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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Writing job descriptions to address competing needs

In the April 2004 issue of LeadingEdition, we talked about job descriptions � what they are, how they are used, and steps you can take to make sure your job descriptions are well written. This time, we�d like to have an up-front discussion about job descriptions in light of the relationships and sometimes competing needs that exist among the hiring supervisor, the business office, the compensation analyst, and the recruiter.

Here�s an example that will help us see these relationships and needs:

In Department X, Supervisor Smith needs an extra position to deal with an unexpected construction problem. If she doesn�t get the help, she may not be able to meet the project deadline. She knows what sort of expertise she needs, but she doesn�t have a lot of time to develop a thorough, clear job description. So she prepares a draft and sends it to the business office.

The business manager sees it and knows immediately that funding is an issue. She also knows that if the position is approved, it will cause some ruffled feathers from other supervisors who may want extra help too. On top of that, the senior director has indicated that it�s time for this particular project to wind down, not add more staff.

However, being a good manager and wanting the best for all parties, he forwards the description and gathers additional information on funding for the senior director, who will have to give approval before the job can be classified and posted. The business manager has to spend a great deal of time working between the supervisor and the director to get all the issues cleared up. Then the business manager sends the job description to Compensation.

When the compensation analyst reviews the description, it is clear that the education and experience required don�t fit with the responsibilities listed on the description. The title will need to be approved by the Provost�s office, and the pay range listed is too low. And so a new dialogue begins between the compensation analyst and the business manager. After some discussion that includes the hiring supervisor, the issues are resolved and a classification decision is made.

Now the job goes over for posting. The recruiter calls the hiring supervisor to talk about the recruiting strategy. It becomes apparent that the information on the job description is quite different than what the hiring supervisor is really looking for, and there seems to be confusion about the salary range. And so the recruiter contacts the analyst, who contacts the business manager ... and so on.

What�s going on here, and what can we do about it? First, let�s understand more clearly what each player�s needs are.


Supervisors may simply be focused on getting the description posted without delay, or they may write job descriptions based on what they might want from the ideal candidate. Supervisors may desire a certain classification to attract particular candidates or to ensure a high-quality applicant pool. Often, as new positions are created, supervisors may not have detailed information on how the position will function in the organization.


Business managers may have concerns with how much the position will cost the organization, whether or not there is the proper authorization for a particular position, and how the position fits with others in the organization. They may need to consider the interactions between the job classifications and funding sources. Business managers sometimes have to mediate between senior managers whose long-term plans for the organization may not fit with the short-term needs of the hiring supervisor.


Compensation analysts are focused on the legal defensibility of the job description and its requirements, as well as the pay level associated with it. They also need to consider the job description in light of the University�s classification system and pay structures for internal equity and consistent application of University policy. In particular, they need to make sure that the job description is an accurate reflection of the duties expected so that the position will be classified correctly and the individual who holds it will be paid appropriately.


Recruiters want to make sure that the job description will help them find qualified applicants. In some instances, it can be very difficult to find applicants who possess all of the education, experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities contained in the job description. On the other hand, if the description is not clear enough, it may be difficult for the hiring supervisor to find the best qualified applicants. And if the description is not an accurate reflection of the required duties, the applicants who are sent forward may not be satisfactory or may not succeed if hired.

Supervisors, managers, analysts, recruiters: We all want the same thing. We all want to get good people hired into good jobs to get our work done. So, how do we deal with these conflicting needs effectively? They�re not going to go away � each player has too much at stake, and all of the concerns are critical in getting the ultimate goal accomplished.

Some say the best defense is a good offense; others say that understanding is the beginning of wisdom. Either one works!


What we can do is to understand and remember what�s motivating our partners in this process.


What we can do is to communicate proactively with each other.


What we can do is to be open and direct and make sure we include everybody up front.

Analysts and recruiters have made a commitment to communicate with supervisors, business managers, and each other from the time we first receive your job description. The goal here is to get everybody started on the same page, make sure we stay together through the process, and get those hires made as quickly and efficiently as can be done!

We want to know how you think we can work together to make the process better. Please send your comments and suggestions to lecomments@purdue.edu. We will share your input in our next issue of LeadingEdition.

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LeadingEdition is an electronic newsletter for Purdue University supervisors.  It is produced and distributed by Purdue University Human Resources four times annually.  If you have questions, comments or suggestions relating to the newsletter, please call 49-41679 or email us.  Thank you.