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Job Description or Job Requisition: Which Comes First?

A man is holding his head in front of a group of computers.

The job description and job requisition are two commonly used forms in the hiring process. And while it would seem that the reasons for using each of these forms are pretty straightforward, there is some uncertainty—even debate—over which should come first.

[SHRM members-only resource: Job Descriptions]

Can You Request Before You Describe?

A job requisition is a request to fill a job—permission to start the hiring process.

A job description describes the elements of the job—the knowledge, skills and abilities applicants will need to possess.

Is it possible to request that a job be filled before describing it? In many organizations, the answer is likely to be no.

"I'd be curious to hear the view of those who think you can approve a requisition without the job description. What's the point?" asked David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc, an HR outsourcing and consulting firm. The requisition, he said, "is there to show the [company's] leadership the justification for the need. If the job has yet to be defined, then, as a CEO, I cannot legitimately assess the need and approve or deny."

HR practitioners agree. "I have to have an idea of what tasks and responsibilities I need a new employee to have in order to make my justification for the requisition," said Bethany Holliday, SHRM-CP, director of HR for Cornerstone Employer Solutions and Cornerstone Insurance Group. "I certainly wouldn't go to senior leadership and say 'Hey, we need an extra body' without first identifying why we need them and what we need them to do."

But maybe the process is—or should be—more iterative and collaborative than linear.

Cart Before the Horse or Chicken Before the Egg?

While some might say that starting the hiring process with the job requisition is putting the cart before the horse, others see it as more akin to trying to decide which came first, the chicken or the egg. Effective arguments could be made for either the chicken or the egg coming first; whether the job requisition or description should come first could be similarly debated.

"My belief is that the client manager needs to identify that there is a need and create the requisition first," said Theresa Santoro, director of operations and human resources with Actualize Consulting. "My job thereafter, as a recruiter, is to work with the client to identify what skills are needed." In essence, the job description is created—or validated—with the hiring manager once the position has been approved.

Cody Smith, founder of, further described the kind of iterative process that takes place in many organizations, particularly large and medium-sized organizations.

"All positions should be cataloged and defined, which includes details such as a description of the role, qualifications, salary range, [whether it is] salaried or hourly, bonus plan and benefits eligibility, and manager/contributor status," he said. "The job requisition should require the job name and code; therefore, it is necessary to have a least a brief description. However, after the job requisition is created, the hiring manager should review the job description and qualifications, as well as any other job-specific information in the posting. It is imperative that the posting accurately reflect the role."

But there are other practicalities to consider that can tip the scale in one direction or another, as Megan Kearney, human resources executive for Access Information Management, pointed out. Companies that use market analysis to set target compensation ranges would need a job description first. But, she noted, "it would be very much contingent on how a company's [applicant tracking] system was built. If it was built in a way that the manager could initiate the requisition and that would trigger the HR team to reach out to the manager to discuss the role and draft the job description, that may streamline the process." 

In addition, smaller firms and startups may have processes that are looser, driven more by the types of candidates these companies are able to attract than rigid administrative processes.

As with many business conundrums, the answer to "Which comes first, the job requisition or description?" may well be "It depends."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.


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