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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Well-written job descriptions are worth the effort

What is a job description? Seems simple enough, doesn?t it? A job description describes somebody?s job. But, like most things in life, it?s not that simple. Job descriptions serve a multitude of purposes, and the better they?re written, the more useful they are.

Who uses job descriptions and how do they use them?


Faculty and staff supervisors can use a well-written job description to:


Explain the core functions of the position when interviewing applicants or orienting a new employee


Determine work objectives


Perform organizational analysis and planning


Improve employee performance through feedback based upon assigned duties and responsibilities


Improve employee morale by clearly defining job requirements and expectations


Provide an organized, defensible basis for personnel decisions


Upon hire, give employees a copy of their job description to help them understand the specific duties and responsibilities of their new position. Employees can refer to their job description to measure whether or not they are performing satisfactorily and meeting expectations. If written properly, job descriptions can help employees understand how they fit in the organization and how their work helps achieve the organization?s goals.

Employment and Compensation

University employment recruiters use job descriptions to post vacancies and to screen applicants. The recruiters rely on the descriptions to tell them the minimum qualifications and the essential functions of each position.

Human Resources staff members use job descriptions to compare one position to another. The comparisons assure that job classifications, pay decisions, and benefit allocations are fairly and accurately handled. Purdue?s compensation analysts also use the descriptions for matching jobs on surveys so that Purdue can determine how the University?s pay stacks up against that of other employers. Additionally, the job description allows Purdue to meet its obligation to define "essential" responsibilities and job demands as required by some laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Employee Relations and Staff Benefits

Both Staff Benefits and Employee Relations use job descriptions to help employees, supervisors, and physicians determine the essential duties of a job, including the mental and physical requirements of the job for worker?s compensation and return-to-work issues. Job descriptions also help determine reasonable accommodations for temporary or permanent work restrictions.

Vice President for Ethics and Compliance

The Office of the Vice President for Ethics and Compliance and the Affirmative Action Office monitor the composition of the workforce by using the classification codes assigned to job descriptions and other codes assigned to employees.

Anatomy of a job description

With all these uses for job descriptions, an explanation of the elements they contain is in order. Generally, each job description includes the following:


Organizational information: Information such as the job title, department name, reporting relationships, and whether the job is regular or temporary and full-time or part-time.


Job summary: Two to four sentences to answer the question "Why does this job exist?"


Duties/responsibilities/percentage of time: A listing of the major duties and responsibilities of the position organized from essential to non-essential or most important to least important or most time spent to least time spent.


Working conditions: The physical, mental, and environmental conditions in which the work is performed.


Job specifications: The minimum education, work experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities required to do the job. Also lists any needed licenses or certifications.


Disclaimer: A brief statement indicating that the job description is not designed to cover or contain a comprehensive listing of activities, duties, or responsibilities required of the employee.


Signature approvals: Signatures are needed from the position?s supervisor and the person who controls the budget that will pay the position?s salary or wage.

Compensation analysts review the components contained in job descriptions to test them for legal compliance. Are the job specifications defensible? Does the described job content support the knowledge, skills, and abilities being required? Will the job pass an exemption test under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? Would any listed job processes or equipment prohibit a disabled person from performing a particular activity and is that activity essential to the performance of the job?

Ensuring a job description that?s useful for you, your employees, and the University

If you want to create a well-planned and useful job description, work with your compensation analyst!

We?ve found that the best approach is for the supervisor to write the job description using the forms found on our Web site. By following the format, you stand the best chance of capturing the information that Purdue needs to defend its decisions and that you need to help your employee be successful.

To focus the information, it is useful to write down specifically what work needs to be accomplished. Varying levels of detail may be necessary, but the goal is to include information that is thorough enough to give a good understanding of the essential functions without being so exhaustive that every task is listed individually.

It?s also useful for you and for us to include an organization chart that shows how the position fits within your work area. What position does it report to and what position(s) report to it? This gives a good sense of the level of responsibility that the incumbent needs in order to accomplish the tasks required.

If you are updating a job description, it is very useful if you to explain what has changed. It?s not necessary to update a job description when minor changes occur. Likewise, you don?t need to initiate a new job description form to reword the same duties.

Quality job descriptions are never a waste of time. The effort put into a quality description makes it more understandable and useful to recruiters, applicants, employees, supervisors, medical providers, and a host of others.

For additional general information about Purdue?s processes for writing and classifying job descriptions, visit our Web site. For information on specific policies, visit the University Policies Web site.

- Compensation and Classification Team


Donna Dye, Human Resource Services (HRS) compensation analyst


Nick Howell, HRS compensation analyst


Sandy Mason, HRS compensation analyst


Sasse Steele, HRS compensation analyst


Viki Tillotson, HRS compensation analyst


Mike Tyrrell, HRS compensation analyst

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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.