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How to Gather Data in Preparing for the Job Description

Data gathering for human resource management, however, is often not highly funded in organizations, though there is some evidence of a change in attitude on this matter.

Do you know what data to gather in preparing for your next job description? Find out more here.

The rigorous methodology of science must be pursued when gathering data for any purpose, if those data are to be regarded as complete and valid. Organizations generally invest heavily in funding data gathering in basic and applied research activities that have a visible, physical product payoff. Likewise, dollar-and-cents data gathering is generally sufficiently funded for purposes of preparing accurate accounting records and financial statements.
 
At present, few organizations really worry much about gathering comprehensive and accurate job data. There is much evidence of this across organizations of all types and sizes. Job data-gathering efforts tend to be buried within obscure sections of personnel departments and data-gathering methodologies tend to be replete with departures from the scientific method.
 
Some of the reasons for the relative lack of attention to rigor in job data gathering can be traced to the desire of managers to leave the boundaries of jobs in their authority under-defined for the purpose of enhancing their own social power within the organization. Lack of job definition means to many managers that they are relatively free to bend and shape to suit their personal interests and objectives; but what may be best for the individual manager may not be best for the organization as a whole.
 
Organizations should attend much more thoroughly to job data gathering. This article points out what should be done.
 
GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF DATA GATHERING
 
Too often the job analysis--the term given to the process of gathering data about jobs--is conducted by a novice. Someone assumes this kind of work requires relatively little experience. Little could be further from the truth. The job description is only as good and useful as the quality of the data collected to write it, and contemporary data-collection methodology is fraught with opportunity for serious errors. To properly avoid these errors requires considerable experience and skill. A number of data-gathering principles must be carefully adhered to.
 
Gather Data from Multiple Sources
 
Too frequently job data gathering focuses exclusively on acquiring in formation about the job from the job incumbent. True, no other single person is likely to know as much about the job as does the incumbent; but the incumbent is not the only one likely to possess valuable insights into the job. Fellow workers--peers, supervisors, subordinates, and people in other departments with whom the worker interacts--can provide unique insights and different perspectives on what a given worker does. The information gathered from these other sources is not as likely to be biased or distorted toward the self-interest of incumbents.
 
Certainly, a key person in job data acquisition is the supervisor. Supervisors should always be consulted when compiling data about jobs in their departments, because they generally know better than anyone what the work should be like. They can often help clarify task boundaries--where one person's job leaves off and another’s starts. Supervisors can usually add much to preparing job function statements, to specifying the limits of workers’ independent authority, and to establishing key accountabilities. Supervisors should fill out job analysis questionnaires on their subordinates and should be interviewed about the jobs of each of their subordinates. They may not be able to contribute significantly to the development of detailed duty statements unless they have actually performed the work, at some point in time, themselves.
 
Another good source of data about jobs is persons who have recently left their jobs. These people have little to accomplish by coloring the nature of the work. They serve as a second source of direct data about the job that can be used to verify data from the present job holder.
 
Information from people other than the incumbent may help catch some aspects of work missed by the incumbent and will serve to verify data received from the incumbent. When data from different sources do not seem to be compatible, the analyst can investigate to find the cause of the discrepancy and then take action to assure data consistency.
 
Gather Data by Multiple Means
 
Often, job analyses will focus exclusively on gathering data by one means only. A questionnaire distributed to job incumbents is a common form of gathering data. This method, though, will not assure complete and valid data when used alone. The analyst should always follow up the filled-in questionnaire with an interview to clarify data provided by the incumbent and to check on the quality of data submitted.
 
Other means of data acquisition, such as work logs and work sampling usually yield valuable data totally ignored by the incumbent when filling out a questionnaire. These devices are particularly good at gaining insight into the frequency of task execution, time spent on tasks, and the sequences of task execution. Questionnaires and interviews do not provide high-quality information on these matters.
 
If a complete, detailed picture of work is needed, filming or direct, continuous observation may be the only way to acquire complete, valid data. These methods can be disruptive and distort true behavior but usually if the observed worker is properly prepared, filming or direct observation will yield valid data. It is too common for no means at all to be used for data gathering. That is, the incumbent, or the incumbent's supervisor, is asked to sit down and directly prepare, from memory, a job description for the incumbent. Preparing a job description in this manner usually does not work well because the preparer is not likely to be able to think of all that should go into the job description without some kind of search for data coupled with extensive deliberation. Formal data gathering preliminary to job description preparation helps assure key parts of the work are not left out.
 
Do Time-extended Data Gathering
 
No job data-gathering activity ever succeeded when it was rushed. Workers, supervisors of workers, and others need time to think through jobs in order to fill out questionnaires properly and to participate effectively in interviews. In fact, many jobs change by month or by season. Therefore having employees fill out questionnaires and participate in interviews over just a one- or two-week period may not elicit from respondents a true picture of year-round activity.

See the following articles for more information: