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Writing a Job Description

A good job description serves many functions: 

  • Defines the ongoing job responsibilities for the employee
  • Identifies the required knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to be successful in a role.
  • Basis for writing interview questions.
  • Used to set the appropriate classification for the job and therefore the appropriate level of pay.
  • Used as a legal document should performance issues arise. 

It takes time to write a good job description. A good job description that targets the right candidates, allows for a great hire, and clearly defines the responsibilities for the new employee to be successful will save you a lot of time and money later on. Job descriptions can be created in PageUp. For access, contact your HR Representative.

When writing a job description, consider the following definitions:

  • Task: The simplest and most basic element in the job.
  • Duties: A summary of related tasks.
  • Responsibilities: A summary of related job duties.

If you are creating a new position description, it may help to start with a list of tasks that need to be completed. After listing 20 to 30 tasks, organize these into like groups. These groups may become job duties. You can now summarize these duties into three to six job responsibilities.

Responsibility statement

For each responsibility statement, describe what work is to be done using a strong action verb and one or more modifying verbs that address why, how, for whom and in what surroundings the work is performed.  If there is a specific quantitative measure, describe what that is.

Responsibility statements should be written with sufficient level of detail as to describe the work performed but should not include the instructions or procedures for performing the job.

The instructions on how a particular responsibility should be carried out should be defined in standard operating procedures which should be separate from the job description. The number of responsibilities that are initially defined will vary from job to job. Generally, you should be able to describe a job using five key responsibilities (no less than three and no more than six).

For each responsibility you should estimate the percentage of time spent on each. The total should add to 100 percent.

Essential and marginal duties

You will also need to identify whether each responsibility is Essential or Marginal.

Essential Duties are those that are critical, integral, necessary, crucial, primary, and/or fundamental. These essential functions are the basic job duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodations.

Marginal Duties are those that are peripheral, minimal, extra, incidental, non-essential. These duties could be removed without destroying the basic purpose of the position.

Percent of total time Description of job responsibility/duty Essential or marginal
40 Sorts incoming mail (what is done) into work unit groups (how it is done) for distribution (why it is done). Essential
20 Drafts and edits correspondence to applicants (what is done) using the style manual and procedures handbook (how it is done) informing them of their application status and application requirements (why it is done). Essential
20 Writes project reports (what is done) for senior management (for whom is it done). Essential
20 Manages a $250,000 (quantity) operating budget (what is done) for the purchase of office supplies and equipment (why it is done). Essential

Review the job responsibilities and develop a short description that summarizes the job.  The summary should be no more than three to five sentences that give a brief overview of the job.  The summary is not all inclusive.  You should identify the department and reporting structure for the position.

Example Position Summary: Acts as main office support for the Department of Biology and reports to the Office Manager. Receives and greets visitors, types a variety of documents and maintains the director’s calendar. Works with other university department such as human resources, purchasing, payroll and the controller’s office to ensure that a variety of business transactions are completed effectively and timely.

Identify a working title that represents the work and the appropriate level of the position. Many employees and job applicants will make judgments about a position based on the working title.  In most cases a working title of "Supervisor" will provide performance management for other employees and a working title of "Manager" will provide performance management for at least one supervisor (or major program area) and several other employees. Faculty and role titles are typically not specific enough to clearly identify the job and should not be used as Working titles.

Examples

  • Fiscal assistant
  • Fiscal technician
  • Fiscal specialist
  • Fiscal analyst
  • Fiscal coordinator
  • Fiscal supervisor
  • Fiscal manager
  • Fiscal director

When most employees hear the term compensation, they typically only think of the money they receive in their paycheck each payday; however, Total Compensation goes beyond salary-it is the comprehensive pay package for employees. At Virginia Tech, this includes all forms of money, benefits, services, resources, discounts, and more for which employees are eligible.

Virginia Tech employees enjoy a total compensation package that far exceeds the value of their base salary alone. To help current and prospective employees understand the complete value of their compensation package, the Human Resources has created an interactive Total Compensation Estimator. This tool provides a more complete picture of the value of an employee’s total compensation package at Virginia Tech.

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Identify the experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that are required and/or preferred for this position. Required KSAs are the qualifications that cannot be easily learned. Qualifications that can be acquired within a six-month period of starting employment are generally among the preferred qualifications.

