THE QUESTION COMES IN MANY FORMS, AND WE EITHER ASK IT OR ANSWER IT ALL
What do you do for a living?
What do you do for work?
Or the simplest version: What do you do?
The answers tend to vary. For some of us, our title is enough to adequately explain what we do
to a stranger. We’re not all that lucky, though, and some of us have to be creative to explain
what we do in a 30-second sound bite.
Job descriptions are an unpleasant, yet necessary evil in most organizations. I’ve never met
anyone who enjoys job descriptions in any way. They aren’t enjoyable to read. They are less
enjoyable to write. Yet so many critical activities in organizations rely on good job descriptions.
The Role Job Descriptions Play
We’ll come back to what we mean by a “good” job description later. For now, let’s discuss what
makes job descriptions important in the fi rst place.
Recruiting. Job descriptions are frequently used in job postings, and rightfully so. Outsiders
need to get an understanding of a job in order to know if they should apply for it.
Job leveling. In large organizations, jobs are often grouped into various levels. Generally, these
levels correspond to many factors that help group jobs not by function, but by rarity and
authority, among other things.
Performance reviews. For a performance review, it can be hard to judge whether a person has
done a good job if you haven’t adequately described what the job is. The job description is the
starting point for this, along with goals that can be updated as needed.
Professional development. As an organization plans how performance in different roles may
evolve as employees grow — hopefully into other potential roles — clearly defined jobs are
needed. Descriptions of each role that adequately explain key differences are necessary for
both leadership and individual employees for making professional development decisions.
Compensation benchmarking. Leading organizations benchmark their jobs regularly, but job
titles aren’t enough to do it since companies can be inconsistent in how they use job titles.
(Have you ever benchmarked the term “Account Executive?”) Job descriptions help better
define jobs in order to compare to similar jobs in other organizations for accurate benchmarking.
Incentive compensation design. Incentive compensation by its very nature requires
understanding what a job does, since the incentive compensation must be built to motivate the
appropriate behaviors desired within that job.
Missing the Mark
Poor quality job descriptions cause a cascade of problems in the above areas. But to decipher
what makes a job description “good,” let’s start by discussing the characteristics of a “bad” job
1. A bad job description is overly specific. Being too detailed in a job description can create
The job description can be too time-intensive to maintain, as the more detailed it is, the more
likely it is to need continuous adjustments. Not keeping up with the adjustments makes the job
descriptions out-of-date, and once they are out-of-date, people stop trusting them.
The more specific you are, the more you risk describing every individual person as being in their
own job, and therefore having more job descriptions than you really need. Including details such
as the accounts a person may manage or the specific number of people that report to them
risks too narrowly defining the job.
An overly specific job description risks being too long, and therefore causing the reader to lose
interest. This can affect job postings among other things. The reader doesn’t need to know how
many calls per day or emails per day the job may require, or the average length of meetings.
2. A bad job description is written with the wrong audience in mind. A job description
needs to assume the reader is not already familiar with the position. As such, it needs to include
enough detail for the person to understand what the job entails, without using industry jargon or
lingo that may not be understandable to outside job candidates or internal users of the job
3. A bad job description can be too ornate. A job description needs to be accurate. It should
not focus only on the exciting parts of a job, nor should it exaggerate a job’s role in the exciting
activities. If there are less exciting parts of the job, the job description needs to be upfront in
describing them (but not in too much detail).
4. A bad job description can be too short. Being concise is, of course, a good thing. But
the job description still needs to capture the relevant functions of the job. Let’s discuss that in
greater detail, as functions represent the core concept that needs to be explained accurately for
all of these elements to come together.
Focus on the job’s function to avoid the above problems. This is a key principle to recruiting the
right people, properly leveling a job, accurately benchmarking it and creating optimized, relevant
incentive compensation, if appropriate. None of these things happen without getting the
functions right. Function doesn’t necessarily refer to what tasks the job entails. A job may
include setting up meetings, traveling to customers and participating in conference calls. These
all describe tasks associated with a job, but they don’t describe the functions. Functions refer to
the actual things a job is responsible for completing. This may mean a job is overseeing a
variety of processes that are all in the spirit of accomplishing a higher-level responsibility. If so,
that’s a function.
Example One: Account Manager
Account Manager is one of the most common, generic titles out there. A common use of this
title is to describe a job that is the key point of contact for a customer. In that capacity, the
following may be key functions of such a job:
Negotiating and securing annual renewals from assigned customers.
Cross-selling additional products to assigned customers.
Acting as the key facilitator in ensuring that any problems the customer experiences get solved
Notice these bullet points do not go into unnecessary details, nor do they waste time on subtasks
that are part of the key functions of the job.
Example Two: Account Servicing Associate
Imagine that the Account Servicing Associate position is a more junior role that works alongside
the above-described Account Manager as part of the account management process. Functions
of that role may include:
Acting as the first-line customer service contact for assigned customers.
Executing basic tasks as needed as part of servicing assigned customers.
Creating quote packages for additional products the customer may be considering purchasing.
Assisting in analysis as needed for use in the negotiation of customer renewals.
Notice these functions remain fairly high level, without getting into too much detail. Now
compare those functions to the following:
Job descriptions are frequently used in job postings, and rightfully so.
Outsiders need to get an understanding of a job in order to know if they
should apply for it.
Participates in the account management process.
Is a key member of the renewal negotiation process.
Helps cross-sell to customers.
Participates in high-level strategic conference calls with executives.
See the problem in the second set of bullet points? They neglect to describe what the job’s role
is in all these things that are described. Functions don’t merely describe what a job participates
in, they also describe the responsibilities associated with the job. Describing things a job may
participate in can lead to employee dissatisfaction as they may feel misled as to what the job’s
responsibilities may or may not be.
Functions, as described above, should be written to describe key differentiators between
different jobs. Multiple jobs may participate in the same processes, but functions need to help
tease out what is different about the roles the jobs play in those processes. These functions are
the key element to help in grouping/leveling jobs, accurately benchmarking (because
benchmarking against a similar functional job is more important than benchmarking against a
Figuring out the right multiplier and qualifiers is different for every business. If the goal is to keep up-front buy sales equal to subscription sales, then equivalent deals need to be modeled to decide what example deals would look like that are of roughly equal size but in two structures. Then the multiplier would need to be set to make sure that commissions will be roughly equal regardless of which type of sale occurs. If the goal is to emphasize subscription sales, then simply increase that multiplier. We used 12x as the multiplier in the earlier example, but going to 15x would clearly send the signal that subscriptions are preferred. Going in the other direction, an 8x multiplier would push the sales reps to sell more up-front buys, while still compensating them for the subscription sales that do occur. If subscriptions are annual, as many are for SaaS products, then the multipliers will be much lower (between 2x and 5x).
As sales compensation professionals, it is our job to translate the organization’s overall sales strategy into a coherent sales compensation model that appropriately pushes the right kind of sale.