A job analysis is a step-by-step specification of an employment position's requirements, functions, and procedures. Just as a seed cannot blossom into a flower unless the ground is properly prepared, many human resource management (HRM) practices cannot blossom into competitive advantage unless grounded on an adequate job analysis.
Successful HRM practices can lead to outcomes that create competitive advantage. Job analyses, properly performed, enhance the success of these HRM practices by laying the foundation. Job analysis information can be applied to a variety of HRM practices. We now take a brief look at some of them.
An employer's recruitment and selection practices seek to identify and hire the most suitable applicants. Job analysis information helps employers achieve this aim by identifying selection criteria, such as the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to perform a job successfully. A firm's managers and human resource (HR) professionals can then use this information to choose or develop the appropriate selection devices (e.g., interview questions, tests). This approach to selection is legally required.
An employer facing discrimination charges must demonstrate to the courts that its selection criteria are job-related. To support this type of claim-relatedness, a firm must demonstrate that the challenged selection practice was developed on the basis of job analysis information. As one judge noted during a discrimination hearing, without a job analysis on which to base selection practices, an employer "is aiming in the dark and can only hope to achieve job-relatedness by blind luck."
In the 1990s, the need for firms to base selection criteria on job analysis information became even more important due to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law states that employment decisions concerning disabled candidates must be based on their ability to perform the essential functions of the job. For instance, if report reading were an essential job function, then applicants whose disabilities prevented them from reading could be lawfully denied employment (assuming there was no way to accommodate them). If, however, report reading were not an essential function, the inability to read could not lawfully serve as a basis for denial. The determination of which job functions are essential is made during a job analysis.
Firms can also use job analysis information to assess training needs and to develop and evaluate training programs. Job analyses can identify tasks a worker must perform. Then, through the performance appraisal process, supervisors can identify which tasks are being performed properly or improperly. The supervisor can next determine whether improperly performed work can be corrected through training.
HR professionals also use job analysis information to develop relevant training programs. The job analysis specifies how each job is performed, step by step, allowing HR professionals to develop training materials to teach trainees how to perform each task. To evaluate the effectiveness of a training program, the organization must first specify training objectives or the level of performance expected of trainees when they finish the program. The success of a training program is judged on the basis of the extent to which those performance levels have been reached. Expected performance levels are often specified during a job analysis.
Information obtained from a job analysis can be used to develop performance appraisal forms. An example of a job analysis-based form would be one that lists the job's tasks or behaviors and specifies the expected performance level for each. The role of job analysis is crucial here. Without job analysis information, organizations typically use a single, generalized form in which all workers are appraised on the basis of a common set of characteristics or traits that are presumed to be needed for all jobs (e.g., cooperation, dependability, leadership).
Job analysis-based appraisal forms are superior to the generalized forms because they do a better job of communicating performance expectations and because they provide a better basis for giving feedback and for making HRM decisions.
Most companies base pay rates, in part, on the relative worth or importance of each job to the organization. Job worth is typically determined by evaluating or rating jobs based on important factors such as skill level, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. The information provided by a job analysis serves as the basis for job worth evaluations.
Job analysis also plays an important role in the development of productivity improvement programs. Various pay-for-performance programs provide rewards to employees who perform their jobs at or above some desired level. Job analysis is used to identify that level of performance.
Managers must sometimes discipline employees for their failure to properly carry out their job responsibilities. For instance, workers may be disciplined for refusing to perform tasks that they believe are not part of their jobs. If the responsibilities and limits of authority of a job are delineated in a job analysis, this information may be used to help resolve such problems.
Job analysis information can also be useful from a safety and health point of view. While conducting a job analysis, an employer may uncover potential dangers or hazards of a job. The job analysis may also identify unsafe practices, such as tasks that are performed in a way that could cause injury.
A wealth of information may be gathered during a job analysis. Job analysis information may be divided into three categories: job content, job context, and worker requirements. Job content refers to workers' job activities or what workers actually do on the job. Job context refers to the conditions under which the work is performed and the demands such jobs impose on the worker. Worker requirements refer to the worker qualifications needed to perform the job successfully. The specific information falling within each category is described next.
