Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | August 29, 2011

HR Concepts: Understanding Job Analysis

By Mike Deblieux, SPHR-CA

Job analysis is a planned process of examining the work that is done within an organization. In its simplest form, job analysis involves collecting information about tasks, duties, and responsibilities. Once collected, the data is categorized or classified, usually with a job title. Job analysis is often confused with job evaluation. The two processes are related, but different. Whereas job analysis is about defining the job, job evaluation is about determining the value or worth (i.e., salary, range, grade, etc.) of a job to an organization.


Job analysis depends on a few fundamental, but often confused concepts. A job task is one element or step in a work process. An Accountant, for example, performs several tasks in the process of setting up a spreadsheet. One task is opening the program; another is saving the file with an identifiable name; while a third is entering a heading for each column. A job duty is a collection of tasks that produce a result. Producing a final financial report is a job duty. The Accountant uses the information in the spreadsheet to analyze the data, make appropriate footnotes, and write a narrative to explain key information. A responsibility is an expectation that certain tasks or duties will be performed. The Accountant, for example, may be expected to present (or responsible for presenting) a financial report at each Executive Committee Meeting. Analyzing tasks, duties, and responsibilities results in a job description and a job specification.  A job description describes the typical tasks, duties, and responsibilities of a position (i.e., HR Manager). A job specification lists the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform the job satisfactorily.

Understanding the nuances of these terms is important because they form the framework of a professional job analysis process. They are the language of job analysis that provides meaning and purpose to the work of an HR professional. Much like a physician speaks the language of medicine and lawyer speaks the language of the law, an HR professional engaged in job analysis must speak the language of job analysis.


Two fundamental principles hold true in all job analysis projects. First, job performance by an individual employee is not a factor. In other words, how well an employee does the job is not taken into consideration. An Accountant, for example, my do a wholly inadequate job of creating formulas in a spreadsheet and, therefore, receive a “Needs Improvement” rating on a performance review. Regardless of the poor job performance, the job of the Accountant involves preparing spreadsheets. The HR professional describes the job. The supervisor rates the performance. Second, the KSA’s (knowledge, skills, and abilities) of an individual employee are not a factor in a job analysis. One Accountant may hold an MBA from a prestigious university and be a CPA. Another may have a Bachelor’s Degree. The challenge for the job analyst is to determine the actual KSA’s required to perform the job successfully.


The methods used to conduct a job analysis vary depending on the size and complexity of an organization. In a very small entrepreneurial organization with two or three employees, it might be done on a napkin over a glass of wine. In a global organization, it may require a sophisticated team of internal or external HR professionals using sophisticated data collection and computer modeling techniques.

Observation is the simplest form of job analysis. As the term implies, the HR professional watches the employee do the job. This method works well for repetitive jobs such as in a factory. One variation of observation involves work sampling. With work sampling parts, the analyst collects samples of the work being performed different intervals. The samples are used to determine the tasks, duties, and responsibilities for a position. Another variation requires a worker to keep a diary or log of the work they perform to provide information for the analyst to use to describe the job.

A desk audit is a more commonly used technique. It normally, but not always, starts with an employee completing a questionnaire. The questionnaire provides information about tasks, duties, responsibilities, working relationships, decisions, training, working conditions, and other factors. The questionnaire is reviewed and approved by the employee’s manager. The HR professional reviews the questionnaire, meets with the employee to learn first-hand how the work is performed, and may spend time observing the employee. An analyst may gain increasingly valuable knowledge of the work by interviewing others who perform similar work or those who benefit from the work.

A variation of the desk audit approach is the Position Analysis Questionnaire (PAQ). It gathers information along 27 dimensions and 187 elements to facilitate an analysis based on six divisions – information input, mental process, work output, relationships with others, job context, and other. Functional Job Analysis (FJA) is another variation that considers organizational goals, the role of the worker in achieving the goals, the level of responsibility, performance standards, and training required to do the work.


Once a picture of the job emerges, the HR professional must assign it to a category. One way to think about this classification process is to picture a series of moving boxes stacked on top of each other. Each box contains your possessions (i.e., tasks, duties, and responsibilities). Some are more important or valuable (i.e., job evaluation) to you than others. As you seal each box, you label it with a few key words (i.e., job title). You carefully stack the boxes according by room or contents (i.e., job family).

The HR professional follows essentially the same process to classify jobs. Each organization and each organizational unit is unique. The analyst must decide if the tasks, duties, and responsibilities fit within an existing classification or if it is appropriate to create a new job title. If a new title is created, the analyst must then decide where it fits in relationship to other existing classifications (i.e., Worker I vs. Worker II).


Job analysis is an important HR responsibility. It is a time consuming process that is often set aside in favor of other seemingly more important priorities. In the short run those priorities may indeed be more important. In the long run, however, an organization must have a carefully defined job classification system that is based on an objective analysis of tasks, duties, and responsibilities. The system provides a foundation for other critical HR functions such as compensation, selection, and compliance. It must be built by an HR professional who understands and builds upon accepted job analysis principles and concepts.

Mike Deblieux, SPHR-CA, designs and presents on-site seminars and workshops for front-line workplace leaders. He provides coaching support for supervisors and supports HR professionals through special projects to help their organizations achieve strategic goals. Mike writes HR Concepts to help HR professionals better understand and use fundamental HR principles. Share your feedback on this article with Mike at


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