What’s in a Job Description? More than you probably think, is the short answer to that!

A well thought-out and accurate job description isn’t just a way to tell your employees, both current and prospective, about a job.  It’s an opportunity to communicate your core values, to focus your recruitment process, to enhance your candidate’s experience of your company and to get the best out of your people.  Here’s how…..

It’s widely accepted that a Job Description tells its reader about the job in question, be they a current employee considering that push for promotion, a candidate who’s stumbled across your Company online or an employee preparing for their, much anticipated, end of year appraisal.   A good Job Description though, and particularly the Person Specification (where we detail the skills and experience the job-holder must have to do the job well) can be a powerful tool for promoting your Company’s core values.  Take a value as straight forward and common place as learning.  Your Person Specification could request that your applicants “Have an up to date record of CPD”.  This will get the job done, but what does it say about your Company?  Not a great deal.  Why not say you are “Actively seeking exceptional candidates with a passion for learning”.  This tells your reader that you’re proactive, aiming high, you’re looking for the best and only the best and that you want people who live and breathe and really value their learning, not just the employee who coasts through the training course just to get the certificate.

“Experience of working in a customer service environment” is another common interloper found in Person Specifications right across the web.  Really?  What about “We are seeking colleagues who thrive in a challenging customer focussed environment”?  (although one always has to guard against the use of flowery language for the sake of flowery language) You’ve just shared with the reader a little about the culture of your Company, that you’re looking for only the best, that you want candidates with a record of success and you’ve managed their expectations a little too, this is “challenging” work!   Whether your reader is a candidate, an employee or a customer these are messages that you need to get out there.

Not only does a carefully worded (but never too flowery) Job Description give an insight into your Company’s values – customer experience, learning, innovation, social responsibility, the list goes on – but it has other benefits too.  The Job Description is one of a candidate’s first steps in their journey from prospective candidate, browsing the web or flicking through the Thursday papers, to your newest recruit.   It’s important to make that journey as pain-free as possible.  What is it they say about our perceptions of people being formed within 30 seconds of meeting them?  The same is true about your Company.  If your Job Description is wordy, full of company-specific jargon and poorly laid out or if your Person Specification is dry and stale or 8 pages long, the candidate will already be forming some pretty unflattering opinions about your Company.

Worse still, an inaccurate Job Description presents its own challenges.  If the job requires that the job-holder can drive, tell them in the Person Specification.  We instantly get rid of any prospective candidates who can’t drive.  Creating a Job Description isn’t about appealing to the masses; it’s about focusing your recruitment campaign on the right people, in this case only those who poses a skill essential to undertake the job, driving.  The same is true of any skill, experience or qualification though, if they are essential for the job, be up front and say it.

But, let’s not confuse what is essential with what we would like!  Essential criteria on a Person Specification are just that, essential – the job holder cannot possibly do the job without this skill or qualification.  A pilot and a pilot’s license, a company director and experience operating at strategic level, a Civil Engineer and membership of RICS (for example).  So how can we get a balance between appealing to a wide enough candidate pool, whilst being able to narrow down our search?  The answer is never to be afraid to specify desirable criteria.  These allow us to narrow the field a little once all the candidates have satisfied us that they meet our essentials.  Don’t forget that candidates can often request to see what’s been written about them and to legitimately and confidently tell them that they did not meet the desirable criteria where other candidates did, really takes the pressure off!  Be careful to distinguish between the essential and desirable criteria, to get the two mixed up can lead to difficulties.  To state categorically that a job-holder must have a driving license, if it can be shown that the job can be done by other means opens the door for a discrimination claim under the Equality Act for example.

And finally, a Job Description doesn’t stop becoming useful once the candidate is in the door.  It will form the backbone of your induction, Performance Management and appraisal procedures, ensuring they are performing, the values your Company promote are upheld and they are clear about what’s expected of them.  As long as the Job Description is an accurate and fair reflection of the job the employee is doing and no-one feel they’ve been hired under false pretences then there should be no cause for distrust or disengagement.

In short, a good job description is a useful tool for ensuring you get the best of your people.

