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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Guide to writing position descriptions at Purdue University

Written position descriptions provide legal protection for employers and supervisors by documenting the work responsibilities for specific positions.

These descriptions allow positions to be grouped based on federal requirements so that:

  • accurate and legally defensible classifications can be determined,
  • similar pay can be provided for similar work,
  • candidates can be recruited who will be successful on the job, and
  • relevant performance reviews can be administered.

This article is designed to assist you in conceptualizing and developing both new and revised position descriptions in today's environment at Purdue University. By following a step-by-step method, you can develop appropriate position descriptions that accurately document the work responsibilities of your position(s).


�Minimum requirements� and the legal framework

Purdue is required to comply with regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), along with many other federal regulations. These regulations require Purdue to post positions with minimum requirements.

  • The descriptions need to reflect minimally acceptable qualifications, and should not be written based on the qualifications that would be possessed by an �ideal� candidate.
  • As a hiring supervisor, you should certainly select the best-qualified candidate, but the description must be written based on the minimum requirements for successful performance.

Order of items on Purdue's Staff Position Description Form

The order of the items on the position description is as follows:

  • Org Unit/Position/Supervisor Identifying Information
  • Employee Group
  • Time Reporting
  • Employee Subgroup
  • Education
  • Experience
  • Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
  • Criminal Conviction Records Check Question
  • Position Summary
  • Responsibilities
  • Supervision Roster
  • Physical, Environmental, and Hazardous Specifications
  • Signatures Block
  • Position Description Questionnaire (for Clerical and Service positions only)
  • Posting Form

To develop a well-integrated position description, it is helpful to fill out the form in a different order than it is presented. The rest of this document follows a suggested order designed to facilitate the process.


Please be sure to provide OnePurdue information, including org unit name and number. For existing positions, please also provide the position's OnePurdue ID number. With OnePurdue, we also need to know the supervisor's position ID number.

There are sections for you to enter a suggested title, the employee group, the employee subgroup, information about whether the position is full or part time, and what shift will be worked.


Position Summary

Briefly describe the primary purpose of the position. When summarizing the primary purpose, think about why the position exists. What is the main function? What key work would not get done if the position did not exist?

This statement is used by Human Resource Services in posting the position on the University Posting Listing, and in conjunction with other recruiting techniques.


Determine the major responsibilities of the position and their relationship to the organization's needs. Use action verbs in the present tense. For a good listing of action verbs related to specific types of work, check out a helpful resource from UCLA.

  • Do not use vague verbs like �manage,� �produce,� or �assist� unless you explain specifically what steps are involved in managing, producing, or assisting � who, to/for whom, what, when, how often, who else is involved, etc.
  • Make certain to include explanatory phrases that add meaning and clarify the why, how, where, or how often.
  • Eliminate bias terminology by structuring sentences in such a way that gender pronouns are not required.
  • Spell out acronyms.
  • Avoid subjective modifiers or words that might allow for misinterpretations; words such as sometimes, several, high level, occasionally, etc.

As you think about the position's responsibilities, please indicate percentage of effort spent in each major responsibility. Each major responsibility listed must be at least 5 percent of the total responsibilities.

  • Remember that too much detail on too many responsibilities is confusing � stick to the major responsibilities, and explain them clearly and succinctly.
  • If your area has identified job-related competencies necessary for optimal performance, be sure to relate each responsibility to the relevant competency. If you need assistance with this, please contact your compensation analyst.
  • If other positions are supervised by this position, there must be additional information included in the responsibilities section that supports the level of supervision indicated.


Supervision Roster

There are three types of supervision listed on Purdue's Position Description Form. Below are definitions for each type.

Functional Supervision: Individuals who functionally supervise others do so by assigning tasks, providing instructions, and reviewing work.

Temporary/Student Supervision: At Purdue, functional supervision also includes hiring, terminating, and making pay decisions for student and temporary employees.

Administrative Supervision: Always includes Functional Supervision. Also includes responsibility for making hiring and promotion decisions/recommendations, pay adjustments, and terminations.

If supervision is part of the responsibilities, please be sure to include information in the responsibilities section that supports the level of supervision indicated

Indicate the number of staff supervised under each category (Functional, Temporary/Student, and Administrative) on the Supervision Roster page, and list the position IDs of the supervised employees in the appropriate area of the form.


Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs)

The definitions below will help you fill out the KSA section of the position description. Please be sure to list required KSAs first, and then you may also include preferred KSAs. Please note which are required and which are preferred. Preferred KSAs can improve your ability to differentiate among qualified applicants.

Knowledge: Information or procedures a person needs to know to adequately perform the job. (Examples are: knowledge of basic math, knowledge of accounting, knowledge of computers, knowledge of office routines, knowledge of equipment operation, knowledge of supervisory principles, knowledge of policies/procedures, knowledge of foreign languages, composition.)

