Let’s be honest — there are probably a million other things you’d rather be doing than updating job descriptions, right?
It can be a tedious task! And, truthfully, it might seem like an easy thing to stick at the bottom of your to-do list.
But managing job descriptions is crucial from a legal perspective, a hiring perspective, a budgetary perspective, and more.
On the latest episode of Comp + Coffee, we’re joined by Jo Rego, Director of HR at Payfactors. We’re chatting about why it’s so important to stay on top of job descriptions, how often you should update them, and how you should go about those updates.
If you like what you hear make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to us! (And don’t forget to give us a 5-star rating while you’re at it!)
See below for a full transcription of the episode.
Shawn: And we’re live. Bill, I see you studying up there.
Bill: No, I’m not studying.
Shawn: That’s good, you’re prepping. I appreciate that about you.
Bill: You’re welcome, Shawn.
Shawn: Bill wants to be audience-ready. We’re joined, as always Bill, by Kaite.
Shawn: And we have a special returning guest. Three-time?
Jo: Just the second.
Kaite: I was gonna say fourth.
Shawn: You should have taken a poll.
Kaite: I guess.
Shawn: Jo Rego. Jo Rego joins us back. Jo runs HR here at Payfactors. And we’re here today to talk about an interesting topic, job descriptions. So I’m going through something with this now, and I’ll kind of weave that story in. It’s one of the things that sparked this, but we often say job descriptions it’s the core of great compensation, right? You have to know what you’re matching against to be able to get the right data but this doesn’t happen as well as we’d like it to, as often as we’d like to do. Is that right, Jo?
Jo: That is 100% correct.
Shawn: Why is that?
Jo: Because a lot of companies just sort of set it and forget it. You do it once usually when you’re recruiting and it sort of gets put into a folder somewhere and people move on.
Kaite: Never thought of again.
Jo: Never thought of again, which, you know, I’m sure we’re gonna talk about a lot today why that’s not what you should be doing and you should be looking at and it is a living, breathing document but it’s always something that’s sort of bottom of the list for managers especially. Needs to get kind of pushed to the top of the list with HR to help managers kind of keep it a living, breathing document.
Shawn: Why has it traditionally been that way? Is it just that we do it when we need to recruit for a job because that’s the obvious thing. They’re like, “Can you put together a job description?” Like, “Fine, yeah. Let me go pull these bullet points together, let me put this out there,” and then clearly that’s going to evolve probably from the moment the person walks in the door.
Shawn: And we just kind of leave it be because that’s just the accepted contract, if you will, between manager and employee?
Jo: Yeah. And usually, things are going fine until someone’s getting promoted or you might take another look at it if you’re expanding the team and you’re adding another position. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won’t, to be honest. And you know, I think more often than not it happens, it comes up again when someone’s looking for an increase, you know, if they’re talking about, you know, potentially getting a raise or you’re doing performance reviews, right? Like those are the times that it usually comes to mind. But other than that, it’s not usually what people are thinking about. They’re just doing their job.
Bill: I think managers don’t manage to the job description to the document. The working world is much more fluid than…
Kaite: Ten bullets in a…
Bill: …the HR document library, and that you can change your direct reports role or, you know, pieces of their responsibilities by talking to that person who works for you and you don’t really think of or feel like you need to go back and add a new bullet point or cross one out of the job description that’s sitting in a file cabinet somewhere. Oops, I’m showing my age, document, file cabinets.
Shawn: A virtual file.
Bill: A virtual file.
Shawn: Whatever these kids call it.
Bill: These crazy kids.
Jo: Or you might have both.
Shawn: No, but the last bullet point is only the most important one. Like other duties and tasks as the role require or whatever.
Bill: But you know it and I know it, what that entails, but we’re not documenting it clearly because we don’t feel the need to paper every daily change and what you’re asking somebody to do.
Kaite: Especially in some environments like I think of like here, like it’s changing like fast and furiously. I feel like you’d be like updating every week, you know, that’s an exaggeration, but…
Jo: But not much of one, to be honest. I mean like in a high growth company that is, you know, growing both in terms of employee count and product offerings and sort of the evolution of a company, those things really do happen, to your point Bill, real-time. And so, you know, you’re having a conversation with your employee and it’s like, you know, “Oh, you did really great in this project, so now I’m going to have you do this.” It just evolves over time and no one is thinking, you know, oh, I need to go tell HR so they can go update the job description. That doesn’t really happen.
