Writing a position description

Effective position descriptions are an essential organizational tool. Position descriptions help employees understand how they contribute to the mission, goals, and objectives of the department and the University as a whole by defining their specific duties and responsibilities, supervisory relationships, and the expected results from their work. Position descriptions also serve as the foundation for many HR management functions such as: Recruitment and Selection, Compensation Administration, Unit Reorganizations, Employee Development and Performance Management. Download the for help with writing a position description.

Getting Started

Before developing the position description, managers should ask the following questions:

  • What is the primary purpose?
  • What are the expected outcomes?
  • What are the ‘deliverables’?

From these answers the managers should then identify the position’s duties and responsibilities by considering:

  • What are the core responsibilities of the position?
  • What is the scope, level and complexity of the work being completed?
  • What is the relationship of this position to other positions in the department?
  • With what frequency are the various major functions of the position undertaken? (What percentage of time is spent on each core responsibility?)
  • What specific materials, equipment, or machines are used in carrying out the job?
  • Will the person in the position work with others or alone? What type of interaction occurs with other positions?
  • What type of supervision is received? Who reviews a completed project for accuracy? How frequently is work reviewed?
  • Does the person in the position supervise others?  If so, what type of supervision is provided to other positions?
  • What are the minimum qualifications a person must have to be able to do the job (education, training, and/or experience)?  What are the preferred qualifications?
  • What level of decision making is authorized in the position and who has the authority to override those decisions?
  • Identify the level of interaction with individuals external to the university and for what purpose.
  • What is the impact of success or failure in this position to the department or the university: minimal, moderate, significant, or critical?

Write the position’s general description
The general description is an overview of the position and should summarize the position’s primary purpose and its role in supporting, administering, or managing the activities of the department, business unit and University. To create this description, clearly and concisely outline the major job functions and expectations of the position, and include information related to the position’s scope of responsibility, major challenges, and complexity of duties. The answers to the questions listed above should aid in the creation of this narrative.

The general description is the section of the position description that appears when the position is advertised.  Therefore, it should provide compelling information about the position and University in order to attract the most qualified applicants.  It is important to highlight reasons why the position is desirable and  promote VCU as a vibrant and dynamic employer.   Keep in mind that the general description is the first step in selling the position and University to a potential candidate!  The tone, language, and details included in the description influence a candidate’s first impression of the University and its values.

Determine qualifications
The purpose of the Qualifications section of a position description is to outline the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for an individual to successfully and competently perform the job.  Consider the answers to  the following questions when identifying necessary qualifications for the position:

  • What specific training must an individual have in order to effectively perform the functions of this job?
  • What knowledge must a person have to effectively perform this job? (e.g. knowledge of legislation, regulations, policies, practices, local knowledge)?  Be specific about the type of skills or knowledge required. List the name of the software packages, the policies, legislation, the type of licenses or personal skills e.g. Occupational Health & Safety, electrician's license, Word and Excel packages, drivers license class B.
  • Are there any certifications (trade or professional) required?
  • Does this position require formal credentials (a specific degree, for example)? If so, what are they? Could this knowledge be acquired through experience rather than formal education?
  • What kind of experience is necessary to competently perform in this position?

Minimum requirements
The minimum requirements or “basic qualifications” of a position are those qualifications or criteria an individual (or candidate) must have in order to successfully perform the job functions. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of a position in order to be considered viable candidates. Minimum requirements are determined based on needs of the position; these requirements are specifically referenced in job advertisements.

Outline position’s core responsibilities
The purpose of this section is to describe the main duties and responsibilities of the position and to identify the percentage of time spent on each. In the “Core Responsibility” box, a brief overview (typically a few words about the duty) should be captured.  A detailed description of the specific job duty and associated tasks should be provided in the “Measures” section.

The information provided in the Core Responsibilities section of the position description must clearly outline the requirements and expectations of the position.  This information will be used as a baseline for employee performance (and whether one is successfully performing the work of the position.) It will also be used for classification of the position, compensation determination, etc.  

Important tips for creating the core responsibilities of a position:

  • List the most important core responsibility (the primary purpose of the position) first. Other responsibilities should follow in descending order of importance.
  • Begin each sentence with an action verb plus an objective to describe what is done, rather than how it is done.
  • Quantify, whenever possible. Indicate dollar volume for financial responsibility, number of accounts, ledgers, grants, number of faculties in department, number of people supervised, etc.
  • Refrain from using acronyms or abbreviations. If these are used, ensure they are spelled out at least once in the document.

Common action verbs
Administers, Analyzes, Applies, Collaborates, Coordinates, Conducts, Demonstrates, Directs, Ensures, Estimates, Executes, Enforces, Instructs, Interprets, Manages, Organizes, Oversees, Participates, Performs, Plans, Proposes, Reviews, Resolves, Recommends