  • General Knowledge: Knowledge that is typically acquired either through school, related coursework, or previous experience. General knowledge enables one to use a source to find specific information when it is needed.
  • Working Knowledge: Knowledge that is acquired through training or previous work experience. Working knowledge requires specialized skills and thorough understanding of policies and procedures. This also includes general knowledge plus knowledge of and ability to recall important and commonly used information from a source. Working knowledge does not imply a thorough detailed knowledge of the specific provisions of all the relevant information.
  • Detailed Knowledge: Knowledge that requires a thorough understanding of policies and procedures typically acquired through extensive training or work experience. Detailed knowledge does imply a thorough and complete knowledge of all of the relevant information.

Skill: Technique, art, or trade requiring specialized training. (Examples are typing, data entry, word processing, organization/time management, proofreading/editing, oral/written communications, presentation skills, phone etiquette, interviewing, etc.)

Ability: Quality or trait one should be able to demonstrate while performing a mental or physical activity. (Examples could be analytical ability, interpretation of policies/procedures, ability to work under pressure, confidence, perceptiveness, credibility, etc.)

If your area has identified specific job-related competencies, you may wish to integrate them within the knowledge, skills, and abilities you include on your position description. If you need assistance with this, please contact your compensation analyst.

Criminal Convictions Records Check (CCRC)

Follow directions to note whether or not a CCRC is required and if so, why.


Education and Experience

In compliance with regulations and Purdue policy, it is necessary to determine the minimum education and experience required to successfully perform the major position responsibilities.

Education refers to the length of time spent in an academic or vocational environment, or coursework required by a typical worker to learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the facility necessary to perform in a specific position. There should be a direct correlation between the responsibilities and the level of education you select. Review each of the major responsibilities you have delineated, and determine the minimum educational level required to successfully perform the position.

Experience refers to the type of training typically acquired through school experiences (high school, college, commercial, shop, vocational, etc,) or directly related on-the-job work experiences. Review each of the responsibilities you have delineated, the education level you have specified, and determine both the type and length of experience required to perform the position. Some examples of work experiences might be as follows:

  • SAP experience
  • supervisory experience
  • public service experience
  • e-mail applications experience
  • computer experience
  • internet applications experience
  • word processing experience
  • information services experience
  • writing experience
  • web development experience
  • customer relations experience
  • information technology experience
  • typing/data entry experience
  • foreign language experience
  • office/clerical experience
  • document management experience
  • office management experience
  • payroll/purchasing experience
  • general office experience
  • fiscal management experience
  • filing/records maintenance
  • billing experience
  • accounting/finance
  • student services experience
  • secretarial experience
  • facilities management experience
  • records management
  • equipment maintenance experience
  • database applications experience
  • many other types

If you need help identifying the types of education and/or experience that would be appropriate for your position, please contact your compensation analyst.

You must list the minimum education and experience you will accept, but you may also wish to list preferred types and levels of education and experience. This will allow you to differentiate among qualified applicants.


Physical and Environmental Position Specifications (For All Positions)

This section of the position description form is designed to help Human Resource Services assess both the physical demands of the position, as well as the environmental conditions under which the position is performed.

This section also provides information pertinent to the Americans with Disabilities Act, specifying equipment usage, working conditions, etc.

Follow the instructions to list all equipment used, physical requirements, environmental and hazardous conditions.


Position Description Questionnaire (For Clerical and Service Positions Only)

This section is designed to assist Human Resource Services in completing an evaluation of the position in order to establish the position's classification and level.

The University uses a Nine Factor Evaluation System (NIFES) that is a weighted point-count evaluation system based upon the degrees assigned, typically, to each of the following factors:

  1. Education
  2. Learning Period *
  3. Responsibility for Work Performed *
  4. Supervision
  5. Contacts *
  6. Confidential Information *
  7. Initiative & Ingenuity *
  8. Mental Demands*
  9. Working Conditions

As you work through each question, decide which phrase best describes your position's responsibility for each factor. Each option reflects a differing degree of difficulty or responsibility related to a specific factor (such as Learning Period, Responsibility for Work Performed, Contacts, etc.). Please check the box next to the statement that best fits overall. Please check only one box.

*Write narrative examples that accurately substantiate your decision for assigning a specific degree level to the respective factor.


Staff Position Posting Form

If you need to post your position immediately, please fill out the Staff Position Posting Form. Please provide the requested identifying and contact information on the posting form, and note, where indicated, whether HRS may share the salary with applicants and whether or not you need additional recruitment/advertising assistance.

Remember to review security roles currently assigned to the position to determine whether they need to be changed or updated prior to filling the position.

Your Business Office can assist with salary information and obtaining necessary signatures before the forms are sent to Compensation, HRS.

Recruitment Plan (unnumbered page)

If you have goal-related vacancies, or if your position may be difficult to fill, please review the recruitment plan page and provide any information that may help identify additional recruiting opportunities.


If you find yourself stalled at any point in developing your position description, please call on your compensation analyst for assistance. Your analyst can help locate sample position descriptions and other information.

In addition, there are free sample position descriptions and occupational information at the following Web sites:

This article was excerpted and modified from The Guide to Writing Job Descriptions, a manual prepared by Tom Haworth, Libraries, Purdue University.

- Employment and Compensation

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