How Do I Write A Job Description?

Northwestern University has adopted a standard format that is used when writing job descriptions. Download a copy of this Job Description Template.

A job description serves several purposes:

  • Provides essential information for assigning the appropriate pay grade, and/or title for the job,
  • Assists in recruiting efforts for screening and interviewing,
  • Identifies the essential functions of the job, and
  • Provides the incumbent with an understanding of the primary accountabilities, duties and responsibilities they are expected to fulfill.

It is easiest to start by itemizing the primary tasks that the job will perform, answering the question of ‘what do I want this job to do?’ with concise, factual statements. These items then become the list for the Principal Accountabilities section. When itemizing, each task should start with an action verb that is specific in nature. For example, a task described as ‘assisting with marketing materials’ is too vague to be of value. Rather, a statement such as ‘editing copies submitted by faculty and staff for marketing pamphlets and newsletters, utilizing desktop publishing software to format copy, selecting and adding appropriate graphics’ tells a much clearer story of what is expected of the job. It also identifies necessary skills and qualifications to be itemized later. In addition, it is important to identify the end results that will be achieved through the completion of the tasks.

If the job has supervisory or lead worker responsibilities, the extent of the job’s authority to hire, discipline, and recommend termination of the employment of subordinates, and to assign work, train and evaluate the performance of those subordinates must be included in the Principal Accountabilities section.

Each duty or responsibility should also include the percent of time spent on that activity. The assigned percentages must total 100%.

The final duty in this section should be “other duties as assigned”. This ensures that the document is a more complete job description and is not interpreted in a limiting way. It is not possible to define each task, and some variations in task assignments may be necessary from time to time. Including this statement avoids the need to modify the job description when these minor variations occur.

In this Principal Accountabilities section, the letter ‘E’ should be used to identify the essential functions of the job. To make this determination, consider whether each job duty must stay with this job, or if the duty could be transferred to another job, should the need arise. Functions that are integral to the job or require a unique skill will likely be considered essential.

Consider the Job’s Scope after the Principal Accountabilities have been written. This section is used to describe the degree of responsibility the job has in the areas of supervision, finance and budget. If the job has responsibilities in any of these areas, it is important to revisit the Principal Accountabilities section to ensure that specific details about the scope areas are provided.

At this point the Job Summary can be written. The summary is not a repeat of the duties, responsibilities, and qualifications for the job. Rather, it is a concise summary telling the reader why the job exists. The easiest way to write it is to answer the question ‘why does this job exist?’ To illustrate: “This job performs editorial, layout, and graphic design work on a wide range of brochures, newsletters, and other marketing materials targeted to student and alumni audiences” summarizes the primary purpose of the job without going into specific duties and qualifications.

Once you have completed the Job Summary, the Job Information can be completed. A proposed Job Title can be entered and will be reviewed for best fit by the Compensation Division of Human Resources. Existing generic titles should be used whenever possible to assure consistency of job grading, other comparisons throughout the University and for external wage survey purposes.

Once the job has been described, the Minimum Qualifications, Minimum Competencies, Preferred Qualifications, Preferred Competencies, and Working Conditions sections can be completed. The chart in the Organization section can be completed, or a separate organizational chart can be submitted along with the job description.