It’s Time to Rethink Job Descriptions for the Digital Era

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Job titles still reign supreme in the world of work. They embody a strict delegation of job responsibilities, govern individual assignments, and patrol boundaries between departments and colleagues. However, the rise of technology and digital transformation has led to a significant blurring of job responsibilities and manager expectations that will only expand over time.

The reality is that conventional job titles have become outdated in many different workplace contexts. It is not that the idea of different titles or ranks is superfluous. The modern workplace is simply not a good fit for such rigid professional boundaries between coworkers and their respective responsibilities. Today’s employees are often required to work with other teams and offer expertise outside the confines of their department while still carrying out the specific duties outlined in their job description.

With the increasing support of technology and digital transformation, today’s most engaged employees are also constantly acquiring new skills and crossing previously well-defined lines to boost productivity and work quality. A profound reimagining of how to approach job titles and descriptions is necessary to infuse day-to-day tasks with more flexibility and a broader scope than a traditional title like “IT Manager — Level 5” might allow, for instance.

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As technology continues to advance and as more jobs are automated, job titles will need to evolve to fit the new business landscape. Expect more “project” titles to spring up in particular, like Cloud Migration Lead or Remote Workplace Coordinator, as the workforce becomes more collaborative and fluid. These project titles may shift into new ones as the business objective is met and new needs crop up.

For example, the title of “receptionist” might be revised to “Practical Director of the Customer Experience.” This title conveys the projects the employee will be handling without putting them in a box where their skills are only used behind a reception desk. Their experience and consumer-facing skills make them a valuable team member beyond the repetitive tasks that currently fill traditional receptionist job descriptions.

You may think that reimagining job titles is only relevant to people managers, but most of us will draft more than a few job descriptions over the course of our careers. And for those of us applying for new jobs, we might review a job description and then update our resume to match or highlight specific skills and competencies mentioned to capture the attention of recruiters, hiring managers, or even bots.

For recruiters, HR leaders, and other people managers, applying I/O Psychology — the specialty of industrial-organizational psychology focused on the behavior of employees — can help direct the rethinking, design, and optimization of both job descriptions and titles. Making decisions informed by I/O psychology principles can serve to broaden the scope of each open position, attract compelling and diverse candidates, and highlight relevant management expectations.

Even before putting pen to paper to write a job description, ask yourself three questions: What current and future business needs would this role directly solve? Where else in the organization can this role have an impact? What core competencies will make this individual (and, thereby, your company) successful?

From there, I’d recommend rethinking a role that’s ripe for modernization and automation into one with room for flexibility and growth. For example:

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