Writing Position Descriptions

Position descriptions are helpful to job applicants, employees, supervisors and to Human Resources staffers at every stage in the employment relationship. They provide information about the knowledge, training, education, and skills needed for each job. They prevent misunderstanding by informing employees what they need to know to successfully perform their jobs and fulfill the mission of the University.

Position descriptions should answer certain questions
  • What work is assigned to the position?
  • How is the work accomplished? (methods, procedures, etc.)
  • What are the primary duties?
  • How often are the duties performed?
  • What percentage of time per week (based on the work week) is spent on these duties? (example: If a 40 hour week then 4 hours a week = 10%, 2 hours a week = 5%.)
  • What specific materials, equipment or machines are used in carrying out the job?
  • Does the position work with other positions or alone? What type of involvement occurs with other positions?
  • What type of supervision is received? Who reviews a completed project for accuracy? How frequent is work reviewed?
  • Does the position supervise other positions?
  • What type of supervision is given to other positions?
  • What are the minimum qualifications a person must have to be able to do the job (education, training, and/or experience)? These must be at least those required by the class specifications.

Quantify whenever possible. Indicate dollar volume for financial responsibility, number of accounts, ledgers, grants, number of faculty in department, number of persons supervised, etc.

How to describe a job/position
  • The job itself should be described--not the individual performing the job.
  • Position descriptions should be written in a concise, uniform and complete fashion to enable reviewing personnel to understand clearly the duties and responsibilities.
  • Position descriptions should be written in plain, straightforward, everyday English. Common terms should be used.
Wording of the position description

The position's immediate supervisor should develop the position description and share with the employee so the expectations of the job functions are clear.  The supervisor and management have the right and responsibility to authorize the content of a position description (assign duties and responsibilities).

Do:

  • Use short, direct verbs in the present tense.
  • Describe specifically and in sufficient detail:
    • What work is completed?
    • What methods are used?
    • What equipment and/or tools are used?
    • Responsibility for the results.
    • Consequence of actions or errors.
    • Instructions or guidelines provided.
    • Supervision exercised and received.
    • Relationship of position with others within the organization.
    • Any other pertinent facts.
  • Assign approximate percent of time spent in each outlined responsibility.
  • Provide sufficient information on the position description to clearly distinguish the level from the other levels in the series if requesting that a position be classified to a class within a class series.

Don't:

  • Copy the verbiage from the class specification.
  • Use ambiguous terms, such as "handle," "research," etc., without an explanation as to what this involves.
  • Lump several responsibilities together and assign large percentages of time.
  • Use abbreviations or technical terms without an explanation.
  • Describe personal characteristics. (example: "Deals with the public and must have a pleasing personality at all times.") This can be listed under “Other Characteristics of the Position” if necessary.
Commonly used action verbs
  • Administer - Manage or direct the execution of affairs.
  • Adopt - Take up and practice as one's own.
  • Advise - Recommends a course of action; offer an informed opinion based on specialized knowledge.
  • Analyze - Separate into elements and critically examine.
  • Anticipate - Foresee and deal with in advance.
  • Appraise - Give an expert judgment of worth or merit.
  • Approve - Accept as satisfactory; exercise final authority with regard to commitment of resources.
  • Arrange - Make preparation for an event; put into proper order.
  • Assemble - Collect or gather together in a predetermined order from various sources.
  • Assign - Specify or designate tasks or duties to be performed by others.
  • Assure - Give confidence; make certain of.
  • Authorize - Approve; empower through vested authority.
  • Calculate - Make a mathematical computation.
  • Collaborate - Work jointly with; cooperate with others.
  • Collect - Gather.
  • Compile - Put together information, collect from other documents.
  • Conduct - Carry on; direct the execution of.
  • Confer - Consult with others to compare views.
  • Consolidate - Bring together.
  • Consult - Seek the advice of others.
  • Control - Measure, interpret and evaluate actions for conformance with plans or desired results.
  • Correspond - Communicate with.
  • Delegate - Commission another to perform tasks or duties that may carry specific degrees of accountability.
  • Design - Conceive, create and execute according to plan.
  • Determine - Resolve; fix conclusively or authoritatively.
  • Develop - Disclose, discover, perfect or unfold a plan or idea.
  • Direct - Guide work operations through the establishment of objectives, policies, regulations, practices, methods and standards.
  • Draft - Prepare papers or documents in preliminary form.
  • Endorse - Support or recommend.
  • Establish - Bring into existence.
  • Estimate - Forecast future requirements.
  • Evaluate - Determine or fix the value of.
  • Execute - Put into effect or carry out.
  • Expedite - Accelerate the process or progress of.
  • Formulate - Develop or devise.
  • Furnish - Provide with what is needed; supply.
  • Implement - Carry out; execute a plan or program.
  • Improve - Make something better.
  • Initiate - Start or introduce.
  • Inspect - Critically examine for suitability.
  • Interpret - Explain something to others.
  • Investigate - Study through close examination and systematic inquiry.
  • Issue - Put forth or to distribute officially.
  • Maintain - Keep in an existing state.
  • Monitor - Watch, observe, or check for a specific purpose.
  • Negotiate - Confer with others in order to reach an agreement.
  • Operate - Perform an activity or series of activities.
  • Participate - To take part in.
  • Perform - Fulfill or carry out.
  • Process - Handle in accordance with prescribed procedures.
  • Provide - Supply what is need; furnish.
  • Recommend - Advise or counsel a course of action; offer or suggest for adoption.
  • Represent - Act in the place of or for.
  • Report - Give an account of; furnish information or data.
  • Research - Inquire into a specific matter from several sources.
  • Review - Examine or reexamine.
  • Revise - Rework in order to correct or improve.
  • Schedule - Plan a timetable.
  • Sign - Formally approve a document.
  • Specify - State precisely in detail or name explicitly.
  • Submit - Yield or present for the discretion or judgment of others.
  • Supervise - Communicates with, trains and evaluates employees, plans and directs their work; and has the authority to hire, transfer, suspend, layoff, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward or discipline subordinate employees or effectively recommends such actions.
  • Transcribe - Transfers data from one form of record to another or from one method of preparation to another without changing the nature of the data.
  • Verify - Confirm of establish authenticity; substantiate.
Ambiguous terms

Avoid using ambiguous terms such as "assist," "advise," "handle," "inspect," and "research." If it is essential that such terms be used, the degree of assistance, advice, handling, inspecting, or researching should be stated.

Factors that influence position classification:

Complexity of Work Performed

  • Difficulty of tasks performed.
  • Variety of tasks performed.
  • Development of work methods.
  • Degree of independence and/or decision-making.

Consequence of Errors

  • Responsibility for safety of others.
  • Financial costs of errors.
  • Necessity for accuracy.

Supervision

  • Amount of supervision received.
  • Classification of immediate supervisor.
  • Number and level of subordinates under direct supervision.

Fiscal Responsibility

  • Budget maintenance and planning.
  • Dollar amount responsible for, complexity of record kept, number of accounts, types and number of contracts and grants.
  • Purchasing authority.
  • Type and dollar amount of purchases made.

Reports and Record Keeping

  • Complexity of records systems used.
  • Design of records systems used.
  • Gathering and compiling report data.
  • Drawing inferences from data.
  • Quantitative reports compiled.

Knowledge and Experience

  • Technical knowledge required.
  • Amount of training required.
  • Education.
  • Special Certification.

Responsibility for Public Contact

  • Classes or segments of the public, level of public officials dealt with.
  • Subject matter dealt with, simple or complex.
  • Purposes of contact: to give information, negotiate problems, gain support, etc.