Shawn: So what’s the risk of not doing that? What is the risk of relying on that last bullet point as the catch-all?
Jo: Yeah, I mean, you know, there’s a bunch of different risks that can go into it. I mean obviously, performance, right? If you’re doing performance evaluations and you’re trying to evaluate how they’re doing, you know, best practice says you should be evaluating it against their job description, but if their job description doesn’t have it in there…So say you’re having a performance conversation with your employee and say it’s a hard one, they are maybe not performing to the standards that you’re hoping, it’s hard and you’re sort of exposing yourself a little bit if it’s not in the job description. If they’re performing in a negative way against something that is not in their job description, it’s harder to say, “Well you’re not doing it,” because we’ve never documented that it’s there.
Kaite: Put it down on paper.
Jo: So you know, that’s one. And I think, you know, we can go down this rabbit hole of, you know, if there was a termination that, you know, if there was a lawsuit that went into it, you know, you want that documentation from a legal perspective to match up what they’re actually doing.
Bill: You also want it for when you’re market pricing the job, you know, and I was going to say, how often do people listening to this podcast have this problem where you come up with a market price and manager says, “Wait, wait, wait. That’s not what she does. She does this.” And that’s because they changed the job description verbally with the employee and didn’t tell HR.
Shawn: Or maybe not even did that. The job just evolves naturally over time. Nobody’s ever stopped to think about it.
Bill: Or you have a group of people all that have the same core responsibilities but, you know, developers and one’s an expert in Ruby on Rails and another one’s an expert in…
Jo: C Sharp.
Bill: C Sharp and that’s not distinguished on their job descriptions.
Shawn: Right. Just develop software or whatever. There is no distinct certification of skill there that might showcase that difference and might lead to a different market pricing.
Bill: Right. And different performance metrics and different value to the company.
Kaite: Or just like, I think of some people on my team who are like more early in their careers and like, “Oh wow, you’re really good at doing X, Y, and Z. So like, we’re gonna have you do more of that. And maybe because you’re gonna do all of that, you’re not going to do all of this anymore and we’ll give that to someone else.”
Jo: Well, I mean, that’s another…that’s a really good point because, you know, especially in a company that’s evolving like ours, that happens all the time, right? You have someone early on in their career, you give them more responsibility because they’re showing that they’re really good at something or maybe they’re specializing in something but other stuff might get taken off. And so because of that, then you realize you actually have to create a new position.
So I mean job descriptions really touch…sort of like comp, it really touches everything because it can help dictate or at least inform kind of hiring plans if you’re doing the reviews sort of on any sort of cadence and you can take a look at the data, because to your point, I mean if someone is no longer, you know, handling or if someone’s no longer responsible for like a certain aspect of a department, you’re going to have to find someone to take those roles on and that might be another headcount.
Shawn: One of the things, Bill, you were hitting on earlier that we say a lot is imagine trying to get that updated, comp needs it most, typically, right? At least they need it most frequently when they’re benchmarking but the process for doing that is typically a nightmare, right? It’s like, send it to the manager, the manager’s going to be like, this is or this isn’t and I dont know, I’ve got to go back to the employee, employee’s got to do it. Employee comes back to the manager, manager says yes or no, maybe changes again, goes back to comp.
I mean, and you can actually multiply that a couple of times over depending on how many layers and how many people have to look at this. It can be worse for recruiting because of a board of people has to look at it, you know, some kind of hiring committee has to look at it. So what is a good way to get this updated? What is a good way to make sure that we’re regularly updating job descriptions?
Jo: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s good for companies to have some sort of policy where, you know, at least annually you’re looking at the job descriptions. I think some companies, you know, could even say that maybe the cadence is twice a year if you’re really in a high growth sort of changing, rapidly changing company, but I do think it’s important to come up with some sort of schedule and not just let it happen when a new person’s coming on or you’re posting a new job.
Shawn: Does it almost fall into the trap of like annual performance reviews then where if you’re a manager of like 30 people, you have to do 30 reviews all of a sudden, or do you do it…is the best way to do it maybe on a rolling basis somehow, like at, you know, hire anniversaries or some version thereof?
Jo: Yeah, I think you’ll find people who are sort of in both camps. Some people don’t want to think about it constantly sort of like performance reviews, right? Some companies, you know, performance reviews are done on anniversary date, some are just a prescribed month or whatever. I think that’s more of a philosophical question. I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong there. But for department or managers who have 30 people, doing 30 at once…
Kaite: Sounds just a little bit overwhelming.
