Writing successful job descriptions

A job description is an essential document for every position, make sure you're writing them successfully with this quick guide.

14 August 2020

Job descriptions often need to fulfil a number of purposes:

- for recruitment

- for job evaluation 

- for performance management.

This article describes what is needed in a job description for job evaluation (JE) purposes. Separate documents or versions may be needed for other purposes. 

The NHS Job Evaluation Scheme (JES) measures the skills, responsibilities and effort required for a job in order to allocate it to a pay band. It uses consistent criteria across the wide range of NHS jobs in order to ensure pay parity and avoid equal pay challenges. 

Trained job evaluation (JE) panellists use agreed job information when undertaking job evaluation (or matching to national profiles).  Part of this information is an agreed job description that gives sufficient information for the panel to understand the responsibilities of the job and the skills required to do it. 

Therefore, the job description considered by a JE panel needs to:

  • describe the skills and responsibilities needed to perform the role 
  • define where the job fits within the overall company hierarchy 
  • outline the types of activities a post-holder is expected to do and decisions they may need to make 
  • outline the autonomy a post-holder has in undertaking the duties required by the role. 

Whilst the job description is a key document for job evaluation, it does not need to be written to follow and give information on each the 16 factors of the NHS JES.   

National job profiles ARE NOT job descriptions.

Job descriptions DO NOT need to look like a national job profile.

Do not use words and phrases taken straight from the NHS Job Evaluation Handbook or national job evaluation profiles. Many of the phrases that are used in profiles and the factor plan are defined within the NHS JE handbook and may not make sense by themselves in a job description.

A job description (JD) describes a role while the JE profile is used for analysing the information on the JD and therefore should not be the same. Where the language is the same as the JE profile, the JD is likely to be rejected by the panel. However, you can look at profiles to get an idea about the expectations and differentiation between profiles at different bands. 

There are some factors that would not be expected to be covered in a JD, such as effort factors. There is provision for collecting that information in the NHS Job Evaluation Handbook either by using partnership job analysts or by agreeing a pro forma for the jobholder and their line manager to complete. 

Line managers writing or reviewing job descriptions are encouraged to work with their organisation’s job evaluation leads.  They will be able to ensure that the contents of the JD are clear for job matching purposes. 

Job evaluation and matching panels also consider the person specification drawn up for recruitment purposes.  However, panellists need to be aware that the main purpose of the person specification is recruitment, to assess the skills and experience necessary to recruit someone into the role and to assist with shortlisting.  Job evaluation measures the role, not the person in the role – so panels need to take care when assessing skills and knowledge where this needs to be learnt on the job and is not stated as an “essential criteria”.  In some roles, qualifications are necessary in order to register to practice, but for many roles there will be alternative ways of showing competence. 

Top tips to consider when drafting a job description in your organisation: 

  • The first important element of a JD is the job title, which should have the following qualities: 

    • It accurately reflects the nature of the job and the duties performed. 
    • It reflects its ranking order with other jobs. 
    • It is free of gender or age implications. 
    • It is self-explanatory for recruitment purposes (in most online job searches, the job title is the main key word searched). 
  • Never write a job description with a person in mind. The most important aspect of a JD is that it reflects what the service needs. 

  • This should be the essence of the role, for example to provide HR advice to managers. Just concentrate on the main reason for the job existing, you will be able to add specific tasks and responsibilities in the next section. 

  • The job description should contain a list of duties and responsibilities associated with the role. You could indicate the amount of time expected to be dedicated to each task, which should be represented as a percentage, for example: 

    • filing 20% 
    • data entry 40%. 

    Descriptions of duties should be no more than two or three sentences in length and should be outcome-based, containing an action, an object and a purpose. For example: ‘Compiles monthly reports to allow monitoring of the department’s budget’. 

    • Use examples to illustrate where possible. Make sure responsibilities are relevant. 
    • The list of duties and responsibilities will vary in length, but as a rule, should be as short as possible, otherwise the document becomes an operational manual rather than a job description. 
    • Keep it factual and do not repeat tasks/responsibilities. Avoid gender specific or discriminatory language. 
  • As well as being helpful for a job evaluation panel to understand how departments are structured and how roles are interfaced, it also confirms to prospective candidates where their job will sit in the service/department. 

  • Asking for many years of experience may fall foul of both age discrimination and gender discrimination law, as it could prevent younger people and women from applying for certain jobs. 

    Instead of specifying years of experience or service, which is time-based so potentially indirectly age discriminatory, employers should specify the type, breadth or level of experience needed for the particular job and the skills and competencies required. 

  • Remember to use straightforward, phrases and sentences, avoid abbreviations and always explain what you mean by your terminology.