3 Great Reasons to Update Your Job Description Now!

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
— Dr. Nathaniel Branden, Psychologist and Author

Whether you have been in your current job for one, three, five years or longer, what you’re doing now most likely is not what you were originally hired to do. You may not even be aware of when things changed. But slowly, over time, your job morphed into something completely different.

Most people I meet are oblivious to these minor alterations in their work profile. While I have seen it often enough to realize that it is a normal part of corporate culture (at least here in the U.S.), that doesn’t mean that you should ignore it.

Quite the contrary.

Embracing Change

Ignoring incremental changes to your role can be problematic on a number of levels. For one thing, you may begin to feel a lack of fulfillment in a job you didn’t sign up for. Also, when your annual review comes around, your manager may not be able to fairly evaluate your performance since what you’re doing now has moved away from your original job description.

In his book,  The Art of Living Consciously: The Power of Awareness to Transform Everyday Life, Dr. Branden said that our identity is the foundation of everything that we are.  If it isn’t clear what you’re supposed to be doing in your job, that your identity at work could be unclear to others.

Awareness is the first step to embracing change.  And now that you’re aware of the change, what’s the best way to handle step two, acceptance?

By updating your job description.

As a consultant, I don’t have a formal job description. Each project I work on has it’s own scope, responsibilities and deliverables. This way, my clients always know what to expect and I we agree on the criteria that will be used to grade my performance.

Even though you’re not a consultant, you should still make sure your current role is well-defined and that you have set your manager’s expectations properly. And in writing.
What’s the best way to do this? In this article, I will walk you through a brief checklist for updating your job description.

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Make a List of Your Responsibilities

Start by making a list of your key responsibilities. Take some time to break them down into daily, weekly or monthly tasks – as this helps keep expectations realistic for both you and everyone else. Then list your overall responsibilities, as you think you and your supervisor would understand them.

A good jumping off point is to consider the following questions:

  • Who are your clients? Are they mainly internal or external? Is there a blurred line between the people you are supposed to be working for, and the ones you are not?
  • What expectations do these clients have of you? In essence, why are they contacting you in the first place? What is the desired end-result?
  • Are you responsible for generating reports?  If so, how important are they to the business, how many people consume them and how often are they expected to be produced?

The answers to these questions will help you outline the key responsibilities in your job description and delineate between what you are doing versus what you should be doing.

Setting Goals & Writing Them Down

According to a recent article in Psychology Today, people are happier and more satisfied in their lives when they set goals. Goal setting is crucial to success in any field, and is an important component of keeping your plan organized, especially when changes arise.

Staying tuned in to your goals can help you figure out where you are (your current position) and where you’d eventually like to be (your future position). Think about the following over the next 12 month period:

What would you like to accomplish?

  • How will these accomplishments help the company?
  • How will achieving these goals help you?
  • What resources (equipment, training, coworkers) do you need to achieve them?

As a consultant, I always agree on a written statement of work with my clients to ensure that everyone understands what is expected of my company to ensure that (unpleasant) surprises are kept to a minimum and that a level of professionalism is maintained. This reduces the opportunities for miscommunication and disagreements.

Writing down your goals for your job description is similar to my statement of work. They both get everyone involved onto the same page. You don’t want to rely on your manager’s assumptions about the work to be performed when your reputation is on the line.

It’s very easy for a situation like this to snowball out of control. You think you are doing a great job, putting in a serious and invested effort – but elsewhere, there are people thinking that you dropped the ball. Don’t let such an easily corrected situation happen to you.

Evaluate Your Past Projects

Take a look at all the projects you worked on over the past year or so, and answer the following questions:

  • Have your responsibilities suddenly expanded into new and uncharted areas? Adding new and useful skills is one thing, but being asked to pick up slack outside the realm of your expertise is a red flag.
  • Were you asked to pick up the responsibilities of a person who left the company? Often, this extra work will be presented to you as a temporary stop-gap measure, but if you are still responsible for these extra tasks after a reasonable amount of time, that’s a problem.
  • Did the company reorganize or restructure in such a way that your team merged with another? Or similarly, was your team split into smaller subsets which forced a change in your responsibilities?

Any or all of these events can have a tremendous impact on your job description and should be documented as such. The sooner you bring these issues up, the better it will be for you in the long run. Remember: nobody can tell you that you’re not “doing your job” if you have it in writing, and are sticking to it.

Good performance in your job means better opportunities. With that in mind, another fantastic reason to update your job description is to prepare for your next promotion. Having a concrete job description means you can begin thinking about your replacement at the firm.

The more you prepare for someone to take over your job, the easier it will be for your boss to promote you. By presenting her with a realistic job outline for your successor, you are reassuring her that replacing you is not impossible. Show her that moving you up is good for the company, ultimately. Don’t get yourself into a position where nobody else could possibly do your job (because nobody else knows what it is you do). Instead, show them that you are ready to move up. This is a sign of professional maturity.

After you have finished, take a step back and admire the document you have written. Flip it over in your hands. Gaze at it. This is a summary of everything you do for the company. The results are what will define your legacy here.

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Make sure this is what you really want. Do these roles and responsibilities meet your prior expectations? Is this where you want to be now? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then you have some issues to address.

Also take some time to assess your progress since you started in your present position. How much have you learned, and grown personally? How much additional responsibility do you have now – and is it too much or too little? Are you ready to move up to the next level, or are you missing key experience and/or skills?

If any of these questions are difficult for you to answer, or if the answers you have for them are unsatisfactory, it’s past time to sit down and write out your own job description. Present it to your supervisor with confidence, but be open to reasonable adjustments. Once you have the agreed upon document in hand, you have a solid basis on which to build your positive reputation with the company.


Jessica Heischel contributed to this article.