Writing position descriptions instruction

Instruction statement

These instructions have been produced to assist you in writing a position description that accurately reflects the requirements of the position at RMIT.

A position description provides a clear understanding of the functions and responsibilities of the job, the skills required to perform those functions and the role of the position within the work unit and the organisation as a whole.

The instructions and examples included here guide should answer most of the questions you may have about completing a position description, however if you require further assistance please contact Human Resources on ext. 54600.

Instruction steps and actions

What are position descriptions used for?

A position description serves a number of purposes, but primarily it gives staff, and when used in the recruitment process, applicants, a clear description of the purpose and responsibilities of the position. It also establishes individual performance expectations and goals in conjunction with work plans, training and career development and job re-design.

At RMIT the position description is closely linked to the Work Plan. The position description provides an overall view of the position. The Work Plan should be consistent with the position description and provides details of the specific activities to be undertaken in the 12 month period.

Also for Professional Staff positions the position description together with the Position analysis form (DOC 288KB, 7p) is used in determining the appropriate classification of positions.

Who prepares the position description?

Position descriptions are usually prepared by the supervisor, and must be approved by the relevant manager (one level above the direct manager), and when used in the appointment process endorsed by Human Resources. These endorsements must be completed before the position description can be used for any purpose.

If there is an incumbent they should be consulted when developing the position description.

When writing position descriptions, departmental "jargon" or acronyms should be avoided, if these are included a footnote to clarify these terms should be provided.

How do I obtain the position description format?

The format can be downloaded at Position description template (DOCX 224KB, 3p).

Are there any sample position descriptions which will help me to write one?

Human Resources has some generic position descriptions for academic and vocational education positions.

The generic position descriptions can be used as examples when developing a position description for a specific position.

How can I obtain assistance

If you require assistance or have any questions related to the position description/ format please contact Human Resources on ext. 50600.

Why do I have to use this proforma?

This proforma was developed by Human Resources in consultation with other areas across the University to ensure that all relevant information is contained in the one document. By using the proforma it ensures a professional image both internally and externally to the University, also ensuring consistency and quality in the information provided about a position.

Where do I start?

The first step is to obtain a copy of the Position description template (DOCX 224KB, 3p).

If after reading the position description proforma and these instructions you are still unsure of what to do, contact your HR consultant on ext 50600 to arrange a time to go through the document.

Details on each section in the Position Description

Position details

This section provides basic information on the position, such as Position Title, this information helps distinguish individual positions. This information is to be consistent with the Establishment details and will be checked by Human Resources.

Position Title

Please refer to ‘What should a position title reflect’ covered later in this document.

Position Number

Each position is given a Position Number by Human Resources to identify the specific position, this may also be known as the Establishment number, this is not the person's staff number.

Portfolio

These are Academic Schools, Research Institutes and University Service areas of the University.

School/Group

These Schools/Groups that fall under the Portfolio.

Campus Location

Based at the XXX campus but may be required to work and/or be based at other campuses of the University. (This wording is a mandatory requirement, please insert the home campus)

Classification

Approved Classification (Academic/Teaching/HEW level)

Employment Type

Most positions are now continuing unless they fall within one of the HECE fixed-term categories. If the position is fixed-term, the term of the appointment does not need to be provided.

Time Fraction

Is this position full-time or part-time? If it is part-time the time fraction is required.

RMIT University

The statement in the Position Description proforma has been approved by the Vice-Chancellor's office and provides the reader with an overview of the organisation. This must be included in all Position Descriptions. This section will be updated by Human Resources as required to reflect any appropriate changes.

The portfolio/group

Provide a brief description of the Portfolio/Group and the context to which the position belongs. This is an overview of the Portfolio/Group and therefore should be approximately half page to a page and no longer. If this is too long the reader may get lost in the detail. It must be remembered that the Position Description is about the position. If more information is required, this should be contained in an attachment to the Position Description, such as a brochure on the School/Group and/or the courses. Providing your Portfolio's/Group's web address would also be beneficial.

Position summary

The purpose of this section is to provide a brief overview of the position and is often used as part of the advertisement in the recruitment process. One or two paragraphs are normally sufficient. It may be relevant to state if this is a newly created position.

Address the following points by providing a few brief sentences/points to generally describe the role of the position:

  • what is the main purpose/key objectives for the position?
  • what functions is this position responsible for?

Eg. The Department Administrative Officer is responsible for the day to day supervision and administration of the Department's administrative function relating to course provision, student administration, and financial and general administrative support for activities undertaken by the Department.

Reporting line

This section is to cover the basic information on where the position fits within the organisation, what position the position reports to and if the position is responsible for any staff. Brief statements should be used to provide this information. An Organisational Chart should be attached to provide the reader with an overview of the area and where the position fits in the area.

The Organisational Accountabilities are generic statements that apply to all staff.

Key accountabilities

This part of the position description describes "what" is performed and "why" it is performed. This section should reflect the outputs of the position not the inputs.

An example would be:

‘To manage, further develop and review remuneration and rewards strategies and policies as a key support to the University's strategic directions to attract, retain and motivate staff.’

This section has been broken into 3 minor sections - Position Accountabilities, Corporate Accountabilities and Personal Development.

