Person Specification

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  • Tips on writing a Person Specification

Writing a Person Specification

Drawing up a person specification is one way of ensuring that an organisation selects employees on the basis of their relevant abilities, rather than on subjective or irrelevant criteria.

To draw up a good person specification it is vital to have a clear and accurate job description based on a task analysis.  By knowing what the job involves, it is easier to assess the qualities needed to do it.

These requirements can be divided into:

  • Experience: previous jobs, unpaid work experience, life experience

  • Skills, knowledge and abilities: for example, languages, driving, knowledge of specialist fields, ability to use equipment; plus some indication of the level of competence required, and whether the person must have the skills or knowledge beforehand or can learn them on the job (for example "basic knowledge of Microsoft Word, or willingness to learn")

  • Qualifications: exams, certificates, degrees, diplomas (some jobs require specific qualifications, but most do not and it can be fairer to ask for the skills or knowledge represented by the qualification rather than asking for the qualification itself)

  • Personal attributes: such as strength, ability to lift, willingness to work in a hectic busy environment or on one's own

  • Personal circumstances: such as being able to work weekends or evenings or to travel

Each listed requirement must be justifiable in terms of the job description and task analysis.  If it is not, is should not be part of the person specification.

Where a requirement could be discriminatory against or in favour of a particular group (racial, ethnic, gender, disabled), particular care should be taken to ensure it is justified in terms of the job.  For example, you should not specify a desire to employ a Chinese person but you can specify a requirement to speak fluent Mandarin.

If you expect that a large number of suitably qualified people will apply for a job, it can be useful to include in the person specification not only the essential requirements but also desirable qualities.

When drawing up a person specification, you should be clear how each requirement will be assessed during the selection process. For example, this might be by:

  • Asking an appropriate question or questions on the application form

  • Ensuring applicants know they should include information about this in an supporting letter

  • Taking up references and asking specifically about this requirement

  • Asking candidates about it at interview

  • Observing candidates' behaviour, for example in a group interview

  • Giving candidates a task or test to assess their knowledge or ability

If a requirement cannot be assessed in some way, it should not be part of the person specification.