Skip to main content

Competency-Based Job Description

A job description serves several purposes:

Competencies are the knowledge, skills, abilities, personal characteristics and other "worker-based" factors that help differentiate superior performance from average performance under specified circumstances. Competencies are identified to clearly define the essential functions of the job.

What is included

There are three types of competencies that can be included in a job description. They describe the skills, knowledge and behavior necessary to perform the job.

Knowledge, Skills, and Behavior needed to succeed in a job can fit into two basic categories of competencies: "general/organizational" or "specific/individual." A good job description includes both kinds.

A job description also contains the following specific items:

Standard format

Northwestern University has adopted a standard format for job descriptions. The sections included in the description are:

How to proceed

It is generally easiest to start with itemizing the primary tasks that the job is expected to 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 Description of 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 and brochures’ 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 assistance 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. For example, a description such as ‘editing copies submitted by faculty and staff for marketing pamphlets and newsletters ... in order to assure accuracy and appropriateness of materials’ provides information as to the duty performed as well as the end results achieved.

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. Each duty or responsibility should also include the percent of time spent of that activity with the assigned percentages totaling 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 more prescriptive way. It is not possible to finitely define each task, and some variations in task assignment may be necessary from time to time. Including this statement precludes the need to modify the job description when these variations occur.

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. These questions help to describe the degree of responsibility the job has in three important realms: supervision, finance and budget, and student and faculty interaction. 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.

Minimum Qualifications are derived from what is required to perform the duties and responsibilities. It is important to list any required degrees, certifications, licenses, and years of work experience needed to perform the job.

Minimum Competencies, such as Knowledge, Skills, and Behavior are determined by identifying those skills that must be present for success in the job (refer to page 1-2 of this document for a description of the competencies).

Preferred Qualifications are derived from what is preferred to perform the duties and responsibilities. They are not essential to the job, but can enhance a candidate’s ability to perform the job.

Preferred Competencies, such as Knowledge, Skills, and Behavior are those abilities that will also enhance the performance of the job (refer to page 1-2 of this document for a description of the competencies).

At this point the Job Summary can be written. This summary is not intended to be a reiteration of the duties, responsibilities, and qualifications for the job. It is, rather, a concise summary telling the reader why the job exists. In fact, the easy way to write it is often to simply 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, posters, and other marketing materials which are targeted to student and alumni audiences” summarizes the primary purpose of the job without going into specific duties and qualifications.

Finally, while it has often already been decided where this job fits in the organization, it is a good time to review if that decision is correct now that the job has been described. It is also a good time to look again at the jobs reporting to this job to see if that relationship still makes sense.

At this point the Job Information can be completed. A proposed Job Title can be entered and will be reviewed for best fit by the Human Resources Consultant and, if needed, 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. If a generic title is used, a school or department may use a more specific title internally if desired.