“Other duties as required”: Why job descriptions are a waste of time

Transitioning to a new job? All of the certainties that exist in your current role become, in contemplating the new position, opaque. Your new job description – that solid document representing the ins and outs of a role – is a comfort against the stress of change.
Forget that. Throw it away. A ‘JD’ is useless at best, and at worst it could be seriously limiting your career growth.

“Why?” you howl, clutching protectively at your JD.

First: job descriptions are poorly written and rarely represent the duties of a position. If you adhere vehemently to a JD you are unlikely to be innovating or going above and beyond – and these are the very things that are necessary to advance and develop a successful career. If you want to understand what your position entails, ask about a typical ‘day in the life’, or ask to meet other members of the team. Relying on a document written by human resources staff, and based on a mishmash of other documents, is like watching Chinese whispers come to life.

The other major function of a job description is the legal mumbo-jumbo designed to protect the employer under a myriad of circumstances, which mainly bamboozle the employee. One JD I read recently contained 10 pages of occupational health and safety requirements, and only two pages about the role itself. OH&S rules are important considerations and must be well understood, but they should not be delivered via a job description.

Finally, every job description constructed in the last 20 years contains the catch-all “other duties as required”. Huh? So, you’ve made me read all about the hazards of sitting at my desk, given me 70 dot points that apparently contain everything I need to know to do my job, and then tell me to forget all that ’cause I might be shining shoes, too?

A job description is no substitute for speaking to the key stakeholders – up and down the chain of command – researching the company, the team, and its objectives, and building your own informed view of the actual requirements of the role.

Employers should be wary of over-reliance on job descriptions, too. Even with that catch-all statement, some employees militantly police JD “violations”. Even in the sales-driven world of executive search, I’ve heard many consultants complain that certain duties (mainly administration, let’s be honest) aren’t their responsibility. Zealous adherence to a JD can at best be a pain and at worst create a toxic working environment that is difficult to manage.

There is an answer: throw away all JDs. Feels better, right? Amazingly, leaders will find their staff continue to do their job as if they’ve never even read it. On the whole, they haven’t.

And if you’re afraid to – if it’s a document you reference regularly, worried you may be called on to do something else – well, maybe you’re in the wrong job. 

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