More Than a Job Description


More than a job description, a Role Portrait is designed to capture the nuances and particulars of a job. This is particularly useful for both talent acquisition and continuity planning.

A Job Description is Critical

The basic job description is:

“A written statement about a position that defines various responsibilities, duties, qualifications and reporting arrangements. It is used to match organizational needs with skills and competencies required to do the work.”

This is a foundational document in any organization. A good job description is essential for both hiring and allocating human resources. Each position in your organization needs a basic job description. The Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM) has hundreds of prewritten job descriptions to help HR professionals create and correctly format these important documents.

A well-written job description solves many issues for organizations:

  • Helps potential employees understand the job they’re applying for and how it fits into an organization
  • Defines responsibilities and expectations. This sets parameters for new hires, existing employees and managers
  • Fulfills legal requirements to stay in compliance with equal opportunity and anti-discrimination regulations

However, a job description has certain limitations:

  • Job descriptions can become functionally obsolete almost immediately, especially if maintained by an HR department that is removed from the day-to-day activities of the organization
  • Being a fixed document, it may not accurately represent the job during a period of rapid change
  • May unnecessarily confine and limit job performance, especially for high-performing employees with great initiative
  • Can create negative evidence in certain legal situations, like a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination
A Role Portrait is More

While it includes everything found in a good job description, the Role Portrait informs the job description from the unique vantage point of the position holder, immediate managers and associates.

The Role Portrait is a living document that is assessed and amended at least once a year, often as part of the annual review process. A Role Portrait is developed by the department where the job position resides rather than the HR department.

Often, the Role Portrait is written, or co-written, by a person holding the job. They are in the best position to understand and communicate the details of their role. In coordination with their manager, this employee can help the organization answers key questions about:

  • How time is allocated
  • How objectives and tasks are prioritized and performed
  • Key personnel and resources necessary to doing the job
  • Important functions and relationships that might otherwise remain invisible
  • How the job, objectives and tasks have changed from one year to the next

There is no one formula for how to create a Role Portrait. Much depends on the job itself and the people filling in the picture. The main emphasis should be on getting a current and complete picture of a specific role informed by those closest to it.

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