6 Practical Steps to Writing Realistic Position Descriptions for Accountants
When a position vacancy arises, it provides an opportunity for you to review the needs and resources of the business and align staff skill sets to initiatives and goals. As part of the review process, an evaluation should take place to determine whether a replacement is needed or if duties and responsibilities can be allocated among the wider team.
If the decision is made to recruit, job analysis of the position will greatly assist in defining the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the role. This information can then be used to construct a job description and person specification by which candidates can be assessed for suitability.
Defining the Job
The employees you hire can make or break your business. While you may be tempted to hire the first person who walks in the door--"just to get it over with"- doing so can be a fatal error. A small company cannot afford to carry unproductive employees; so start smart by taking time to figure out your staffing needs before you even begin looking for candidates.
Newly Created Position
When it is determined a new position is needed, it is important to:
- Understand and take into consideration strategic goals for the business and/or team. Are there any upcoming changes that may impact this role?
- Conduct a quick analysis of the team’s competencies. Are there any gaps? What core skills are missing from the team? Evaluate the core s kills required now and those which may be needed in the future.
- Conduct a Job Analysis if this position will be new to the business. This will also help to identify skill gaps.
When attrition occurs, replacing the role is typically the logical step to take. Before advertising the position, consider the following:
- As with a newly created position, it may be helpful to conduct job analysis in order to tailor the position to what is currently required and to ensure future needs are met.
- Review the role and decide if there are any changes required as certain tasks and responsibilities performed by the previous person may not or should not be performed by the new person.
Carefully evaluate any changes needed for the following:
- Tasks carried out by the previous employee
- Tasks to be removed or added if any of the work will be transferred within the business
- Supervisory or lead responsibility
- Budget responsibility (if any)
- Work hours
- Is there still a requirement for this role at all?
Once you have determined your staffing needs, the next step is to define the job in detail. Job analysis does just this – it is a process of gathering, examining and interpreting data about the job’s tasks and responsibilities so that you have an in depth understanding of the skills, behaviours & knowledge – or competencies – required to perform in the position.
There are many ways to perform job analysis, but all require the cooperation of the employee in the position, his or her manager(s) and others the employee works closely with while performing his or her job duties.
The following steps will help provide the best analysis of a particular job:
- Review existing job descriptions and person specifications (if available)
- Interview employees, asking them specific questions about their job duties and responsibilities.
- Obtain log sheets from employees with information about each of their tasks and the time spent on each task for at least one full work week.
- Complete desk audits where you observe employees doing their jobs at different times of the day and days of the week and track what they do and for how long.
- Interview supervisors and managers, and other employees, clients and customers the employee may interact with while performing the job.
- Compare the job to other jobs in the team or department to show where it falls on the pay scale.
If there is more than one person doing the same job, make sure to observe and obtain feedback and information from more than one person. You will want to review your findings with the employees who do the job as well as their supervisors and managers to tweak your findings until you have an accurate reflection of the job duties and responsibilities.
An important concept of job analysis is that the analysis is conducted of the Job, not the person. While job analysis data may be collected from incumbents through interviews or questionnaires, the product of the analysis is the Job description or specifications of the job, not a description of the person.
For a newly created position, it's useful to carefully think about what you want in the role – now and in the future.
- First, try think of the knowledge, skills and/or abilities (competencies) that might be useful for someone to have in the job. Think about the results of your previous staffing planning.
- Consider if the role will require a Chartered Accountant. Or someone with enough experience to perform the requirements of the role.
- Consider interviewing someone - in or outside of your company -- who already has some of those competencies. Share your staffing plan. Ask them to suggest competencies.
- Observe an employee or employees in similar jobs as they as the perform a task or conduct the role. What areas of knowledge do you see the employees using? What skills do you see the employees performing?
- Consider administering a questionnaire to the employee or employees. On the questionnaire, ask them to describe certain practices and procedures to carry out the task or perform the role in the best way possible.
- Ideally, get advice from clients about what knowledge and skills are useful in delivering the best quality services to them.
- A generic list of competencies may already exist for a role. For example, professional Accountant associations sometimes provide generic lists.
