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Sue's Tips #2-Mastering the Art of Writing A Killer Job Description

Josh Baker & Sue Pitts – Iowa Western SBDC

We talked to Robyn Porter, Director of Human Resources at Iowa Western Community College regarding Small Businesses Human Resources issues. Prior to her position at IWCC, Robyn was an HR practitioner in the small business space and has a great understanding of the struggles of small businesses and their HR practices. Small businesses often don’t take the time to learn proper HR practices that can help protect them from future lawsuits and other problems. We have a list of great resources small businesses can use to help them as they grow and hire employees at the end of this post.

Because it is the closest thing to an employee contract, Robyn suggested that job descriptions are the first thing small businesses should create before hiring employees. Creating job descriptions is a crucial task for any employer, as they form the foundation of the employment relationship. A job description sets out the expectations and responsibilities of a position, as well as the skills and qualifications required to perform it. Here are some of Robyn’s key takeaways to keep in mind when creating job descriptions:

1. Write Mindfully: It is essential to be precise and clear about the job duties, essential functions, qualifications, and any other relevant information that defines the position. Not having a job description is really setting an employee and yourself up to fail. If you do not spell out the expectations with an employee on day one it can be hard to hold them accountable if they do not deliver the performance you need.

2. Avoid Unnecessary Language: Avoid adding language or requirements that are not necessary. For instance, if a driving record check is not essential for the position, there is no need to require one. Similarly, physical requirements should be specific and relevant to the job duties.

3. Determine Exemption Status: It is essential to determine whether the position is exempt or non-exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Exempt employees are not eligible for overtime pay, while non-exempt employees are eligible for overtime pay.

4. Include ADAA and EOE Language: The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAA) and Equal Opportunity Employment (EOE) laws prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities and people from certain protected groups. It is essential to include language regarding ADAA and EOE in job descriptions to ensure compliance with these laws.

5. Seek Legal or HR Professional Review: Job descriptions should be reviewed by an attorney or an experienced HR professional before finalizing the format. Additionally, job descriptions should be updated with changing laws since some states have their laws around job descriptions, and it's hard to know what those are. Keep in mind the job description is one of the most requested documents by courts when determining unemployment or any other type of potential litigation.

6. Share with Candidates: Job descriptions should be made available to the candidate when making an offer so they can verify that they can execute the essential functions of the job on day one.

7. Signatures Required: Job descriptions must have both the employer's and the employee's signature to be valid.

8. Review Regularly: Job descriptions are living documents that should be reviewed and changed annually or when significant changes occur to the employee's essential functions or duties.

Here are a few free resources that can help guide you in creating a Job Description that works for you :

The Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

O*NET is a free online database that provides detailed information about various occupations, including job duties, skills required, and educational qualifications. This resource can be very useful when writing a job description as it can help you identify the key responsibilities and qualifications required for a particular role.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

The SHRM is a professional association that provides resources and support for HR professionals. They offer a variety of free resources, including sample job descriptions, templates, and guides on how to write effective job descriptions. These resources can be a valuable reference when creating a job description.

The U.S. Department of Labor

The U.S. Department of Labor provides a free online resource called CareerOneStop that provides information about different careers, including job duties, required skills, and average salaries. This resource can be useful when writing job descriptions as it can help you identify the essential duties and responsibilities for a particular role.

Glassdoor & Indeed

Glassdoor and Indeed are job search and company review websites that provides salary estimates, job descriptions, and reviews from current and former employees. This resource can be beneficial when writing a job description as it can give you an idea of what other companies are looking for in similar roles and what current employees think of the job.


LinkedIn is a professional social networking site that provides job descriptions for various roles. You can search for job descriptions for similar roles on LinkedIn and use them as a reference when creating your job description.

Skillshare & Udemy

Skillshare and Udemy are both popular online learning platforms that offer a wide range of courses, including HR training courses. Skillshare, which is a subscription-based platform, has courses that are generally shorter and more focused to quickly gain new skills. Udemy offers both free and paid courses with prices ranging from $10-$200 has courses that tend to be longer and more comprehensive for those who want to gain a deeper understanding of HR. Both platforms offer high-quality training courses, so it is worth exploring both to find the courses that best fit your needs

In conclusion, job descriptions are essential documents that form the foundation of the employment relationship. By following these key takeaways and using these resources, you can create accurate and comprehensive job descriptions that benefit both the employer and the employee.

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