What Exactly Do You Do at Work?

One of the things I have to do every so often is revise a job description. I probably don’t do this as often as I should but am prompted, either by the person whose job it is or by some time issue, such as a period of time going by. I was talking with an HR person recently who said that the job description has two roles: to explain the job to a prospective candidate, and to explain to the job holder what they are supposed to do. The challenge in information environments, though, is that the job changes rapidly and your job description is probably not keeping up to date.

I have a slightly different take on the job description.  It doesn’t really matter what it says, because the only time you use it is when you are taking on a job or when you are being asked to leave a job.  In the ideal environment, your performance is reviewed on a regular basis and it is reviewed in conjunction with your job description.  If your responsibilities change, then your job description would be updated to reflect that.

The reality is probably much different, if your experience is anything like mine.  My employers seem to take a leave-well-enough-alone approach.  I have seen (and revised) job descriptions written 7 years before where the job, organizational structure, and skills had changed dramatically but multiple individuals had been hired into that role.  More commonly, I expect, are that job descriptions are written so broadly or loosely that anything anyone does is caught within its expanse:  other tasks as required by supervisor.  But in that case, it doesn’t really meet the goal of educating the job holder about their responsibilities.

Even when you are in an organization where job descriptions do get reviewed periodically, that usually isn’t the end product.  They may have to be submitted to a review committee, to HR for assimilation of vocabulary to ensure that there is consistency across the organization, to an internal or external salary consultant to determine whether the revised description requires any changes.  Depending upon the organization, this process can take as long as a year.  In this case, the job may have already changed so any review process should be relatively speedy.

Library staff are seeing rapid change in their environments and writing job descriptions that can flex enough without being uselessly vague can be tricky.  Not only are responsibilities and skills changing, new titles are appearing and this can challenge both HR and prospective candidates who are not sure what they mean, against what they can compare the position, and how portable that title and role will be when they decide to move on.  I find that library jobs seem to be particularly challenging for non-librarian committees to wrap their heads around or to compare to like positions.

I was taking a look at my own job description recently, which was a bit nostalgic since my role is significantly different now.  It definitely fits into the we-aren’t-sure-exactly-where-this-position-is-going category and has fallen behind both in reporting structure and duties.  It was written about 6 months before I took the position and took more than a year to be reviewed by internal and external groups after I came on board.  It was out of date then and has become more so.

It may be an opportunity to practice my job description editing on myself, to see if I can bring it a little bit closer to what I really do.  If I were to leave my position, it would need to be rewritten anyway.

Or I may just punt, because, at the end of the day, I have an understanding about what’s expected of my role and I am only likely to see a copy of my job description across the table from me at an exit interview!