Human Resources

Writing a job description and a person specification

Job description

A job description details the key responsibilities and expected competencies of a job. One of its main uses is to help potential applicants and managers understand the key responsibilities of the job.

It is also used to:

  • inform induction training and longer term development needs
  • evaluate the performance of new staff during their probation period
  • indentify strengths and weaknesses in performance and to re-focus efforts. It is normal to review a job description during an appraisal meeting and agree any changes.

An up to date and thorough job description will also be required if a department requests a re-evaluation of the grade of a job.

Creating a job description

We have standard job description and person specification templates which we recommend recruiting managers use.

A job description should detail:

  • the main purpose of the job: try to describe this in one sentence
  • the main duties and responsibilities of the job: try to use active verbs, e.g. ‘to manage’, ‘to develop’, ‘to write’, ‘to clean’ and to focus on six to eight key points
  • the scope of the job: resources: staff, equipment, budget, areas for which the postholder is responsible; also identify to whom the postholder is responsible

You should consider the distinction between those activities which could be regarded as ‘core’ activities, i.e. those which must be done by the job holder, and those which are peripheral and could be done by someone other than the job holder. ‘Core’ activities should be justifiable as such. This distinction is important as employers should be prepared to make reasonable adjustments to jobs where such adjustments would enable a person with a disability to take the job.

It may also be useful, when drawing up a job description, to include any factors in the working environment which might make the job unsuitable for some applicants. If such factors exist, this can also be a starting point for considering what, if any, adjustments could be made to overcome these.

Remember that you are trying to describe the job from the perspective of your department’s requirements, not reflecting the current job holder’s strengths or preferred tasks or duties.

Person specification

A person specification is profile of the personal skills, qualifications, abilities and experiences you will look for during the recruitment and selection process.

A person specification has a number of uses:

  • it informs potential applicants about the level and complexity of the job and helps them to decide whether to apply for the job
  • it establishes the essential criteria against which all candidates will be judged objectively
  • it sets desirable criteria which can be used to establish the most suitable candidates
  • it provides a template for transparent decision making during the selection process

The criteria you decide on should relate directly to the duties detailed in the job description, and contain the minimum requirements necessary to do the job effectively. The more explicit you are in the person specification the more time you will save and there is a greater chance of attracting the right candidate for the job.

The criteria must be capable of being objectively justified as the minimum requirements to carry out the post effectively. Criteria should not be included if they unfairly discriminate on the grounds of race, religion or belief, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, gender re-assignment,marriage/civil partnership or pregnancy/maternity. Give careful consideration to reasonable adjustments that can be made.

Be careful about overstating the level of knowledge, experience and qualifications required for the job. Make sure that you can objectively justify any academic qualifications included on a person specification as many talented people may not have the qualifications you are looking for, thus reducing your candidate pool. Also, a good educational background does not always indicate that the individual has the skills and/or experience needed to perform the job.

Creating a person specification

The person specification should be divided into essential and desirable criteria. This should be used in the short-listing process to distinguish between candidates.

  • Essential criteria are those that are critical for the satisfactory performance of the job. It is expected that applicants will meet all the essential criteria to be considered eligible for appointment.
  • Desirable criteria are those that enhance a person’s capacity to do the job. These are usually not listed as essential because it is expected that they can be acquired once in employment. For example, while specific knowledge of the University and its environment could be of benefit, it can also be learnt.

Look at the job description and pick out the main duties of the job grouping together similar duties. Try and translate these duties into the abilities and skills needed to do the job. Specify the necessary skills as far as possible in precise job-related terms. Identify any specific knowledge requirements for the job or requirement of some evidence of ability to learn Identify experience require to carry out the job.

Factors to consider when drawing up the specification include:

  • skills, knowledge and aptitudes directly related to the job
  • level and type of experience necessary
  • education and training: but only so far as is necessary for satisfactory job performance, unless the person is being recruited on the basis of future potential
  • any criteria relating to personal qualities or circumstances, which must be essential and directly related to the job, and must be applied equally to all groups, irrespective of race,religion or belief,gender,age, sexual orientation,disability, gender re-assignment,marriage/civil partnership or pregnancy/maternity. To do otherwise is potentially discriminatory.

Care should be taken when consideration is given to how the candidate is going to be measured against these criteria. All tests are subject to reasonable adjustment and people with impairments must be allowed to undertake an assessment in a suitable alternative manner.

If you need any more guidance on creating and using job descriptions or person specifications please speak to your departmental HR Manager.

Human Resources
March 2012