Most positions will normally have 4 - 6 Key Accountabilities, otherwise the points become repetitious or too detailed. This can be done by grouping all the similar activities together to form generic groups.

This section should not contain a list of duties. The Accountabilities are to be written focussing on the expected outcomes of the position not detailed tasks the person will be carrying out. They should be broad statements but may contain some detail.

  • Each accountability should describe a broad function.
  • The specific detail would normally be detailed in the Annual Work Plan.
  • List in order of importance the key accountabilities to be performed by the position and number each item. There should only be one accountability per point.
  • The description of each key accountability should begin with an action verb which best describes the function and the position's role in it eg. manage, develop, assist or prepare.
    • Provision of accurate financial information and advice to Head of School, including preparation and processing of all financial documents for the department coupled with monitoring budgetary activity.
    • Provision of efficient and effective student administration function in order to support the School’s courses and programs.
    • Co-ordinate a range of administrative support activities across a number of functional areas to meet School requirements, which would precipitate liaison with various RMIT departments regarding guidance on policy and procedures including functional areas such as Property Services, Financial Services and Human Resources.
    • Day to day supervision of administrative staff as to maintain an efficient, effective and cooperative team capable of meeting the School’s needs.

Key selection criteria (Skills and experience)

The Key Selection Criteria are critical to the recruitment/selection process. This section contains the experience, skills and abilities that are required to undertake the job. Applicants use these to assess their suitability for the job. They are also used by the Selection Panel to select the appropriate candidate.

The key selection criteria must be objective and consistent with the requirements of the position. When preparing the key selection criteria it is advisable to place more emphasis on measurable human qualities rather than abstract ones. There is no point in specifying attributes, which cannot be assessed when selecting applicants.

Positions would usually have a 4 - 7 criteria. Each criterion should be a separate point. They should be numbered and listed in order of importance. The following categories should be addressed in the key selection criteria:

  • Experience/Knowledge - what type, how much and at what level of previous work experience is required for competent performance in the position. The first criterion should specify the amount and type of experience required. Due to EEO legislation experience cannot be specified in the number of years, instead statements such as Proven, Demonstrated, Substantial and Extensive can be used.
  • Preferred Qualification - a preferred qualification is the desirable level of education for the position.
  • Skills/Abilities - the demonstrated capacity to perform an observable behaviour. What type of demonstrated abilities are required in this position, eg. if a position supervises staff it would be expected that an ability would be "Demonstrated ability to supervise staff".
  • Personal qualities - these are the personal qualities required to perform the duties of the position. These would include personal abilities such as interpersonal relations, working under stress, adaptation to change and communication skills.

To develop the Key Selection Criteria you may wish to review each Specific Accountability and ask the following questions:

  • What experience is required? What type of experience would someone need to undertake this Accountability competently?
  • What skills/competencies are required to carry out this Accountability?
  • What type of knowledge would someone need to be able to undertake this Accountability?

Once each Accountability has been reviewed the requirements should then be able to be grouped together to form 6 - 8 criteria.

Very specific areas of skills/expertise/experience should only be included when absolutely necessary, (eg. a particular software package), because such specification could deter talented and capable applicants, who might need only minimal training to meet the specific requirement.

As the Key Selection Criteria are to be used to measure candidates against each criterion should be measurable. In some cases it may be appropriate to have the candidates undertake a skill test, eg. an activity on the computer to demonstrate their computer literacy.

  • Demonstrated office experience preferably in the areas of finance, student administration and staff supervision with a proven ability to establish office procedures.
  • Highly developed customer relations and interpersonal skills including demonstrated ability to work co-operatively as a member of a team.
  • Demonstrated ability to organise and prioritise work and complete tasks with tight timelines.
  • Proven ability to work with minimum supervision and within a team setting.
  • Demonstrated high level of computer literacy including accurate word processing plus spreadsheet and/or database skills.
  • A sound knowledge of accounting principles and theories.
  • An understanding of the tertiary sector would be an advantage.

Qualifications

This section should only contain qualifications, not experience or the skills required as these are covered in the Key Selection Criteria. Qualifications are actual verifiable qualifications (ie. degrees, certificates, Year 12, licenses etc.). Only the verifiable qualifications required for the position should be listed as mandatory. Not all positions will require a Mandatory qualification.

Mandatory: If a qualification is mandatory it is the minimum standard for the position and only applicants with this qualification can be considered for selection. A mandatory qualification is to be used as exclusion criteria.

The qualifications cited will be used in the recruitment/selection process to select the appropriate person. Therefore only qualifications required to undertake the position should be listed.

Eg. Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering

If a specific qualification is not required the following may be used:

Eg. Diploma in Accountancy or equivalent education and/or experience.

Other relevant information

For some positions this section is not relevant and can be removed from the document. This section can be used to add relevant information about the position that is not outlined in any other section of the position description eg. travel requirements, committee membership, out of hours or rostered work, shift work, etc.

Authorisation

The supervisor of the position should develop the position description.

The author and the relevant manager must sign off all final position descriptions.

If the position description is for a new position or is to be used in a recruitment/appointment process it must be endorsed by Human Resources prior to any action being undertaken.

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