employer resources

Position, job or role descriptions are often unfairly viewed as an administrative tool that includes an unwieldy list of responsibilities and accountabilities, loosely related to a role, that are referred to only when reviewing performance or ‘updated’ when advertising a role vacancy.

They do however have a specific purpose.

A clear, well written position description is a “must” have. It can make a real difference in the employer/employee relationship and is certainty not something that should be ignored or left to gather dust in a filing cabinet.

Attracting Talent

First and foremost, a position description should be an accurate reflection of the purpose of a role. Setting out why the job exists relative to the needs of the organisation, as well as defining the type of person who would likely succeed in the role. Regardless of whether you are utilising the services of an external provider or managing the process internally, when you are recruiting for a role, a position description is a primary tool for clarifying your expectations of the “right” candidate while also guiding the new hire during the onboarding process.

In addition to keeping you on track and focused during a recruitment process (with the aim of avoiding a wrong hire), a badly constructed position description can be a big red flag for jobseekers. For example, lengthy and unrealistic mandatory experience and qualification requirements, or, either too broad or too specific day-to-day responsibilities and duties, suggests uncertainty by the employer as to the function of the role and what they are looking for in the right person. It can also give clues about an organisation’s culture and values at the macro and micro level. For example, is this a business that has a clear vision and has designed a structure to help realise it’s goals? Or more specifically, is this an organisation that rewards independence and creative thinking?

Retaining Talent

The other primary purpose of a position description is to give your people clarity within their role – which has a direct correlation with individual, team and organisational performance. As a tool for measuring employee performance and in particular rewarding good performance, position descriptions are absolutely fundamental.

A well written position description is also useful for identifying skill gaps and contributing towards creating a learning and development programme specific to each employee and their role. Professional development is a proven employee retention tool. Savvy organisations understand that top talent is hard to find and painful to lose.

Tips for writing a position description:

  1. Keep it up to date and flexible – roles are continually evolving as are the expectations you have of your people. Make it a priority to regularly review position descriptions even for long-term staff, particularly if you are making structural changes which could impact a role. When reviewing position descriptions, ask existing employees for their feedback. You’re looking for their insights on company culture and the specifics of the role itself.
  2. Make sure you are on-brand and include some insight into your organisation – for new hires in particular, it’s important to include an introduction to the organisation including insights into its culture and values. Make sure you write in a way that is consistent with your brand voice but try to avoid abbreviations or internal terminology.
  3. Don’t be overly prescriptive when it comes to listing the “ideal” person specification – remember that a position description should be about describing the job rather than the person. Plus hiring for potential, rather than strict experience/skill requirements, will not only broaden your pool of high-potential candidates but it can also improve diversity which boosts innovation and performance, as well as overall employee engagement.
  4. Understand the difference between the employment agreement and the position description – the employment agreement sets out the terms and conditions of the employment relationship so should include specific details like remuneration, employment benefits, hours of work etc. Part of that ‘contractual relationship’ is the position description.
  5. Include desired outcomes or achievement indicators rather than listing specific KPIs – when outlining accountability areas, you will likely include your expectations for the person in the role but avoid including KPIs in a position description. These are subject to continual change and should be agreed and reviewed as part of your performance and rewards programme.
  6. Be mindful of your language – ensure you are using inclusive language that avoids bias while also highlighting an inclusive culture. There are plenty of online tools and bias decoders that can help improve your writing.
  7. Be positive and constructive but leave the “marketing” to the job ad – for role vacancies, your job advert or role brief is your opportunity to “sell” a role and organisation. Your aim with a position description should be on setting clear expectations.
  8. Your focus should be on the employee – write your position descriptions for your people (existing or potential) rather than an exhaustive list of what the organisation expects or wants. When writing, ask yourself how will this role (and the individual) contribute to our company’s mission?

Online Tools and Software

If your organisation has a HR Information System (HRIS), it’s likely that the software may include a position description generator or template as a starting point. There are also numerous position description builders available online, free of charge. And of course ChatGPT, OpenAI’s free chatbot, is a go-to source to assist with generating content in a “conversational” way.

While these tools are great time savers, it’s important that a position description defines a role and responsibilities relative to your organisational need. It’s often said that the success or failure of an organisation depends on role and goal clarity at both an individual and team level. Every person in your business serves a specific purpose – which is defined by their role or position description – that collectively helps you attain your organisational goals. It’s ok to get some inspiration from online tools and software but make sure you customise position descriptions for the role so that it serves its purpose.

CEO Position Description

A position description for a Chief Executive Officer or senior executive serves the same purpose as any functional role within an organisation and to some extent it includes similar information – role purpose, objectives, responsibilities etc. However, given the criticality of the role in terms of business impact, it’s likely to have more of a focus on the future of the organisation and the role the person will have in shaping it.

If you are recruiting for a senior leadership position, there will be an expectation by candidates for more detailed information on areas like strategic vision and organisational structure. Rather than including this information in a position description you may find it useful to develop a role brief for the position. For a CEO or senior leader recruitment process, it is also standard practice to create a candidate profile which details the skills, experiences and behaviours required of the ideal candidate in order for them to perform in the role effectively.

Best Practice Guide

While a position description should be unique to an organisation and a role, we’ve compiled a best practice guide of what content to include.