Position Description Analysis & Development

Completing a Position Analysis

Before an accurate position description can be created for a position, a position analysis must be conducted in order to evaluate the need and purpose of the position, and the way the work should be performed. A position description should include a list of essential functions. The position analysis ensures that the work to be performed in a position is accurately described. A position description simply documents the findings of the position analysis.

Questions that Drive a Position Analysis

The intent of asking the following questions is to determine whether or not the tasks can be achieved in a new or different way:

  • What is the purpose of the position? By answering these questions, the essential functions of the position can be identified. A position exists to perform an essential function and the person hired to fill the position is hired for their ability to perform it.
  • What would happen if this position were not filled? Is it possible to transfer essential functions of the position to other positions within your department or other departments/units within the university?
  • What larger developments within the university or within the position’s specialized area play a role in determining different ways of thinking about the position? A good example here is offered by examining the fast-moving developments in information technology and sciences that have changed the qualifications you would look for when filling a Librarian position.
  • What can we learn from our past five years experience with this position? Has it been marked by high turnover or has it been a continuous trouble area? What accounts for the present vacancy?
  • What does any of this information tell us about the position? Does the position need to be redefined or perhaps eliminated?

The responsibility for analyzing a vacant (or new) position, rests primarily with the hiring manager, but it is recommended that at least one person higher in the line of authority become involved, if for no other reason than to guard against a token or narrowly focused review of the position and its essential functions. It is also recommended that academic and professional faculty position descriptions be shared with the search committee in draft form for feedback, questions, and proposed revisions/clarifications before it is finalized and approved by the hiring manager (the person ultimately responsible for its content).

Writing a Position Description

Importance of Position Descriptions

The position description is the primary document of personnel administration for the University. It affects how a position is classified and compensated. It serves as the foundation for setting expectations with an employee, and for performance evaluation and management. It also is important in determining the professional development needs of the incumbent. The development of a position description should be done thoughtfully and carefully. Do not let the pressing needs of a search process minimize the importance of developing an accurate position description.

Goal of Position Description Writing

Each position description should be written in such a way that it provides all the information an evaluation committee needs to clearly understand the duties the incumbent performs. It must accurately reflect all the duties and responsibilities required of the incumbent as well as the qualifications that person needs to satisfactorily fill the position.

Review the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access (EOA) Principles for Developing the Position Description document for ideas around how to incorporate the diversity aspects of the position.

Position Summary

After the job analysis has been conducted, the next step is to begin writing the position description. From the job analysis, you should have an understanding of what the primary purpose of the position is. This is the position summary. Write the summary to explain what you need accomplished by this employee and how it relates to the mission of the organization. This should be no shorter than a sentence or two and no longer than a paragraph. In the position summary, balance the need to focus on the position’s purpose with the need to provide some limited information about the organization for recruiting purposes. Be sparing with your use of marketing language here, as the posting is the place best utilized to market the organization, location, etc.

Position Duties

This section should expand on the position summary. Write position duties so that they are clearly understandable by anyone who should happen to read the position description. The duties should be succinct. From your position analysis, begin grouping the position duties by similarity and importance. Typically, you will have no more than eight to ten groupings of position duties. Each group should have a common heading.

Tips: Do not list unnecessary details, only the important facts regarding the position. Avoid ambiguous terms and begin each statement with an action verb. Avoid jargon that the search committee and applicants may not understand. Avoid stating a list of performance expectations. Expectations may be listed in a separate document. Be accurate in describing the duties. Don’t overstate or understate - to do so may result in classifying the position incorrectly, affecting the compensation of the position. The duties must total 100%.

Decision Making/Guidelines

This section, along with the position summary, defines the scope and responsibility of the position. List what decisions the incumbent will be expected to make independently and which decisions they will make under the guidance of their supervisor. List the impact these decisions will have on the organization. What are the negative impacts of an incorrect decision?Then list what guidelines the incumbent will use in making these decisions.

