Job descriptions: A key HR foundation for startups

Well-defined job descriptions provide a foundation for all your human resource (HR) processes and decisions. Their value is not often recognized in smaller organizations, especially in startups, where change is a constant and roles evolve quickly.

When defining the responsibilities within your startup, think about the work that needs to be done and how best to organize that work, to get the most value from your investment in people. Job descriptions can and should be a foundation for talent management.

HR benefits of well-defined job descriptions for startups

A good job description will:

  • Define your needs to facilitate more focused recruiting ads, which will stand out to the right candidates and attract fewer applications—but of a higher quality
  • Clarify the requirements to help you screen and interview candidates for the right knowledge and attributes
  • Keep employees clear and focused on what is expected from them
  • Provide a benchmark for measuring performance and context when dealing with performance issues
  • Help define competitive compensation levels

Job descriptions should capture the key elements of a job. They are not intended to be an exhaustive list of daily tasks. Keep them general enough to allow for some flexibility in the assignment of new tasks without needing to update them.

A single job description can apply to many employees, provided the following elements are essentially the same:

  • General nature of work
  • Complexity of work
  • Independence/accountability
  • Guidance received
  • Leadership responsibility
  • Education and experience
  • Working conditions and any extraordinary physical/mental effort required

As part of your HR strategy, use a consistent job description template (see below) to ensure all necessary aspects are considered. In Ontario, every organization with 10 or more employees is responsible to comply with the Pay Equity Act, so it is wise to align with these requirements from the beginning.

Creating a job description

Write as clear a job description as possible. It should include the following information:

  1. Title
  2. Reporting relationship
  3. Level within the organizational hierarchy (this may not be applicable in very small organizations)
  4. Concise overview of the general purpose of the job
  5. Primary duties and responsibilities
  6. Required technical/business skills and/or behavioural competencies
  7. Supervisory/leadership skills
  8. Special effort required (for example, extreme levels of focused concentration or excessive travel)
  9. Working conditions (for example, exposure to extreme temperatures or chemical hazards)

When organizing your ideas to prepare a job description, it can help to follow a template. The document below is a sample template for a job description.

Download the Job Description Template

See also: Sample job description for an administrative assistant