  • Experience: Previous history of involvement in a specific set of duties or responsibilities, such as experience as a professional carpenter.
  • Knowledge: Information needed to perform the responsibilities, such as knowledge of generally accepted accounting principles and bookkeeping procedures.
  • Skill: Competence to perform a psychomotor act, such as operating a machine.
  • Ability: Competence to produce an observable product, such as ability to work effectively with clients, or ability to communicate abstract ideas.

Minimum and Preferred Qualifications

Minimum and preferred qualifications are used by the hiring manager to screen job applicants to determine the most qualified candidates. Some qualifications are screened during the review of resumes (experience, demonstrated knowledge, demonstrated ability) while other qualifications must be evaluated during the interview (ability to, knowledge of). For example, you cannot determine if someone has ‘excellent communication skills’ by reviewing a piece of paper, but you can evaluate this skill during a phone interview or in-person interview.

  • Minimum qualifications: The candidate must meet every minimum qualification to be considered qualified for the position. Each job will contain three to four minimum requirements.  Limit the minimums to what the person absolutely must have to start the job.
  • Preferred qualifications: Preferred qualifications identify your ideal candidate. Try to limit preferences to less than five. If you have a preference for someone with university accounting knowledge, state it as ‘experience with state and/or university accounting systems’ so that you don’t limit yourself to just internal applicants.

When identifying requirements, keep in mind:

  • The qualifications should match the level of the job.
  • State policy prevents requiring ‘years of experience’ for staff jobs.
  • State policy prevents requiring a high school diploma or the equivalent (except for Police/Security jobs).
  • If requiring a college degree for staff jobs, you should state it as follows – “bachelor's degree in XYZ and/or the equivalent level of training and experience”.
  • Administrative (professional and managerial) jobs should require a master's degree such as – “master's degree in XYZ required or bachelor's degree and extensive experience”.
  • Banner should not be listed as a requirement. You may list it as a preference but it is best to require “experience with relational databases”.
  • University knowledge should not be a requirement. This limits to internal candidates only. You may seek “state and/or university experience in XYZ” as a preference.
  • Band 3 and below usually do not seek a college degree as a minimum requirement.
  • Band 4 and above typically do require a degree and/or experience.
  • Be careful that requirements do not exclude women or minorities.
  • Be careful that requirements do not exclude candidates with disabilities (such as excellent oral and written communication skills – better to write as excellent communication skills).

Employment conditions must meet legal and policy requirements such as University Policy 4060: Criminal History and Driving Record InvestigationUniversity Policy 4061: Drug and Alcohol Testing Guidelines, and others, as required. A list of university policies can be found online.  A summary of key items:

  • CDL requires pre-employment drug screening and driving check.
  • Conviction checks are required for safety sensitive positions such as those doing fiscal work, those with direct access to buildings/offices and students.
  • Driving checks are required when driving is a requirement of the job.
  • Drug screening–required for all CDL, police, pilot, and other safety sensitive positions
  • Medical screening is required for police and certain other positions. Conditional offers of employment must be made prior to the medical screening.
  • Finger print screening is required for certain safety sensitive positions. This may also include those in child/elder care and those with access to select agents.

Identify physical requirements that are necessary to perform the job. These requirements should focus on what needs to be accomplished and not how it is done. The job may require moving and handling 50 pound bags of flour; however, a person in a wheel chair may be able to do the job with certain accommodations. The individual does not have to lift the bag of flour but may use some other device to move the bag of flour. Following are examples of wording for key requirements if needed in the job advertisement:

  • Ability to safely, frequently, and independently move and handle XX lbs.
  • Ability to climb and work off of ladders and scaffolds.
  • Ability to work outside in various weather conditions.
  • Ability to secure (clean) (access) doors/offices at all levels of the building.

If an injury or accident occurs and the current employee needs accommodations to perform his/her job, contact ADA and Accessibility Services.

Contact your department/college HR representative if you need assistance writing or updating a job description. 

Additional resources

  • State Classification: Role and Career Group Descriptions
  • O*Net: Examples of Knowledge, Skill, and Ability statements
  • SOC: Federal Standard Occupational Classifications (task & duty examples)