When gathering information about tasks, the job analyst seeks to determine what the worker does, the purpose of the action, and the tools, equipment, or machinery used in the process. The analyst may also gather additional information about tasks, such as their relative importance, the expected performance levels, and the type of training needed by a new worker to perform tasks satisfactorily. Job content can be described in a number of ways, depending on how specific one wants (or needs) to be. The different types of job content information are described in Exhibit 1.
Job context refers to the conditions under which work is performed and the demands such work imposes on employees. Specific types of job context information typically identified during a job analysis include reporting relationships, supervision received, judgment, authority, personal contacts, working conditions, and the physical and mental demands on the worker.
Worker requirements refer to the knowledge, skill, ability, personal characteristics, and credentials needed for effective job performance. These terms are defined as:
The sheer amount of information that can be uncovered during a job analysis may be overwhelming, but it is usually unnecessary to gather all possible data. The purpose or intended use of the job analysis dictates the particular information to be gathered. Therefore, the analyst must decide how the job analysis will be used before deciding what information to seek.
For instance, if a job analysis were to be used to develop a technical training program for new employees, the analyst should focus on information about subtasks (a step-by-step description of how the job is carried out) and the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) one would need to do well on that job. If the purpose were to develop a written employment test to assess applicants' knowledge of the job, the analyst should target information about the specific tasks of the job and the knowledge required to perform each task (i.e., the facts, theories, principles, etc., one must know to be able to perform tasks satisfactorily).
HR professionals often gather job analysis information. However, because these individuals lack sufficient expertise in the jobs being analyzed, they must enlist the actual job incumbents and their supervisors to gather and interpret the pertinent information. Job analysis information may be gathered by interviewing these individuals, observing them at work, and/or having them complete job analysis questionnaires. The appropriateness of each approach depends, in part, on the type of information sought.
Job analysis interviews are structured conversations between the job analyst and one or more subject-matter experts. Interviews are typically held with both job incumbents and their supervisors. Interviews with incumbents tend to focus on job content and job context information. That is, incumbents are asked to describe what they do, how they do it, and the conditions under which they perform their jobs.
The typical role of the supervisor is to review and verify the accuracy of the incumbents' responses, and to provide further information concerning task importance, expected performance levels, training needs of new workers, and worker requirements.
As the most frequently used job analysis method, interviews provide a potential wealth of information. However, one-on-one interviews can be quite time-consuming. An interview usually takes between one and eight hours, depending on the amount and depth of information sought. Thus, interviewing can take a great deal of time, especially when the analyst must interview several people. When time constraints pose a problem, the best alternative is to conduct a group interview, where several subject-matter experts are interviewed simultaneously.
Sometimes a job analyst will supplement interviews with job analysis observations. As the name suggests, observation means watching the incumbent perform the job. Observation is most useful when jobs are complex and difficult to accurately describe. When analyzing such jobs, the analyst observes or videotapes the job and then interviews the worker for clarification or explanation. The observation allows the analyst to gain a better understanding of how the work is done and the KSAs needed to perform it.
While observation is usually used as a supplement to the interview, HR professionals sometimes base job analysis solely on observation. Whether or not observation yields sufficient data for the analysis depends on the type of information being collected.
For instance, it is an excellent method for identifying subtasks performed in routine/repetitive types of jobs, such as assembly-line work. When using this approach, however, analysts should be alert to the possibility that some workers may behave atypically when observed. For instance, they may increase their speed to impress the observer, or slow down in an effort to demonstrate how difficult their jobs are.
Job analysis questionnaires ask subject-matter experts—workers and/or supervisors—to record job information in writing. Job analysis questionnaires contain either open-ended or closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions ask respondents to provide their own answers to the questions. Closed-ended questions ask respondents to select an answer from a list provided on the questionnaire. Closed-ended questions are more commonly used because they provide greater uniformity of responses and are more easily scored.
