

  • Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and HR consulting firm. — ipcconsultants.

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