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Articles - Conveying the Meaning of the Job

Conveying the Meaning of the Job


A good job description gives members of your team a very precise idea of what you expect from them, including making the real meaning of the job clear.

Much like an organization’s vision statement, a well-written job description expresses the role in terms of its overall purpose. Articulated this way, it is a meaningful framework for managing performance expectations, evaluating people, and giving feedback.

For example, Sally, the receptionist, may answer the phones every day but describing her job as a “phone answerer” in no way reflects the real purpose of her role. It doesn’t tell Sally what is expected of her, or why her position is of value to the company. What if an automatic phone system is installed and she no longer has to physically answer calls? How do you describe her position then? Answering the phone is only one duty; her larger role is to be the primary contact for customers. Using a vision statement approach you might say that “the receptionist’s job is to welcome people to the facility and convey a family atmosphere from first contact”. This is much more informative and humane, and much more likely to motivate the full set of behaviors that you want. By thinking first about why you have a receptionist, and then working back to list the duties related to that – you’ll have a stronger and more meaningful description of the job function.

Reasons for Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are an essential part of managing the work of any organization. Use them to do the following:

-          Provide meaning for people, so that they know why their job exists, and understand the value of their work.

-          Give a set of clear expectations for workers, so that you can manage people’s performance in line with these expectations.

-          Give people and clear sense of priorities, so that they know what to concentrate on, and what not to waste time on.

-          Define organizational structure, and plan human resources needs.

-          Advertise jobs, and recruit candidates.

-          Establish career progression.

-          Identify training requirements, and train new staff.

Where to Start

To begin writing a job description, you’ll need to gather data. The following are common sources of information:

-          Mission statements for departments and the overall organization.

-          Interviews with people currently in the positions.

-          Postings used to advertise for positions.

-          Old job descriptions.

-          Competency lists and performance criteria.

-          Performance goals.

-          Organizational charts.

-          Regulatory requirements

Basic Parts of a Job Description

When you’ve gathered the information you need, start to organize it. Include these five key sections in the description.

1. Position identifiers

What is the title, and what is the reporting relationship?

-                Use a brief phrase/title that captures the overall purpose of the position, bearing in mind that different titles mean different things to different people. For example, in some organizations a secretary the person who does everything related to office administration. In larger businesses, you may have an Office Manager, a Corporate Secretary, a Sales Secretary and a Receptionist. Try to create a meaningfully descriptive job title.

-                Include department information.

-                Specify who the position reports to (the boss), as well as which other people may report to this position (subordinates).

-                Indicate the date you created or revised the job description.

2. Position purpose

This is what sets the position’s direction and focus. It is the mission and vision for a particular job.

-                Start by thinking about why the position exists.

-                Adopt a “big picture” view of the job.

-                Limit yourself to one sentence, and describe what this job really does for the organization and for its customers.

-                Think in terms of a performance review and ask, “What does the person in this position need to accomplish, above all, for me to say that he or she fulfilled my expectations?”

-                Remember to describe the “position,” not the “person” who currently fills the role.

3. Description of duties

This is the heart of the position description. In this section you outline specifically what is expected of the person fulfilling the role. This area helps the reader identify priorities and understand what he/she has to accomplish to meet the stated purpose.

Start by identifying the essential areas of activity. These are the things that the person must do really well in order to achieve the job purpose.

-                Start with the most important key result or responsibility.

-                Include outcome measures that indicate how to meet expectations and reach goals. Use key performance indicators to express results in terms of the position’s critical success factors.

-                Describe how the result is accomplished. What does the person in the role actually do to fulfill the responsibility?

4. Job qualifications

What combination of education and experience is needed?

Identify the:

-          Necessary job skills.

-          Technical skills, if any.

-          Work history and experience needed.

A few tips to remember:

- This is NOT a list of qualifications of the person currently in this position. Ask yourself what you need for a new person to meet the job requirements

- You may want to consult your local labor laws and regulations to make sure your job qualifications don’t discriminate in any way.

5. Personal characteristics

What type of person would be a great fit for this position and this organization?


-          Desirable personality traits and values.

-          Interpersonal skills that fit into the current corporate culture.

-          Preferred educational and/or technical background, above the minimum requirements (these are the “nice to have” things that you can use to evaluate applicants).

Key Points

For many organizations, preparing job descriptions isn’t a high priority. Descriptions tend to develop over time, based on the position holder’s skills, abilities, aptitudes, and interests. These descriptions create little value and, therefore, preparing them may be seen as an ineffective use of time and energy.

Spend more time analyzing the positions in your company and understanding what the key results and success factors are. By creating thoughtful job descriptions, you’ll have a document that can be used for planning and recruiting as well as for evaluating individual performance and improving organizational efficiency. This will definitely be worthwhile for all involved.