Writing job specifications

The job specification takes the job description and answers the question. “What human traits and experience are required to do this job well? It shows what kind of person to recruit and for what qualities that person should be tested. The job specification may be section of the job description or a separate document entirely. Often – employer presents it as part of the job description.

Writing job specifications for trained employees is relatively straight forward. For example suppose a HR manager wants to fill a position for a bookkeeper (or counselor or program). In cases like these for a HR manager job specifications might focus mostly on traits like length of previous service, quality of relevant training, and previous job performance. Thus, it’s usually not too difficult to determine the human requirements for placing already trained people on a job.

The problems are more complex when a HR manager is filling jobs with untrained people (with the intention of training them on the job). Here a HR manager must specify qualities such as physical traits, personality, interest, or sensory skills that imply some potential for performing or for being trained to do the job.

For example, suppose the job requires detailed manipulation in a circuit board assembly line. Here a HR manager might want to ensure that the person scores high on a test of finger dexterity. A HR manager’s goal, in other words, is to identify those personal traits – those human requirements – that validly predict which candidates would do well on the job and which would not. Employers identify these human requirements through a subjective judgmental approach or through statistical analysis. Let’s examine both approaches.

Most job specifications come from the educated guesses of people like supervisors and human resource mangers. The basic procedure here is to ask, “What does it take in terms of education, intelligence, training, and the like to do this job well?

There are several ways to get educated guesses or judgment. A HR manager could simply create them himself or a HR manager could choose them from the competencies listed in Web-based job descriptions like those at www.jobdescription.com. The typical job description there lists competencies like, ‘Generates creative solutions’ and “Manages difficult or emotional customer situation.” Job listing can include complete listings of educational and other experience and skills required.

Use common sense when compiling a list of the job’s human requirements. Certainly, job-specific human traits like those unearthed through job analysis – manual dexterity, or educational level are important. However, don’t ignore the fact that some work behaviors may apply to almost any job although they might not normally surface through a job analysis.

One researcher, for example, obtained supervisor ratings and other information from 18,000 employees in 42 different hourly entry-level jobs in predominantly retail settings. Regardless of the job, here are the work behaviors (with examples) that he found to be “generic” – in other words, that seem to be important to all jobs.

Industriousness: Keeps working even when other employees are standing around talking; takes the initiatives to find another task when finished with regular work.

Thoroughness: Cleans equipment thoroughly, creating a more attractive display, notices merchandise out of place and returns it to the proper area.

Schedule flexibility: Accepts schedule changes when necessary; offers to stay late when the store is extremely busy.

Attendance: Arrives at work on time; maintains good attendance.

Off-task behavior (reverse): Uses store phones to make personal unauthorized calls; conducts personal business during work time; lets joking friends be a distraction and interruption to work.

Unruliness (reverse): Threatens to bully another employee; refuse to take routine orders from supervisors, does not cooperate with other employees.

Theft (reverse): (As a cashier) Under-rings the price of merchandising for a friend; cheats on reporting time worked; allow non-employees in unauthorized areas.

Drug misuse (reverse): Drinks alcohol or takes drugs on company property; comes to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Perhaps the bigger challenge is to make sure that in doing the job analysis, HR manager don’t miss the forest for the trees. Consider a study of 50 testing engineers at a Volvo plant in Sweden. When asked what determined job competence for a testing engineer, most of the engineers focused on traditional criteria such as “to make the engine perform according to specification.” But the most effective testing engineers defined the job’s main task differently: “to make sure the engine provides a customer with a good driving experience.” As a result, these engineers went about their jobs testing and turning the engines “not as engineers trying to hit a number, but as ordinary drivers imagining themselves as seniors, students, commuters, or vacationers. This subgroup of the testing engineers worked hard to develop their knowledge of customers’ driving needs, even when it meant reaching out to people outside their own group, such as designers or marketers.

The point is that if people don’t recognize or value the [human] attributes that really determine success, how easy will it be for them to acquire those attributes?” Employers should therefore “shift the focus of their recruitment and training programs from flawed attribute checklists toward identifying and if necessary, changing people understand of what jobs entail. In other words, in developing the job description and job specification, make sure a HR manager really understand the reasons for the job and therefore the skills a person actually needs to be competent at it.

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