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February 11, 2011
Job Summary and Essential Functions of a Job Description

Do your supervisors know how to write an effective job summary for a job description? Do they know the best approaches for developing an essential functions section of a job description? Below is some information to convey to your supervisors in these regards.

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After the job identification comes the job summary. The job summary should provide enough information to differentiate the major functions and activities of the job from those of other jobs. Since brevity, accuracy, and objectivity are the primary goals in writing a good job summary, it is wise to follow the three basic rules you see on the screen.

  • Start with an action word -- a verb such as "performs," "directs," "produces," "assembles," or "supports."
  • Explain the job's major functions. In other words, tell what the employee does.
  • Finally, explain the purpose, or objective, of the job -- the why or how of the job.

The core of a job description is the essential functions section.

  • This section should define the duties that an employee absolutely must be able to perform in order to satisfy the demands of the job successfully. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles or DOT can help you in writing this section. It provides examples of the types of duties and responsibilities that should be included.
  • Use behavioral language when describing job functions. A behavioral description is an expression of what the employee must do in specific, measurable terms, with job objectives stated in terms of behaviors the individual is expected to display. For example, instead of saying, "To perform at required standards," you might say, "To produce a minimum of 80 pieces per hour, with no more than one error or defect within an hour."
  • Focus on the functions of the job rather than the means used to achieve these functions. For example, it might be an essential function for a loading dock job to load a tractor trailer in a certain amount of time. The means of loading -- manually, with a hand truck, or with a forklift -- can be left open to provide reasonable accommodation to otherwise qualified job applicants and employees. This falls under the category of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.
  • Although you want to include regular day-to-day job functions in the essential functions section, don't fall into the trap of trying to do a task analysis or breakdown. Target the required outcomes -- the product of job activities -- rather than the activities themselves. Include only the amount of detail absolutely required to define the position.
  • Be specific about job activities. For example, "handles the mail," might be more accurately and precisely expressed as "sorts mail," or "distributes mail."

The above information comes from BLR's presentation "Job Descriptions: How to Write Them Effectively." For more information on all the training courses BLR has to offer, go to our Employee and Manager Training page.

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