How to write a Job Description

In the Year 1900 – more than a century ago – Sir Ernest Shackleton, a famous Polar Explorer who led three successful expeditions to the Antartic, gave the following advertisement in London newspapers –

Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey.
Small wages, bitter cold, long months of
complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.
Honour and recognition in case of success.

The above advertisement did not leave any ambiguity as to what was coming, and successfully targeted people for whom honour and recognition were the key motivators.

(Claudio Araoz, in his book, Great People Decisions)

How can you craft a job description like above? That attracts the right people, and dissuades the wrong people from applying.

The following 3 Steps are what the experts recommend:

1.  Clarify what you ‘want’, instead of what the candidate ‘should have’

JD should describe the performance objectives i.e. what the hired person needs to achieve – and NOT the skills and traits to achieve that objective.

For Example:

Instead of saying, “Should have 5 years of accounting experience and a CPA”, the job description should say, “Should complete the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oaxley reporting requirements in 6 months.”

(Lou Adler in his book, Hire with your Head)

Compared to this, most job descriptions today focus on what the candidate should have.

You can see here the job advt. of CEO, National Stock Exchange of India, and Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India. Both focus heavily on the background of the candidate, instead of what the candidate needs to achieve.

2.  ‘SMART’ Objectives

Job Description should be redrafted as SMART Objectives: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Results-specific, and Time-bound.

(Lou Adler in his book, Hire with your Head)

An Example

This is from an advertisement I saw on (for a Bank Manager post).

A. Responsible for meeting the branch Sales targets

B. Ensure that Customer gets world-class services
The above is bland, indistinguishable from any other. There is no energy in it.

The same can be redrafted into SMART Objectives by simply affixing the words “as measured by”, and laying the parameters thereon.

Revised Example

A.Responsible for meeting the branch Sales targets, as measured by:

1. Increase the acquisition of Current & Savings Accounts by 25%.
2. Increase the Deposit base by 25%, and Loan disbursed by 20%.

B. Ensure that Customer gets world-class services, as measured by:

1. Take branch to top 5, in Mystery-Customer Survey (from the current 25th).
2. Reduce customer complaints by 40% in the first year.
As can be seen, even a non-sales objective – Customer Service above – can be converted into SMART Objectives with a little thought.

As an aside, this redrafted JD will pique the interest of many, especially achievers. Less-capable candidates will give this job a pass.

As Geoff Smart and Randy Street in their book Who, say,

“People don’t want to fail, and they don’t want to go through the dislocation of moving to another company, if they know their chances of success are minimal.”

3.  Clarify on the Competencies Required

In First, Break All the Rules, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, make some important points:

A.   Words like Competencies, Attitude, or Drive are a result of careless thinking. Ultimately what we are looking for is the (natural) Talent of the person, and whether that ‘Talent’ suits the job on hand.

B.   No ‘Talent’ by itself is bad. For example: A cynical and non-trusting attitude too is good, and possibly an advantage, if you are applying for a Police or a Lawyer job.

C.   Some examples of Talent: Results-focussed, Fosters teamwork, etc.

So how to know which Competencies to look for?

(I am using the word ‘competencies’ here instead of ‘talent’, as that has become the default language)

One way to do that is to correlate Competencies with Objectives.

For example, consider the first objective above, “Responsible for meeting the branch Sales targets.” This can be met with competency: Results-focussed.

Likewise for each objective, pick one competency.

These competencies then need to be checked in the interview with appropriate questions.

For example, the competency “Result-focussed” can be checked with the following question:

“Describe a situation where you had to work hard to achieve an objective set by your superior? What challenges did you face? How did you overcome it? How was the end-result vis-a-vis your initial estimate?”

What do you think?

I would love to receive a JD that you think got you excellent candidates.


Job Descriptions are called by different names. Some call it Scorecard, some call it Performance Profile, and yet some others call it Success Profile.

I have created a sample Job Description (of a Bank Manager) based on the above points. 

You can read the same here.  

Download the word file version here  


3 thoughts on “3 Steps to writing a Job Description (and a sample JD)

  • Pingback: A Job Description example (of a Bank Manager) | Anil Karamchandani

  • August 4, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Yes Sir, you correctly said on JD, a person like me was afraid and feeling uncomfortable to apply for such JD descriptions inspite of having the competencies. It was only because of such horrible descriptions. Majority of people either afraid or ignore such opportunities. You are right, if it is properly published with “SMART” it would give comfort zone and the confidence to apply for the vacancy. This would lead to a proper growth not only to individual but for the company.
    Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

  • August 4, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Thanks Santosh. Yes setting clear expectations helps all. Whoever is selected knows from the first day itself what is expected of him.

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