How to write a job description and person specification

There is an initial step within recruitment and selection processes that is sometimes overlooked or its importance to recruiting the right person is underestimated. I’m referring to the job description and person specification.

If you’ve ever spoken with a Roots HR Consultant about recruitment and selection, or attended one of our free training sessions you’ve likely heard us describing the job description and person specification as the “cornerstone” of a merit based selection process.

What are job descriptions and person specifications?

how to write a job descriptionA job description is essentially the “what” – a description of the role itself, the responsibilities of the post holder and a description of the tasks involved. It will also include key information such as the job title, who the role reports to, the work location and the hours per week.  The person specification is really the “who” – outlining the ideal candidate who could deliver the requirements of the role, through their qualifications, skills, knowledge, experience and personal attributes.

Why are job descriptions and person specifications so important to recruitment and selection?

The job description clearly explains to your prospective candidates what your requirements are for the role and what they will be responsible for. It can also set out the foundations of your performance expectations for the role. Through the person specification, anyone interested in your role will understand the level and type of skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications required to be able to deliver within the role. They can “self-select” in or out of the recruitment process, based on whether they meet those criteria.

How do you write a job description and person specification?

Let’s imagine you are looking to recruit a role; the first thing I’d advise you to do is spend some time considering the following:

  • What is the purpose of the role?
  • What are the outputs that you require of the role?
  • What is the likely content of the job, i.e. some of the regular tasks the job holder would be required to do to achieve those outputs?
  • Where would the role fit within your organisation structure?
  • What scope of authority will the job holder have?
  • How many hours each week do you think the job will take? Will the role be required on an ongoing basis, or for a fixed period of time?

This analysis should help you determine the work that needs to be achieved by the post holder and from this you can start drafting the job description.

You then need to think about the person specification. It can be useful to list the essential criteria – those the postholder must be able to demonstrate and without which they cannot do the job – and those which are desirable but not essential.  Spend some time considering the following:

  • Are there any professional qualifications or memberships that will be required to demonstrate the post holder’s technical knowledge or competence for theRecruitment and Selection role?
  • Is there a requirement for a certain level of previous experience needed? Do they need to have worked at a similar level in other roles, or is this less important in comparison to other factors?
  • What are the skills and abilities that the post holder would need to perform effectively in the role?
  • What personal attributes are likely to help the post holder perform effectively? What attitudes and values are important to your organisation?

This analysis should help you determine the candidate profile for the ideal post holder. Remember, it needs to be a realistic overview of what’s genuinely essential for the role, not your wish list that will be impossible to find in one person!

Things to bear in mind as you write your job description and person specification

The job description is there to give the post holder a clear enough understanding of the expectations of the role and enables the manager to support the individual in achieving the desired outcomes. However, jobs can and do change, so try and leave room for this within the job description; include a flexibility clause that explains if the role is likely to change or grow in the future and a line saying “Any other task, responsibility or activity that is reasonably requested by an officer of the organisation”and then regularly review and update the job description if needed. The annual appraisal is a good time to do this.

Be mindful of your requirements and any wording that you use so that you do not discriminate against candidates. Examples of proven discriminatory requirements are specifying or implying you seek a particular gender for the role when there is no genuine requirement, or requesting or implying you seek candidates of certain ages, when anyone could do the job.

Finally, think about how the job description will be used during the ongoing employment relationship; you can use it to monitor performance against during the probation period, set objectives for annual appraisals and identify learning and development opportunities. If used in this way, it really is worth spending time getting it right!

Still unsure?

Seek advice! Did you know we offer 1 hour of free services to all social sector employers so just get in touch and we’ll be happy to help. We work with you to help develop your job descriptions and person specifications.

We are always interested to hear your thoughts on our blog topics, so do let us know about your experiences of developing job descriptions and person specifications, or share any better practice tips by using the comments section below.

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