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How do I put together a person specification?

How do I put together a person specification?
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Sometimes you want to get exactly the right person for your position and you'll want to put together a personal specification. This is as opposed to writing a general job description.

A person specification more fully describes the type of person who is most likely to be able to do the job satisfactorily. It include a person's education and qualifications, relevant training and personal stand out qualities.

A straightforward job description concentrates more on the job itself and leaves the reader to decide whether they are right for it or not. Needless to say, writing a person specification can save time, but only if you don't turn away perfectly suitable candidates.

Advantages of the personal specification
While clarifying the job on offer it also enables potential applicants to more clearly determine whether they are capable of meeting the requirements of the job, thereby reducing unsuitable candidates at an early stage

The specification ensures all candidates are judged systematically on the same criteria and ensures that your selection decisions can be justified using objective criteria should they be called into question at a later stage.

The person specification and job description can also be used as the basis for staff development, appraisals, or promotions in the future.

Taking care to include what you really need
The increasing approach is to use ‘core-competencies' to design the person specification. These could be either essential or desirable and allow you to more clearly specify the type of person you are looking for.

Competencies could include:

  • Physical attributes – good eyesight, etc
  • Languages – If the position calls for specific language skills
  • Attainments – qualifications, experience, grades and managerial positions.
  • Aptitudes – numeracy, communication skills - even patience.
  • Personal qualities – shift working, unsocial hours, and the ability to be flexible.
  • Prior Experience
    You may want candidates to have prior experience, but it's worth asking if you really need a specific number of years of experience? Instead of judging on amount of years the candidate can be asked to show experience in a particular task.

    Being too specific about the number of years of experience you want could rule out a very able candidate who has gained experience in a wide variety of tasks in six months in favour of someone who may have more years experience but in a limited capacity. 

    Qualifications, education and training
    In some professions it will be a legal requirement that the candidate has certain qualifications in order to practice. In other cases it may be that it would be impossible to carry out certain tasks without having been trained to do them.

    In all cases, you need to determine whether a specific qualification is the only way that a candidate could demonstrate that they are able to do the job. Someone who has no formal qualifications may have worked previously in a relevant sector and developed the necessary skills and knowledge.

    Personal qualities and discrimination
    Be objective and ask whether these characteristics are directly relevant to the job. If not, they could possibly be discriminatory.

    Indirect discrimination is not illegal, provided it can be objectively justified. Seeking somebody who is fit and strong could be indirectly discriminate against certain candidates and has to be objectively justified, in which case it becomes acceptable.

    To avoid discrimination in this area, try to describe the tasks that are involved and allow the reader to judge for themselves. There are limited circumstances where it is legal to directly discriminate where it is a genuine occupational requirement (GOR).

    Clarify for all
    Take some care over the words and phrases you use. It may be that your perfectly reasonable job description simply reads badly or sets the wrong tone.

    Also, remember to split your person specification into ‘essential' and ‘desirable' criteria. 'Essential' criteria are those attributes or qualifications which the candidate must have in order to do the job – and anyone who does not meet these can be ruled out. 'Desirable' criteria are not essential to carry out the job but a candidate who meets these criteria is likely to perform the job better and these can help you choose between good candidates who meet the specifications.