First Person: Why Job Descriptions Matter

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As a small business owner, when you are planning to hire your first employee it's important to take the time to write a job description first. Here are five reasons why job descriptions matter.

Define and Prioritize Job Requirements. The process of writing a job description can help you define the position's responsibilities and prioritize them from those that are essential to those that are secondary and less crucial. It also can give you a perspective on the time demands of the job and whether it should be part time or full time.

Identify Ideal Candidate Qualifications. The process of identifying and prioritizing key aspects of the job also will help you determine the background, skills and other qualifications necessary to succeed in the job. This will save you time and effort when you begin to solicit resumes and are deciding which applicants to interview for the position.

Attract the Best Candidates. The job description will determine who applies for the position. If it isn't a clear and accurate portrayal of what the job entails, you may attract candidates who are over-qualified or under-qualified or who simply aren't a good fit for your firm. A well-written job description that highlights the essential requirements for the job is more likely to bring in candidates who at least meet the minimum qualifications if not more.

Determine Compensation. Setting forth a clear and complete job description will help you determine a competitive compensation package for the position. Among other things, it will allow you to identify what comparable jobs in your market command, both in hourly pay or salary and benefits. If, because your business is young and cash flow is tight, you find that you can't offer a competitive pay package, you may need to address this issue before starting the job interview process. For example, perhaps you will need to adjust the responsibilities and qualifications of the job to better match what you can pay.

Guidelines for Evaluation. The job description can act as a template for evaluating the performance of the individual who fills the position. One advantage of using a job description for this purpose is that both you and the employee will be using the same scorecard, resulting in a fair and clearly defined process for judging progress and performance.

Job descriptions are not, of course, meant to be fixed and unchanging. Especially when a position is new, you and the employee may find that the job is a work in progress, with some duties added over time and others deemphasized or even eliminated. Nevertheless, starting out with a clear description of job responsibilities and requirements will give both you and your new employee a better chance of success and job satisfaction.

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