Creating an Effective Job Description

Adapted from content excerpted from the American Express® OPEN Small Business Network

Creating a clear job description before you begin the hiring process can help you choose the best candidate from a pool of applicants. It usually consists of two areas — a summary of the job’s responsibilities, and a list of the key duties that will be performed. It’s worth your time and effort to think the job description through completely. A confusing, hazy, or incorrect description can make it much harder for you to match a candidate and a job, because you’re not sure about exactly what the job entails.

An accurate job description is also essential for drafting classified ads, job postings or other recruitment efforts. It lets you be clear on exactly which talents you’re looking for, and focus your ad on those attributes to attract the most qualified candidates.

Use the tips below when you’re drafting a job description.

Avoid generalizations

Be as specific as possible when you describe the duties and responsibilities you will need this employee to perform. Think in terms of the benefits this employee will provide to your organization or to your customers/clients. For example, don’t describe a video store clerk simply as someone who will “rent videos to customers.” Instead, if you use something like “will assist customers in choosing movies they will like by sharing his or her knowledge of recent or classic films,” you will know you need someone who loves film and can convey their enthusiasm to your customers.


Once you’ve created a list of responsibilities and duties, put them in order of importance. Start with skills that are integral to the job to be performed. This way you will know what is necessary for the successful execution of the job, what simply is desired, and what may actually be irrelevant. Hiring is often a matter of trade-offs, so by prioritizing, you’re helping yourself determine what you can or can’t live with.

Use measurable criteria

Be explicit about the kind of performance you’re looking for from someone, and whenever possible look for ways to quantify those criteria with numbers or dates. Otherwise, you may find that you’ve hired someone who can perform the necessary tasks, but falls short in productivity or throughput. For example, will an account manager be working with one, four or ten accounts at a time? Will a bookkeeper be expected to update accounts receivable daily, weekly or monthly?

Ask for help

Spend time with others in your organization who will be managing or interacting with a new employee to find out what they think the chief duties of this person should be. Those who are on the front lines with someone often know more about what day-to-day skills are necessary to perform a job successfully. You’ll find this input invaluable.

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