Determining the Qualifications

Ensuring that the qualifications are accurate and necessary for the position is crucial to a successful search. Qualifications should not be so extensive that they limit the applicant pool or could be seen as discriminatory. Go back to the job analysis and the position description. What must the incumbent have upon beginning this position to be successful Create a list of these items. These will become your minimum qualifications, or the additional required qualifications. What qualifications would be helpful for the incumbent to have, or useful to the organization? These will become your preferred qualifications.

For Classified positions, the minimum qualifications come from the classification specifications and have been negotiated with SEIU. The additional required qualifications cannot exceed the minimum qualifications. Be careful when you list experience or education as a requirement and refer back to the minimum qualifications.

Refer to the Online PD and Recruiting System Position Titles for minimum qualifications for academic and professional faculty positions. If you require a degree, make sure to list what field the degree is in. (e.g. B.S. or B.A. in Psychology, or closely related field)

Sample Position Descriptions

Selected position summaries, decision-making statements, and descriptions of duties are available for the position titles referenced below. Click on the desired link to open a sample position description.

Academic Teaching/Research Faculty:

Assistant Professor
Associate Professor
Faculty Research Assistant
Research Associate
Senior Faculty Research Assistant
Senior Instructor

Administrative/Professional Faculty: see Position Profiles for guidance

Classified Staff: see the Oregon Public Universities Classification Specifications for guidance 

Position Advertisement Guidelines Tenure-Track Teaching Positions

Why is this useful?  These guidelines make the path to permanent residence simpler for some teaching faculty who need long-term work authorization in the United States.

Where do these criteria come from?  The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) requires specific advertisement language in order for OSU to be eligible to file a Special Handling Labor Certification (SHLC) request, which is the first step in a three-part process culminating in permanent residence (aka a green card) for faculty who have classroom teaching duties.

What happens if our advertisement does not meet DOL criteria? We pursue other paths to permanent residence, some of which are more laborious for the faculty member. 

Who do I contact with questions?  Email [email protected]

Example Ad
The Department of ______ at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon invites applications for a full-time (nine-month) tenure track Assistant, Associate, or Full professor starting on September 16, 2018.  Duties include teaching undergraduate and graduate classes, developing an externally-funded research program, and providing service to the Department, College, and University.  Requirements include a PhD by the start of employment in X, Y, Z, or a closely related discipline and the ability to contribute to teaching excellence. Preference will be given to candidates with a demonstrable commitment to promoting and enhancing diversity.  To apply, submit letter of interest and curriculum vitae to https://jobs.oregonstate.edu/, posting #P000000 by December 15, 2017.

 DOL Criteria Checklist

 Advertise in a National Journal with either a web-based or a print ad

  • Web ad: advertise in an online professional journal with a national circulation for a minimum of 30 days, collect documentation that shows the ad ran for 30 days
  • Print Ad: place an advertisement in the print version of a professional journal with a national circulation, keep a copy of the ad as it appeared in the journal

 Position Title: rank must be stated.  E.g.:  Appointment is anticipated at the Assistant Professor level, but candidates with exceptional qualifications may be considered for appointment as Associate Professor or Professor

 Duties: briefly outlined and include the word “teaching”

 FTE: Note that the position is full-time

 Minimum & Preferred Qualifications: ideally, the minimum qualifications will be objectively measurable.  Preferred qualifications are best when prefaced with “demonstrated ability to…” or “knowledge of…” rather than “experience in…”

 Degree: explicitly list all disciplines acceptable for position. E.g.:  PhD required in X, Y, Z, or a closely related disciplineIf applicants will be considered who have not yet completed their PhDs, be sure to include PhD required by start of employment in X, Y, Z, or a closely related discipline

 To Apply: describe the application process, e.g.: Submit letter of interest and vitae to OSU jobs website (https://jobs.oregonstate.edu/), posting #P12123UF

 Location: indicate the name of the city where the work will be performed