The Art and Science of Job Analysis


By: Paula Felchner, M.A.


Job analysis is the foundation for many HR functions including selection, performance evaluation, and training. Yet many organizations make little differentiation between job description and job analysis. If this is the case in your organization, take heed – you are missing an opportunity to improve your organization’s productivity, the quality of your work force, the satisfaction of your employees, and the turnover ratio in key positions.


Landy describes job analysis as “the systematic collection of data describing the tasks that comprise a job and the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that enable a person to carry out those tasks.” When given the attention it deserves, it will help the organization to better understand the duties and responsibilities assigned to a position, describe the resources needed to perform effectively in a given job, and clarify what can reasonably be expected of job incumbents.  In turn, this information can be used to:

  • devise selection procedures that better discriminate between those who are likely to succeed and those who are not;
  • clearly define expectations for new hires and job incumbents;
  • design training programs for new hires and incumbents that are clearly focused on job requirements;
  • design work flow so as to avoid “gaps” or confusion about assigned responsibilities, and
  • develop performance appraisal systems which reward based upon job performance in specified areas.


The question one should ask is, “What can my organization do to begin to reap the benefits of thorough job analysis for our positions?”


Start With What You Have

Any examination of position should begin with existing documentation. Pull out the job postings you have used to search for new hires, the job description created by HR, the materials used to train a new hire, etc. These can be used by the individual who will be conducting the job analysis to begin to get an understanding of the scope of the position being examined.


Collect Quantifiable Data

One of the keys to successful job analysis is the collection of quantifiable data related to the position in question.  Early efforts at job analysis focused attention upon direct observation and, in some cases, having he analyst actually do the job to get an understanding of the position. Careful documentation was used to quantify a position, improve upon the processes being used, and to set expectations. However, job analysis was largely being used for time and motion studies in factory positions that involved a great deal of repetition and mostly overt actions.


Many of the positions being analyzed today are less concerned with “time and motion,” are far more complex, and involve a great deal of cognitive activity which is not directly observable. While the scientific approach to observation used in the early days did set the stage for systematic analysis, direct observation has largely been replaced by scientific collection of quantifiable information from individuals identified as “job experts.”


The job analyst will provide a written survey of job characteristics to be completed by job experts. Respondents will typically be asked to assess the frequency and/or importance of specific tasks, knowledge, skills, abilities, or characteristics required in the position. Since a survey with a large number of items may unduly tax the respondents and introduce error, the analyst would make an attempt to balance the need for information with the time demands of those who will be completing the survey. A careful examination of the motivation of those completing the survey should also be considered. Consequently, using the average across respondents to define a position may not provide the most accurate picture. We maintain that the data collected from a survey in incomplete until it is cross-referenced with a one-on-one interview with one or more organizational representatives(s).


Provide Access to Job Experts

Identify “job experts” who may be interviewed by the job analyst. These may be job incumbents, supervisors, and/or department managers. Multiple sources will always provide a better picture than any single source. While individual interviews conducted either in person or by phone can be helpful, discussion groups with individuals from multiple levels within the organization can be extremely valuable resource.


In such discussions we have often found a mismatch between what a manager thought he needed in a new hire and what the position actually allowed. For example, managers often state that they want someone who will make decisions and act on their own when in reality decision authority in the position is severely constrained by lack of opportunity for independent action, clearly specified rules, and/or consequences for deviating from procedure. Seeking a new hire that had a great deal of strength in the qualities the manager thinks he is seeking would be counterproductive. The individual would likely be dissatisfied fairly quickly and become a risk for early turnover.


Use What You Learn

The bottom line is, allow the job analyst to develop the picture of the position from as many perspectives as possible and then use the information in as many ways as possible. Work with the analyst to set a profile that will provide the greatest likelihood that a new hire will be able to do the job, will be satisfied in the position, and will make contributions to the organization for a long time to come. Develop orientation and training materials that will aid new hires and job incumbents to maximize their potential through strengthening knowledge, skills, abilities, and characteristics that are truly required in their positions. Set realistic expectations and evaluate performance more accurately by focusing on those things that have been found to be important components of the job in question.

Use Both

The “science” provided by the systematic collection of quantifiable data and the ”art” provided by a skilled expert’s interpretation of the quantitative as well as the rich qualitative information provided by observing, listening, questioning, and interpreting what job experts are truly saying when they say “we want somebody who will…”

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