Job descriptions must define skills
By knowing the talents required, companies and candidates can best assess applicants’ abilities against a position’s needs.
BakingBusiness.com, Sept. 1, 2012
by Jim Kline
POWER Engineers

Job descriptions represent a paradox unto themselves. Most of us have one, and likely, most of us have prepared one. They should define our jobs and set the targets against which our performance will be measured. It would seem that this would be a critical document, yet how many job descriptions are really raised to this level of importance?

A while back, I was asked to prepare new job descriptions for my organization and myself. In fact, the whole company went through this exercise. To assist us in this task, we all attended seminars on how to write job descriptions and were provided with a handbook. And we were given 30 days in which to get it all done.

About six months later, my supervisor and I prepared reviews, then we sat down and compare them. My supervisor read mine, which was based on the job descriptions we’d recently finished, and told me I would have to rewrite it. I was presented with a new set of criteria against which I would be judged. So much for the rewrite effort we had completed only months before.

Recently, I have been working on job descriptions for several clients, reviewing existing documents and creating new ones. In doing the research for this work, I have been reviewing applicable job descriptions online. Recently, I read one in which Point No. 7 read, “Seeks to develop creative and cost-efficient solutions to current business problems.”

Think about that. If a person sought out information on anything related to the business, they fulfilled this aspect of their job. They did not have to implement a cost-effective solution, solve a problem or improve their operation — just “seek” it out.

Having looked at hundreds of job descriptions, I can tell you these types of statements are more common than not. In thinking about these documents, how they should be used and the seriousness with which they should be taken, I have started to view their preparation differently.

A far stronger job description is one built on the skills required by the job. What skills would be needed to develop creative and cost-efficient solutions to current business problems? First, you have to have an understanding of the process to identify the problem. Then, you need to begin a problem-solving effort and identify alternatives that may be able to address the issue. Next, it would take analytical skills to perform the study. Finally, for it to be cost-effective, it would take the ability to perform financial analysis. Now we get a picture of what skills we want in a person assigned that task.

Perhaps, Point No. 7 would better read, “Ability to apply problem-solving techniques to cost-effectively resolve process performance issues.” This will require the employee to have knowledge of the process as well as the ability to perform problem and cost analyses. The individual also will need to effectively summarize findings and propose recommendations for improvement.

Think about the benefits this will provide during the interview process for a new employee or a promotional opportunity when someone asks what you are looking for in your ideal candidate. When you can state the skills required, it enables you and the candidate to better assess his or her capabilities against the necessary skills. You are able to identify the person’s strengths and weaknesses, ensuring few if any surprises later.

And what about that dreaded annual review process? If job descriptions are skills-based, it is much easier to discuss one’s performance against those skills and to identify areas for opportunity. Once you bring it down to a skill, performance improvement becomes meaningful to the employee and executable in establishing an improvement program.

One last point regarding job descriptions: Use the annual performance review as a time when you and the employee review and update it. Keep it current, and always seek opportunities for continuous growth in employee’s skills and in the position’s relevance to the company.       

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.