The job description is the holy grail of the hiring process. It is the strategy spring from which all other activities, such as advertising, interviewing, evaluating and managing the new hire, will flow.

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When a new position opens up, it presents a unique opportunity to assess your department and upgrade your expectations. It would be a mistake to simply use the same position description you've used in the past without comparing it to the capabilities and performance of your current staff. This could result in hiring the same weaknesses, and can negatively impact your department's long-term growth and potential.

Writing a job description can be challenging. But by having a strong understanding of the position and how it fits into your company, you can create a job description that accurately represents the position and attracts the right applicants. Here are seven steps to creating the perfect job description:

1. Define the goals and objectives of the position

Why is this position justified? What do you expect it to accomplish? Think about how your goals for the position fit in with the goals and objectives of the company. Consider other facets of the position, such as whether or not the position will interface with other positions and departments and how performance will be measure.

Remember, you're not supposed to adjust the position description to what emerges during the interview process. The position description should guide the hiring process from start to finish.

2. Understand and evaluate the current position

Your human resources manager probably doesn't have the full picture of the position or what you're looking for. It's essential that you keep your HR people informed and current. This means having a clear understanding of what each functional skill actually means and expressing it in language the average lay person can understand.

You also need to know how well the job has been performed in the past. Is the current staff performing at levels below or above the performance expectations? If working below, now is the time to assess the position and determine what needs to happen to get staff back on track. What new and improved criteria should be developed for the new person to be successful?

3. Research the market

If you're not entirely clear what is expected of a particular position, it can be helpful to check out what other companies require in terms of skills and accomplishments for similar positions. You can find this type of information through job postings, industry-related associations, trade-groups, etc. Look for the most recent surveys and publications, as industry needs and job titles change frequently.

Be aware, however, of the similarities and differences between your company and the ones you are reviewing. An art director in a small advertising agency will most likely have different responsibilities than an art director in a large Fortune 500 company.

4. Define compensation and career growth

Determine what the compensation package will be for this position, including bonuses and raises. Salaries should have a starting range from the least qualified candidates (min $) to the most qualified candidates (max $). In most cases, there will already be a predetermined pay scale for a position, so if you start a person at the very top, there may not be anywhere for him or her to go in terms of salary and position.

Will you be offering a sign-on bonus? What is the benefits package? Does the company provide parking or paid vacation? Are there unique perks such as on-site daycare, community outreach opportunities, tuition reimbursement, etc.? Define what, if any, growth potential there is. What would an employee need to accomplish in order to take the next step, and how long must he or she expect to wait before seeing advancement?

5. Research and define your company

Understanding how you see yourself and how others see you can be a helpful exercise when preparing to write a job description. How are you perceived in the market? Are there specific values that your company projects that you would like to see mirrored in your employees? How do you stack up against the competition? Are there unique aspects of your work culture? These types of questions are also helpful when you begin writing and designing your targeted recruitment ads.

6. Make use of your internal knowledge assets

Your current employees offer an invaluable resource to you in the hiring process. They are "in the trenches," so to speak, and they know better than anyone does what the real, pragmatic departmental needs are.

Sit down with the person who currently holds the position (if there is one) to get a sense of what types of activities comprise a typical workday. You may discover that the actual day-to-day tasks of the position are quite different from the standard human resources verbiage. You might even ask your staff to write their own job descriptions.

You might also consider chatting with the people the prospective employee will work with to get a sense of the interpersonal dynamics that exist in the office environment. Although you shouldn't hire based on personality, you do want to find someone who will fit in well with the office culture and general work climate.

7. Write an effective job description

Now it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty details of writing the job description. Every job description should answer these four key questions:

  1. What is the job title?
    • Be sure it does not misrepresent the position
    • If others have the same title, determine if the candidate will be doing the same job
  2. What are the performance expectations?
    • Define measurable objectives
    • Define a typical work week including all tasks, large and small
  3. What is the team like?
    • Who is on the team?
    • How will the employee need to fit with the current team dynamics?
    • What are the employee's responsibilities in relation to the other team members?
    • What is the management and corporate style of the office?
  4. What are the logistics of the position?
    • Weekly and daily tasks
    • Work hours, including lunch
    • Travel time
    • Others as needed

A poorly thought out job description will ultimately result in hiring failure, and will require you to begin this costly and time-consuming process all over again. This is your opportunity to take inventory--to uncover department needs and explore new opportunities.