Jo: It does. I also think, you know, some people would find that there’s like economy of scale there. Like, you know, the core bullet points are going to be the same and then they really only have to, you know, kind of tweak for, you know, individuals but then I think you run the risk of not really paying attention to the individuals.
Shawn: Financial needs.
Jo: Well, no. In that, you know, if you have 30 people and they have the same core responsibilities, you know, I can envision the managers going, “Well, they’re all the same.”
Shawn: That’s what I mean, you’re not investing the time that you should to make sure that you’re capturing the uniqueness of each person or role. If that’s kind of like the perfect end world, how should an organization look at getting there? Like, are there goals that they should look at in order to say we have X% of jobs, the descriptions of them, updated semi-annually, annually? How do you know if you’re doing a good job of that or not?
Bill: I think that’s part and parcel why they’re not updated all that frequently because it’s hard to measure, it’s hard to implement, and it’s sort of, I don’t know, a worry about the return on investment of time is what the managers are going to push back on this going, “I don’t need this, I’ve got this,” or, “I’ll do it when I need to update it.”
Shawn: It’s more of a risk mitigation on the company’s standpoint, which is tough to quantify.
Bill: I mean it’s sort of I think everyone’s waiting for there to be a good, clean, simple practice for doing it or method for doing it.
Shawn: Just like annual performance reviews, right?
Bill: #I get it.
Kaite: Thanks for hashtagging that.
Shawn: No, you’re welcome. Hey, Bill’s making filing cabinet references. I can make hashtag references.
Jo: Is that not a thing anymore?
Kaite: Oh no, I’m just…
Jo: Yeah, I mean I think you’re right, Bill. I mean I think, you know, from an HR perspective it’s hard to get managers to do anything that doesn’t give them immediate impact unless you have an employee situation where the manager’s like, “Oh, I need to do something for this specific person,” it’s hard for them to see the value in it.
Bill: Can you make it easier for them so that it’s not such an overwhelming task? So back to our previous example, if you have 30 employees, you don’t have to go through 30 1 or 2-page documents and edit them. Is there a quick, easy way to do additions, deletions and corrections?
Shawn: If there was, “Here’s the tasks and skills that are typical of this role.” Those kinds of things as well, just to at least give them a jumpstart on it.
Jo: Well, I mean, they should all be starting from something, right?
Bill: From the baseline job description.
Shawn: Unless it’s a brand new job, I guess, or something.
Jo: Right. But if it’s a brand new job, then HR is…
Kaite: They should probably blend in from other existing roles, right?
Jo: I mean, unless it’s like a truly hot emerging job that doesn’t exist before then that’s a little bit different. But you know, I mean if we’re posting for a net new position here, you know, HR meets with the hiring manager, we sort of do an intake and, you know, what are the responsibilities and then you…I mean there are core kind of responsibilities in every position ao you’re not starting from a blank slate each time.
Bill: I mean the value of products that sort of is, you know, as a manager, if you tell me, go write a job description for this new job, I’m thinking of, you know, that’s a big task and I’m like, I don’t even know what a job description looks like. But you know, if I have a template, it has sort of overview responsibilities, experience, skill. You list it out and you see one or two examples of, as Kaite was getting at, jobs close, similar, you know, even parallel. It doesn’t have to be anything that exactly is the same as the job you’re looking at but just to get a sense of, you know, what level of depth do I talk about responsibilities or skills, you know, and then I can think, oh, this new job, I want to make sure this person knows how to do A, B, and C. I want to make sure that they have at least five years experience doing that. I want to make sure that they speak a foreign language, if that’s relevant, whatever it is. So like, you know, now I know what kinds of things to put on and at what level of depth that makes it easier.
Jo: Yes, absolutely.
Shawn: Let’s turn this around. What about from a recruiting side? How do you write job descriptions that help you stand out?
Jo: Yeah, I mean I think that’s so important, especially in this market. It still hasn’t slowed down so, you know, you’re competing for against companies for a very small pool of people that are looking or, you know, that you can potentially, you know, take away from another company. So I think it’s really important to have something about the company that stands out, right? Like that you’re creative in how you’re describing the company and the perks that come along with it and kind of, you know, in less than a paragraph sort of say like, why you want to work at the company, you know, at Payfactors or wherever. But I think it’s also important when you’re looking or when you’re writing a job description, viewing it from a candidate perspective that it’s not so prescribed that you’re gonna turn off people that may actually be interested.
