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You Want Me To Do What? What Your Job Descriptions Are Saying About You


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Construction companies are closing the door on potentially valuable recruits simply because they expect too much right up front. Job descriptions requiring someone who is a superhero might be great for covering all the bases, but they tell potential employees that they’ll be on the hook for most anything the employer wants. Here is advice on making job descriptions realistic and it starts with knowing when you need them.

Are You Taking the Evolutionary Path to Having Job Descriptions?

If you want it, and work toward it, your construction business will grow. Part of ‘growing up’ means becoming more specialized. Early on, most construction businesses have just a few people and everyone does whatever it takes to get the job done. They move from one task to another as consummate generalists or jacks of all trades.

But as the business grows and more people join the ranks, things start to get confusing and inefficient. Some people are better at some tasks than others. Scheduling becomes problematic because there are no defined skills that match people to the jobs. You also run into more trouble when employees begin to feel overwhelmed, struggling to keep up with their ever-changing task roles. When you get to this point, you’re definitely reached the moment when you should have job descriptions. However, you can start considering writing job descriptions for your business even earlier.

They’re Not Just For When Your Business Grows Up

You don’t have to wait until your business grows up to gain the advantages of matching jobs to your business goals. Just take a look at your business plan and you’ll see places requiring specific skills. For construction companies, you’ll see management and administrative roles along with roles requiring construction skills. When you write job descriptions for each of those, you future-proof your company against the rising costs of inefficiency. And, when analyzing the descriptions, you can confirm all the responsibilities you need in operating your business are covered.  

Just consider all the ways job descriptions come into play in the day-to-day of running your business. 

They affect:

  • Employee planning
  • Recruiting and selection of employees
  • Orienting new employees to the company and their jobs
  • Compensation
  • Setting goals and expectations
  • Reviewing performance  
  • Career and succession planning
  • Training
  • Meeting labor regulatory requirements

Let’s Keep it Real

In writing good job descriptions you’ll want to avoid making them unrealistic. There’s a fine line between what’s essential to the role and what’s nice to have. According to Business and Legal Resources, when you include “more than what is needed to competently perform the position, you will end up with bored, overqualified workers, and you will limit your ability to place otherwise qualified candidates in the position.”

You can certainly hope that people will exceed your expectations by taking on tasks and responsibilities that aren’t essential to the job, but don’t include those when writing the description. Motivated and respected employees will naturally rise to the needs of the organization when necessary.

The Power of Un-Specific Specifics

One of the early pieces of advice when writing job descriptions is to be specific. That’s important because vague job descriptions are another way of signalling to potential employees that the sky’s the limit in what you might ask them to do.

For example, instead of just writing “frame exterior residential walls” as an essential skill in a lead carpenter job description, get more specific:

“wood framing of single family and multifamily exterior walls up to three levels and including layout; proper lumber selection; assembling plates, headers, and studs; safely standing and bracing assemblies; bolting down base plates; installing ceiling and floor joists; and installing necessary blocking.”

There are plenty of ways you can describe the work clearly without going into details that limit what the employee can do. Just make sure not to start describing how to do the job right.

There are plenty of ways you can describe the work clearly without going into details that limit what the employee can do. Just make sure not to start describing how to do the job right. Specific items you also might include are those related to the work pace and the environment the employee must work in. In the example above you might add phrases like “under deadline” and “all types of weather.”

Build in Reasonable Flexibility

Experts say to avoid adding broad statements to retain some flexibility in what you expect from the employee. Writing that the lead carpenter “will assist plumbing and electrical contractors on request” is way too flexible. Instead, you can use a general statement to the overall job description that leaves your options open.

“These aren’t the only lead carpenter duties, and the supervisor may provide additional instructions or assign other duties as the job requires.”

It’s also not a good idea to make overly broad statements when describing management duties. The phrase “manage assigned carpenters” could cover many tasks. Does that include attendance, time off, payroll, insurance, and benefits? A lead carpenter will give directions to other carpenters assigned to them. So, if the intent is for them to manage how other carpenters do the work, then say so. For example: “The lead carpenter will oversee and direct the tasks of the assigned carpenters.”

Attract Recruits with Balanced Employer-Employee Expectations

Writing excellent job descriptions takes time and careful thought. It also requires the author to have a solid knowledge of the responsibilities, skills and roles of the job.

 Writing excellent job descriptions takes time and careful thought. It also requires the author to have a solid knowledge of the responsibilities, skills and roles of the job. From a recruiting perspective, the job description is one of the very first insights a potential recruit considers when deciding to pursue the job. If a job description is a boiler plate covering every conceivable duty needed to keep your business running, the potential recruit might easily come to believe the employer-employee relationship at your company is one-sided.

Besides helping you to attract and retain the right people for the work, job descriptions help employees understand where they fit in, what their career progression is, and what you expect from them. Job descriptions can either help or hinder you in employment legal cases. Make sure to review and update them regularly. Things change, and job descriptions must keep up.