You may find this Job Analysis Template useful in completing your assessment of the position.
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Job Description, Competency Framework and Person Specification
Use the job analysis template as the basis to write the job description and a person specification - you can then use these to create your recruitment materials, such as job advertisements.
The job description is basically an outline of how the job fits in to the company. It should point out in broad terms the job's purpose, scope, responsibilities and competencies.
If no job description template exists, you can develop one using this template. Follow this link for a step-by-step outline of how to write a job description for an Accountant.
Writing the job description and person specification will help you determine whether you need a part- or full-time employee, whether the person should be permanent or temporary, and whether you could use an independent contractor to fill the position.
Job descriptions and person specifications are used for a variety of reasons. They are a tool for recruiting and selecting, determining a competency framework, salary range, establishing job titles, creating employee’s job goals and objectives, and conducting performance reviews. They can also be used for career planning, creating reasonable accommodations and meeting legal requirements for compliance purposes. Because of this, it is very important to have written job descriptions that accurately reflect the employees’ current job duties and responsibilities.
Job competencies are the integrated knowledge, skills and attributes that people need to perform a job effectively. By having a defined set of competencies for each role in your business, it shows employees the kind of behaviors the organisation values, and which it requires to help achieve its objectives.
Defining which competencies are necessary for each role will also help you to recruit and select new staff more effectively, identify skill gaps and evaluate performance.
To develop a competency framework, you need to have an in-depth understanding of the role being recruited for. Once you have defined the job responsibilities in the job description, you can begin to apply competencies to match. To do this, you can use our pre-set list of common, standard competencies (follow this link) or competencies that already exist within your organisation. If you use the set we provide, please note that you will need to select the appropriate level of competency depending on the seniority and rank of the position.
A person specification more fully describes the type of person who is most likely to be able to do the job well. It includes a profile of the skills, knowledge, qualifications and competencies you will look for during the recruitment and selection process.
It is essential that the person specification is as detailed as possible. It will give the selection panel:
- a starting point for creating the job advert;
- a set of selection criteria that everyone who applies for the job can be measured against fairly;
- a structured and consistent way of assessing each person who has applied; and
- a document to allow them to make recruitment decisions clearly and openly
You may want candidates to have prior experience, but it's worth asking if you really need a specific number of years of experience? Being too specific about the number of years of experience you want could rule out a very able candidate who has gained experience in a wide variety of tasks in six months in favour of someone who may have more years’ experience but in a limited capacity.
Qualifications, Education and Training
Consider whether the role will require someone with the level of skill of a Chartered Accountant. You need to determine whether a specific qualification is the only way that a candidate could demonstrate that they are able to do the job. Someone who is not CA qualified may have firsthand experience and developed the necessary skills and knowledge to perform the role. If it is determined that you need a CA, be mindful of the ongoing costs (CPD, membership fees) and the need to maintain standards and have ethical requirements in place.
Personal Qualities and Discrimination
Be objective and ask whether these personal qualities characteristics are directly relevant to the job. If not, they could possibly be discriminatory. Indirect discrimination is not illegal, provided it can be objectively justified. To avoid discrimination in this area, try to describe the tasks that are involved and allow the reader to judge for themselves. There are limited circumstances where it is legal to directly discriminate where it is a genuine occupational requirement.
Essential or Desirable
Also, remember to split your person specification into ‘essential' and ‘desirable' criteria. 'Essential' criteria are those attributes or qualifications which the candidate must have in order to do the job – and anyone who does not meet these can be ruled out. 'Desirable' criteria are not essential to carry out the job but a candidate who meets these criteria is likely to perform the job better and these can help you choose between good candidates who meet the specifications.
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An easy reference document covering the whole process from scoping the Job Description for upcoming vacancies, right through to making better job offers than your competitors and sealing the deal, and every step in between. Written by Accounting firm Partners, HR/People Management professionals within the accounting and bookkeeping sector and drawing on established and emerging best practice in selection techniques in Australasia, the UK and US, you can have access to a wealth of practical recruitment and selection knowledge and links to external expertise and reusable templates whenever you need it.
About the Authors
Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.
Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.
Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers. www.accountests.com