So, what’s in a Job Description……


Recruitment is difficult; there is no getting away from it. You have to consider your timings, cost per hire, ability to service or not service clients through existing staff and not to mention the salary and associated costs your business can afford.

Invariably businesses recruit on a needs basis, rather than strategically resource planning. That’s because few businesses are cash rich and can afford a ‘non-productive’ or ‘non-fee-earning’ person to be ‘learning’ in the business. The irony of course is that the new hire is often then short on time in the initial stages and therefore is more liable to making mistakes and taking longer to get to grips with internal processes and can actually cost the business more in the long run.

I was really heartened to hear recently that a client of ours with clearly defined growth plans have included resource planning within their business strategy. They have allowed for talent acquisition and learning in their recruitment and growth which allows their business the time to get the right people in the business and thoroughly induct them before they take up the role they are recruited to do. This client clearly has the customer at the heart of their recruitment philosophy as they realise that a high performing individual delivering to their clients can only come from investing time in recruitment, training and inducting the individual thoroughly.

However, as you will agree this ‘ideal’ method of recruitment is more the exception than the rule and the same client will tell you how they have reacted to their recruitment needs for the last eleven years. It is only now that they are the size they are that they can adopt this philosophy and we are delighted that having partnered with them for the last eighteen months, they feel we are the people to support them with this strategic recruitment .
But, coming back down to earth and to businesses with little spare cash that can only reactively recruit when they win big contracts or cash flow allows; why is it that businesses often make so many costly recruitment mistakes?

Often it is down to some or all of the below;

Poorly trained managers, who don’t know how to assess candidates’ abilities or only hear what they want to hear in an interview.
Lack of understanding about the needs of the business or role and therefore a ‘mismatch’ or lack of experience.
Agencies pushing candidates forward and over prepping them so they perform well at interview regardless of them being truly suitable for the role.
Perceived or real pressure to fill the position and so offering a candidate a job even though they have conscious concerns they are not the right person for the job.

With the average cost per hire in the UK of £5,600 I often wonder what the real time and further cost consequences are of recruitment mistakes that could be added to this figure. In any figure you would have to include;

  • The cost of lost business through a new hire mistake or attitude problem and the consumer turning to a competitor
  • Your business reputation and credibility
  • Management time for training and clearing up any mistakes
  • Colleagues time in terms of duplication of work
  • If you produce goods; wastage and loss of materials

So how do we ensure we get the right person in the right time, for the right cost?
Recently recruiting for ourselves, we spent at least three full days screening and assessing candidates, this was before we even got to the face to- face stage. When we did we still weren’t able in our first day of back- to- back interviews find the right person. Yes of course we were and are, highly discerning in our recruitment. Candidates have to match our values. Namely we need our employees to be;

  • Highly skilled and experienced in HR, Employment Law and Recruitment
  • Customer focused and responsive
  • Articulate
  • Flexible
  • Enthusiastic and passionate about what we do

And we have made a commitment not to hire anyone who does not adequately demonstrate all of these qualities.
So how can you improve how you recruit?

  • Create a process plan with timescales that any manager can pick up as a guide
  • Train your managers on your recruitment process and recruitment techniques.
  • Draft/review the job description and include a personal specification and make sure it is truly representative of what the business needs.
  • Think about the best way to reach your target audience; don’t just put an advert in the job centre because it’s free! Leverage new social media, but only if it’s the right place to reach your ideal candidate
  • Ensure you know how you are going to screen CV’s
  • Always start to recruit as early as possible, as it may take a lot longer than you anticipate.
  • Cover off the legalities and protect your business interests.

Recently a colleague and I have been working with a client on managing culture and communication change within their organisation. At our third meeting the Managing Director handed us over files and folders of employment contracts, handbooks and employee information and the instruction to ‘redo’ them all.

For almost 20 years the Managing Director had taken responsibility for issuing the contracts of employment and updating the handbook. All things considered, namely this is not his area of speciality and the time involved in doing so, he had done a fairly good job. The documents were coherent, well presented and had most of the legal terms and conditions required, however what the documents were missing was the real ability to protect and enhance his business.

