What Aren’t Job Descriptions?

By JDXpert - April 30, 2024

Job descriptions (JDs) are essential for employers, employees, and HR professionals. More than just a behind-the-scenes document to support recruitment, JDs are powerful tools with multiple purposes. They articulate roles, responsibilities, skills, and aptitudes needed to perform a job and hold people and organizations accountable to legal standards. As such, they can even be used as a basis for litigation and are often the first thing a judge will want to see if there is any kind of employment-related dispute in a court of law.

So, now that we know what job descriptions are, let’s talk about what they are not.

Are Job Descriptions and Job Postings the Same?

It’s a common misconception that job descriptions and job postings are interchangeable. Not so.

Though the two documents have some overlap, several key differences set them apart.

One of the most notable differences is that job postings are externally-facing, while a job description is internal. Companies use job postings to advertise a job, so they are often worded differently to make them more attractive and enticing to potential applicants. Job postings may include a job description, but they usually expand on specific aspects of the job. In a sense, you could say that a job posting is a marketing document, whereas the job description is more factual, empirical, and to the point.

Additionally, while the job posting may describe the tasks an employee must fulfill to do a job, it doesn’t go into detail about the skills needed to accomplish those tasks. This point, in particular, is significant as it has ongoing relevance to management and HR.

Skills, you see, can apply to more than just one position. Specific skills may be common to a “family” of roles or a department within the company. A job description can cross-reference those details across various job functions to identify employees for other roles within the company or highlight the need for additional training. This is something a job posting does not do.

So, while job postings and JDs do have certain similarities, there are some things that job descriptions don’t do.

Job Descriptions May Not Describe Everything the Employee Does

While job descriptions describe the role, responsibilities, skills, and aptitudes required to succeed in that position, it is not an exhaustive inventory of what an employee does throughout the day—and this is actually a good thing.

While a role’s ultimate purpose may not change significantly, the working conditions, location, or other details might be a little more fluid. For example, the departmental structure may change, new technology may be introduced, and processes may be improved to accommodate the above.

Too much detail in the job description would distract from the purpose of the JD itself, which is, ultimately, to help people work together toward a common goal. The minutiae of the job are often irrelevant in the broader scheme of things. Beyond confusing the issues for the employee, too much detail can also impact HR as it could get in the way of evaluating performance.

Accuracy in JDs is essential, but it doesn’t have to be a play-by-play of everything an employee does during working hours. What it should do is show, beyond outlining the expectations of the role, how the role fits into the big picture, from the day-to-day workings of the business to the overarching mission.

Job Descriptions Are Not Crystal Balls

JDs describe the job as it is in the present. They do not include trivial details, occasional assignments, or non-essential duties, nor do they opine on what might be asked of the employee in the future.

By the same token, the JD does not talk about tasks and duties no longer relevant to the job. As such, it is critical to keep the JD current to reflect the job and its requirements as they are today.

Outdated job descriptions are irrelevant and may not comply with regulatory frameworks, putting the employer at a disadvantage if there is a conflict or dispute. Job descriptions must be an accurate and current representation of the job as it is right now. Should the role change or evolve, the job description can be updated to reflect that. Including any detail beyond what’s needed does little more than confuse the issues for all stakeholders.

Job Descriptions Are Not Employment Contracts

Employers will generally have employees sign off on their job descriptions during their yearly review or if there are any significant changes to the job’s requirements. However, just because it’s a document the employee signs off on does not make it a contract.

Let’s be clear, though—the job description is a legal document for compliance matters. If the employment contract does not align with the job description, there may be a basis for a dispute, especially as it pertains to compensation.

Employment contracts typically outline a commitment by the employer to pay the employee a stated salary and benefits for a specific period of time and outline what recourse each party has in the event of termination or other legal issues.

The contract can become an issue if it does not align with the JD or reflect what the person does in their job. If the nature of the job changes over time, the contract terms might no longer be fair. For example, if an employee were hired as a manager and is then promoted up the ladder, their original contract would potentially be void.

Any significant restructuring usually warrants a new JD and a new contract, but one does not replace the other.

Job Descriptions Are Not Static Documents

As the business landscape evolves, so does the way we work. Remote work conditions, new technology, and a shifting regulatory environment are just a few of the many changes we’ve seen in recent years.


As companies adapt to new business conditions, it’s understandable that many jobs will also evolve. New skills and aptitudes may be required to augment an existing role, such as knowledge of new equipment, technology, AI, or being able to manage others with those skills. When a job changes, so must the job description, frequency notwithstanding; in other words, if the job requirements change multiple times a year, the job description should reflect those changes.


Keeping JDs updated helps employers, managers, employees, and HR understand current needs and supports talent and succession planning while protecting all parties from conflict and legal repercussions.


Job Description Best Practices from the Ultimate Playbook

Today, we hope we’ve clarified a few misconceptions about job descriptions and specifically described what they are not. Maintaining accurate job descriptions is essential for companies of all sizes to ensure employees, HR, and leadership are legally compliant and aligned with organizational goals.


For more job description tips and best practices, download The Ultimate Job Description Playbook.



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