A job analysis questionnaire containing only closed-ended questions is called a job analysis inventory. An inventory containing a list of task statements is called a task inventory; one containing a list of worker ability requirements is called an ability inventory. Job analysis inventories ask respondents to rate each item in terms of its importance to the job. Task inventories also request information regarding the frequency or time spent performing each task.
Companies use job analysis inventories when information is needed from several people (e.g., when many people hold the same job title). Compared to interviews, information can be collected much more quickly using this approach. Companies also use inventories as a means of grouping jobs. Grouping refers to categorizing jobs based on the similarity of tasks performed or skills needed; a group would consist of jobs in which all workers performed similar tasks or needed similar skills.
Once groups are established, the organization can determine selection criteria, training needs, and evaluation criteria applicable to all jobs within a group. Job analysis inventories are also used to determine workers' training needs. Workers are presented with a list of tasks or abilities and are asked to indicate those for which they need training. A five-point rating scale, ranging from "great need" to "no need," is typically used.
Once HR professionals have collected job analysis information, it must be recorded in some systematic way to produce a job description (i.e., a summary of job analysis findings). The format of job descriptions may be general purpose or special purpose.
A general purpose job description is one that contains a variety of information that can be used for several purposes, such as communicating job responsibilities to employees and specifying minimum job requirements. For instance, a manager would pull out a job description to review essential functions and worker requirements prior to developing interview questions for a job applicant.
The particular information contained in the job description varies depending on company preference and the intended use of the instrument. A typical general purpose job description contains the following sections: job identification, job summary, essential functions, and worker requirements.
General purpose job descriptions used by most companies provide only a brief summary of job analysis information, and thus lack sufficient detail for some HRM applications. For instance, many fail to indicate subtasks, performance standards, and job context. Subtask information may serve as a basis for developing training programs; performance standards may serve as a basis for developing certain types of performance appraisal forms; and job context information may serve as a basis for making job evaluation ratings that are needed to establish pay rates.
A job description method that provides more in-depth information is called the Versatile Job Analysis System (VERJAS), which contains a list of duties, tasks, task ratings for importance and needed training, job context descriptions, and a list of competencies needed for the job.
Several special purpose job descriptions have been developed by a variety of HRM experts during the past 30 years. A key difference between general and special purpose job descriptions lies in the amount of detail they include. Special purpose formats cover fewer topics, but the topics covered are analyzed in more depth. Some of the more commonly used special purpose approaches are described next.
Functional job analysis (FJA) focuses primarily on recording job content information. Each task is analyzed separately on a worksheet that contains a task statement (specifying what the worker does, how it is done, and the results or final product of the worker's actions), the performance standards and training needs associated with the task, and seven rating scales. Three of the scales are known as worker function scales, indicating the level of worker involvement with data, people, and things. The other four scales indicate the level of ability needed in the areas of reasoning, mathematics, language, and following instructions.
Another special purpose method of job analysis is called the critical incident technique (CIT). It originated in the military during World War II and was used to identify critical factors in human performance in a variety of military situations. Critical factors are those that have been demonstrated to make the difference between success and failure in performing a job.
The critical incident technique requires the job analyst to collect critical incidents from people familiar with the job. The incidents are usually collected in the form of stories or anecdotes that depict successful and unsuccessful job behaviors. The stories are then condensed to a single statement that captures the essence of the story. The CIT has several useful HRM applications. For instance, it is a good tool for identifying selection criteria and training needs and for developing performance appraisal forms.
Job analysis is a key component of the HRM process. While the performance of comprehensive job analyses can be time consuming, ultimately employers will benefit from the many uses that a thorough job analysis can provide. From hiring and training to salary justification to remedial uses, job analysis will make the HR manager's job easier, protect an organization from claims of discrimination, and can give the overall organization a competitive advantage.
Lawrence S. Kleiman
Revised by Andrea A. Schurr
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