Ironically, the most common area of weakness is the disciplinary procedure which is the one area that when something goes wrong businesses wish to rely on the most. A robust disciplinary procedure, should have ‘general principles’ which state the key process points which will govern any disciplinary procedure, in particularly clarifying ‘investigation methods’, ‘use of suspension’ and ‘confidentiality’ points to name but a few. The process for dealing with misconduct should then be spelt out in detail and it should be clear! This can often be confusing for owners, managers and even HR professionals alike and tie everyone up in knots, worse still you can lose a tribunal case. I refer in particular to the use of the term ‘verbal warning’, which is often a ‘written warning’ according to the disciplinary procedure. How on earth did that term enter the English language and worse still end up in business procedures! A ‘verbal written warning’ then gets confused. Often we hear a manager say, I have given ‘him/her’ a verbal warning’. To which we reply, ‘oh ok, so according to your policy you invited him to a meeting, following an investigation, giving them 48 hours advance notice and the right to be accompanied, held the meeting, and subsequently issued a verbal warning, followed up in writing and then gave them the right to appeal? .’ ‘Eh no, I just said that he was getting a warning’….. Oh!

I recommend that you have an ‘informal counselling’ stage which is where the manager can have that verbal conversation about minor misconduct and/or underperformance performance and let the employee know that their behaviour has been noted and improvement is sought or a formal process will ensue. This is a crucial stage and Solve. has developed a particularly easy methodology that our clients use to support this informal conversation with the employee and create a paper trail to back it up. For the formal stages, which would follow if no improvement was made, make sure you have lists of ‘unsatisfactory conduct, serious and gross misconduct’ which reflect your unique business requirements and industry. In addition, give yourself some flexibility, have an ‘action short of dismissal clause’ in the event that you have an employee you don’t want to dismiss. This could allow you to demote or suspend on no pay as an alternative. Furthermore, the ‘short service dismissal clause is a must’ with the government extending unfair dismissal legislation to two years.

You should also consider the merits of a ‘capability procedure’ for poor performance and/or managing sickness issues. Tribunals, employees and you too may prefer this procedure and policy for managing issues where there has not been misconduct committed on the employees’ part, more of a general inability to perform at a satisfactory level.

Another couple of points to consider when drafting your contracts;

  • A ‘client dismissal clause’. If you are a service business is it likely that a client may require you to remove an individual from site. What happens then if you have no suitable alternative roles for that employee to carry out?
  • In a similar vein do some of your jobs require your employees to drive? What happens if they lose their driving licence? Do you screen incoming calls or have CCTV, would you ever consider using evidence from these in a disciplinary hearing?
  • If so you must have a clause disclosing this to your employees.
  • What about inclement weather? Do you have agonising conversations about who should be unpaid, made to take holidays etc when the snow comes and inevitably employees call in unable to get into work? Having a policy on this in your handbook covers these eventualities and can be given as guidance and referred to in the event it does happen.
  • What about deterrents such as ‘deductions of pay’ for negligence or non- competing clauses?
  • In the modern world, you absolutely need a robust IT, Communications and Social Media clause to prevent against any damaging employee activity online.

Regardless of all of these, ‘great to haves’, the law is quite specific on what a contract of employment must specify as a minimum requirement. It still amazes us, as advisors, on how many businesses we come across where the employees still have not been issued with a contract of employment, or the contract is missing fundamental terms and conditions.

For reference, an organisation has eight weeks from any employee starting to issue a contract of employment. In most cases without a written Contract of Employment an Employment Tribunal will rule against a business.

A contract of employment should have the following;

  • Name of Company and Employee
  • Job Title
  • Start Date, any reference to TUPE and any anticipated End Date
  • Rate of Pay and the pay timescales, method and pay dates
  • Hours of work
  • Holiday entitlement and terms
  • Sickness entitlement and terms
  • Notice Periods
  • Place of work
  • If the position is subject to any collective agreements
  • Disciplinary procedures
  • Grievance procedures
  • Appeal procedures
  • Pension arrangements

To ensure your Contracts of Employment support your business objectives call us on 0131
300 0433 or 0141 433 1025