So, you know, a lot of the times, you’ll put down skills and then maybe, you know, if there’s a few, and this really depends on the manager, but if there’s a few skills like preferred to have this experience, you would do that if the manager is willing to teach it. So you might be looking for someone who might not have that exact skill but has something similar and you write it in a way so that it’s known to the people that are looking, the candidates looking at it that, “Oh, I don’t have this exact skill but I have this comparable skill.” So it’s really about sort of, you know, kind of promoting the company and sort of casting a wide enough net to not, like, make the pool of candidates smaller than it already is.
Shawn: When talent’s that tight though, what are the things that you look for to help something stand out? Is it, you know, you said like a succinct explanation of the company and why I should work here. What are the other things that you might be able to help out with that?
Jo: I think kind of adding sort of life at the company helps. Again, doesn’t have to be super extensive, but sort of high…
Jo: …impact, thank you. Things that will really draw people and get their attention and it’s not just another, you know, job description with a bunch of bullet points on it. Something that’ll draw them in that’ll make them interested.
Kaite: Put in a little bit of life into them too. I feel like some job descriptions can read really dull and boring and legal. And you can give them…obviously, they have to in some aspects, but like give them a little bit of personality and in a way that like reflects your company culture.
Jo: Right. I do think you have to kind of balance it. I’ve seen some that are just, I read it and I’m like, I don’t know what this is, right, so.
Bill: Yeah, I mean I was going to say, I mean it is a marketing document much like a resume is a marketing document and you want to present the job description in a way that encourages the right kind of candidate to respond and react and go, “Huh, that’s interesting. I want to follow up with these people.” And you know, sometimes those boring ones actually appeal to the right person. There are people that want those very predictable, easy, you know…I don’t mean easy work but easy like they want to be in a box. You know, not everybody wants to be on a rocket ship ride. Not everybody wants to have this exciting foosball table environment, and some people want to come to their job, do the thing they’re good at and, you know, go home at night.
Shawn: And I just wanna go back there for a minute. So it’s foosball tables that make a place exciting?
Bill: Not for me.
Kaite: And free beer.
Shawn: So like I could just move a foosball table into any…
Bill: Any office.
Shawn: And it’s good?
Bill: Yeah. Candidates just show up.
Shawn: Party starts.
Bill: You don’t even have to post jobs.
Jo: And you need cold brew, too.
Kaite: Yeah, cold brew and beer, of course, and foosball. Those are my three requirements for any workplace.
Shawn: What about ping pong? Ping pong and foosball, does that like double your amount of pool of candidates?
Kaite: I think usually you want the table that can like convert. Like you can flip it over on one side.
Shawn: Sound like it’s cheaply made. I really need a high-end ping pong table that’s been custom made, have my company’s logo.
Kaite: With company logo right on it? Yeah. Okay.
Shawn: Yeah. Matching paddles.
Kaite: Okay. Oh, that’s a detail I haven’t thought of.
Jo: Brand colors.
Shawn: Brand colors. Bill?
Bill: Yeah, I don’t think that works.
Shawn: You were the one that said it. I was just wondering how far this goes if I do a better job at it, do we get…?
Kaite: And you just get a tablet.
Bill: I would say that appeals to certain people, that environment. It’s an example, Shawn.
Shawn: So what else, what else about job descriptions? Try to put your voice into it, try to keep it customized to your company and why somebody might want to work there, but try to make it so there’s enough that you can match it relatively easily. Try to keep these things updated on a regular basis, whatever that might mean for your company.
Bill: I think make it easy. Make it easy for the line manager to update them.
Shawn: Make it easy to update, to access and update even. I wouldn’t even know where to go half the time.
Bill: Right. I think solving that problem.
Jo: I’m getting stink eye.
Shawn: No, I was waiting for you to give me one is was what I was doing there. I was looking, I was like, I shouldn’t be saying this.
Jo: It’s all right. It’s a work in progress, right? I think every company is though, right? I think it’s always an evolving process to get to what’s most efficient.
Kaite: What about at companies that like don’t…like they are early-stage or just small companies and they don’t really have those perks and the wild company culture with a ping pong table, and the foos table, and yada, yada, yada, it’s not something that they either want to or are able to offer, like how can they stand out?
