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Writing effective job descriptions and person specifications

What is a job or person specification?

Before you place a vacancy with a recruitment consultancy, it is a good idea to spend some time evaluating exactly what you require from a candidate. While a job description and person specification are not legal requirements, they will save you time in the long run.

A job specification is a detailed description of the role, including all responsibilities, objectives and requirements. A person specification is a profile of your ideal new employee, including skills, experience and personality type.

Why should you bother?

Writing a detailed specification forces you to think about exactly what skills and experience is required for your role and the type of person you want for the team. Giving your recruitment consultant a comprehensive brief will allow them to work more effectively and quickly in finding you the perfect candidate.

Specifications also give candidates a better idea of exactly what you are looking for. This can help to weed out inappropriate applications from people who might be suitable on paper, but not actually that interested in the role. They also help to manage the expectations of successful new employees and to avoid situations where they feel they have been misled about the exact nature of the role.

You can use the specifications as a checklist for evaluating CVs and in interviews, which will save you preparation time and make sure you don’t miss anything.

Writing specification can make you think about how your department works and provide you with an opportunity to shift responsibilities around to maximise efficiency.

Specifications are also useful after the vacancy has been filled, as they can help to assess a new recruit's performance and to determine their future training needs.

Things to bear in mind before you start

Be as specific as possible about the responsibilities of the job, including any deadlines for delivery and measurements of success.

Leave room for flexibility within the job specification, and make it obvious if the role is likely to change or grow in the near future. This helps to avoid employees resenting taking on responsibilities not in their original job description.

Be careful with your wording, eg is a qualification really required or would someone who is Qualified by Experience (QBE) still be suitable?

It is essential not to discriminate on grounds of gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality or health, so avoid any inappropriate requirements, eg “must have x years’ experience” or words such as “dynamic” or “mature”. Read more information about avoiding discrimination here.

If the role is involved with service delivery, you may want to ask a selection of your clients their opinions on the type of person they would prefer to work with.

What should you include?

A job specification should include:

  • the job title the position in the company, including their line manager and any other members of staff reporting to them
  • the location of the job

  • a summary of the general nature, main purpose and objectives of the job

  • a list of the main duties or tasks of the employee

  • which skills/qualifications are essential and which are desirable

  • any equipment or software requirements, eg “knowledge of Raiser’s Edge”

  • salary and benefits

  • examples of typical projects help to illustrate the requirements

A person specification should include:

  • the technical, organisational, communicative and creative skills and abilities you expect from an ideal candidate
  • any specific qualifications or education required for the role

  • the level of experience needed in either similar organisations or equivalent roles

  • the kind of personality that would fit in with your team, and with your organisation’s ethos

  • character traits that are likely to help them to do the job effectively

  • any preferred achievements, eg volunteering

Finally, please remember to use your recruitment consultancy as much as possible. TPP Not for Profit are experts in the not for profit sector and are able to give you advice about how best to construct job and person specifications to fill a role, and on the salary and benefits you will need to offer to attract the best possible candidates.

TPP Not for Profit are specialists in the charity, arts and public sectors and help our clients both recruit and retain their staff. For more information, visit www.tpp.co.uk or contact us on 020 7198 600 or info@tpp.co.uk