Jo: I mean I think it’s…I mean, so maybe you don’t put in…I mean you would obviously not put in the perks if there aren’t any, but I think it’s more…it’s about how they describe themselves. I mean, because if you’re thinking about like a really tiny startup, you know, that doesn’t have those perks yet, but you’re marketing to a very specific type of person who’s willing to take that risk of going to a startup. So I think that’s less about the perks but more about how you’re describing the company and…
Bill: And I think it comes out as what you’re trying…why are you in business and what are you trying to do? Why did you start this thing or why are you…like what is your mission and what is the value that coming to work for you brings? You know, and like I think we talk a lot about startups here but, you know, a startup could be an accountant that leaves a midsize or large accounting firm and “hangs a shingle,” opens up a little CPA shop on Main Street and needs a bookkeeper and, you know, some sort of analyst and a receptionist/secretary.
Kaite: In my mind, like the true startup is probably looking to grow. Whereas otherwise, like what you just described, a small business, no, this is what we’re going to be and we’re never going to have a ping pong table because there’s five or six of us or whatever.
Bill: And so then you’re pitching like what does that business, like, have that some potential employees want? It’s convenient, it’s local, it’s like a family kind of business, you know, it’s likely, you know, an area you’re interested in, you know, and so you pitch those things and you’re not competing for a huge…you know, you’re not going to post this job nationally. You’re going to post it probably in the local newspaper or on the newspaper’s website or maybe with flyers.
Jo: Oh, the shame, Shawn.
Bill: Actually, you’re going to post it by emailing a bunch of your friends and your former coworkers.
Shawn: You don’t want to start over this podcast?
Kaite: You put it in like your town’s Facebook.
Jo: I was just literally thinking Facebook, right, I see it all the time.
Kaite: I see like our town hiring.
Bill: And what did they say? You know, say work local, you know, maybe get a discount on your taxes. Some of it, you know, that like…but those are some things that appeal to people. People that don’t want to commute to work. People that want to have some sort of constrained schedule, you know, that’s what you sell, that’s what you’re pitching.
Shawn: All right. Well, we covered a lot today. Jo, thanks for joining us again.
Jo: Sure, anytime.
Shawn: We’ll have you back again soon to make it three. Okay.
Kaite: And then four.
Jo: And then four, right?
Shawn: And then four.
Bill: Maybe we just jump right to four.
Jo: That’s okay too.
Shawn: We’ll jump to the future.
Jo: Time travel.
Shawn: Hopefully this is helpful. I think one of the best things that we can do is make sure that put ourselves in the shoes of the managers who have to keep these things regularly updated and the employees who might want to help with that. So be empathetic or sympathetic to what they’re going through and trying to figure out a process that won’t be too invasive. I think that’s one of the biggest pushbacks against the common foe here of annual performance reviews, right, if they hit it all at once, they start to look alike, and then you’re just remembering last month. You don’t want that to happen with something like job descriptions, that’s really important as well. So trying to figure out a way in your culture, in your organization that these things work and can work well and try to keep them in a regular cadence so that they don’t fall too far behind that everybody has to do massive updates at once. Other than that…
Kaite: I’ve got one quick “Comp + Coffee” announcement that I don’t think I made in the last podcast, but we are now on Spotify.
Jo: Oh, that’s exciting.
Kaite: Thank you. Yeah, we’re pretty excited. Find us there and listen to us there as well as all the other places that you listen to your podcasts.
Shawn: And if you are still using filing cabinets, we can print it out, put it on one of the magnet clips and hang it up there if you want to just read the transcript.
Kaite: Okay. I was looking at…I was gonna say how would we…and we can also send you a photo of Bill if we…
Shawn: Autographed photo of Bill.
Kaite: Autographed. If anyone wants that, please email us.
Shawn: If you want an autographed photo of Bill, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a review, five stars, where you like to listen, now including Spotify. Let us know a way to identify you and we’ll send you an autographed picture of Bill.
Bill: I prefer matte.
Kaite: Well, you know, I just did a whole print run of glossy, so I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here.
Shawn: And the Sharpie is for the glossy paper, Bill, the glossy paper.
Bill: I think this is my last podcast.
Kaite: What? We can’t go on without you.
Shawn: That’s all I’ve been pushing to this point. That’s all I’ve been pushing today. All right, well thanks, everybody. We’ll catch you next time.
Jo: Thank you.