Why A Good Job Description And Person Specification Is So Important

In our recent article Common Recruitment Mistakes and How to Avoid Them mistake 2 discussed the poor job description. Here we expand on the points raised and provide a template job description and person specification for you to download.
Although there is no legal obligation for employers to provide job applicants or existing workers with a job description, it is good practice to prepare and maintain copies of job descriptions. All workers are entitled to receive written notification of the title of the job which they are employed to do, or a brief description of the work for which they are employed, by their first day of work, in the written statement of employment particulars. The job description and person specification provide candidates with a good idea of exactly what you are looking for. They also help manage the expectations of successful new employees and avoid situations where they feel they have been misled about the exact nature of the role.

The Role Of The Job Description and Person Specification

A good job description provides more information than just list the main duties that will be performed by the postholder. It should describe the responsibilities, objectives and requirements of the role. The job description should be supported by a person specification which describes the ideal employee, including qualifications, skills and previous experience. Writing the job description and person specification will also help you think about how your department works and consider whether responsibilities can be moved around to maximise efficiency.

If you are dealing with a recruitment consultant then a comprehensive brief, including a job description and person specification, is a must as it allows them to work more effectively and quickly in finding your perfect candidate.

When you start receiving applications your job description and person specification can be used as a checklist as you evaluate each CV. They will also help you prepare a series of questions to ask each applicant at the interview stage.

Finally, when your new recruit has started in the role the person specification becomes a useful tool in helping you assess their performance and to determine their future training needs.

Writing a detailed job description forces you to think about exactly what the job will do and why and the person specification allows you to think about what type of person will be able to perform the role successfully.

Describing The Job

Identifying The Main Duties

The primary purpose of a job description is to identify the main duties of the position. Main Duties are those tasks or functions of the position that are fundamental to the position, as opposed to marginal, this means they form the basis of the job and are of central importance. If the removed the purpose of the job would fundamentally change. When writing the main duties be specific in terms of deadlines for delivery and how success will be measured.

Once you have agreed the main duties they will help you to:-

  • Attract quality applicants
  • Prepare appropriate interview questions
  • Identify reasonable adjustments to enable a disabled person to perform the main duties

Other Considerations

Other things you will need to consider when you start writing your job description are:-

  • The overall purpose of the job
  • How the job will fit into your structure
  • Who the job holder will report in to
  • Who will report in to the job holder
  • How much authority will the job holder have in terms of budget
  • How will you judge the job holders performance
  • What relationships will the bob holder have both internally and externally to your business
  • Will the job be involved with service delivery? if so try asking a selection of your clients their opinions on the type of person they would prefer to work with.
  • Are there any unusual factors, such as travel, shift working, physical demands etc
  • Is the job likely to change in the near future? It’s always advisable to leave room for flexibility within the job description, this helps to avoid employees resenting taking on responsibilities not in their original job description.
  • What salary and benefits will be suitable for the role?

When writing the job description refer out to the content of the line managers, peers and subordinates job descriptions.

Avoiding Discrimination

Don’t forget, it’s essential not to discriminate on grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, so once written review your job description for any inappropriate requirements: such as “must have x years’ experience” or words such as “dynamic” or “mature”.

A well written well, your job description will create a clear understanding of what is needed and expected.

Describing The Perfect Candidate

Each job description should be supported by a description of the skills and qualifications that are essential or desirable for the job to be performed effectively.

The content should be realistic – if the requirements are aiming too low then the appointed person won’t be able to perform the job and if they are too high they will exclude candidates who would be perfect for the job. Be careful that the selection criteria do not discriminate in any way. For instance, if a sports club that requires two individuals to manage the bar and other facilities requested applications from husband and wife teams they would be discriminating against same sex partners. Don’t forget to consider disabilities and religion, beliefs and race.

Which Criteria Should I Use?

Include what clearly describes type of person you are looking for, such as:

  • Physical attributes: good eyesight, etc
  • Languages: if the position calls for specific language skills
  • Qualifications: academic and professional qualifications necessary for successful performance in the role. Some qualifications will be an essential requirement such as a driving licence for a driver but in some roles you may be able to work with someone who is part qualified but progressing towards completion or looking to commence studying shortly in these situations you could define the qualification as desirable. Unless there is a legal requirement that the candidate has certain qualifications in order to practice consider whether a specific qualification is the only way that a candidate could demonstrate that they are able to do the job. For instance, a candidate with no formal qualifications may have developed the necessary skills and knowledge through actual work experiences.
  • Aptitudes: numeracy, communication skills – even patience.
  • Previous Experience: illustrate the typical career path that would lead to someone been able to perform successfully in the role. As with Qualifications there will be essential and desirable characteristics. Avoid asking for a specific number of years of experience. 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.
  • Specialist Skills: define the skills and knowledge necessary for successful performance in the role. This could include knowledge of a particular process or item or software such as sage accounting. As with qualifications there will be essential and desirable characteristics.
  • Personal Qualities: shift working, unsocial hours, ability to be flexible, car owner, willing to travel, etc. Be objective and ask whether these characteristics are directly relevant to the job. If not, they could possibly be discriminatory. Seeking somebody who is fit and strong could be indirectly discriminate against certain candidates.

What Are Essential and Desirable Criteria?

Essential criteria are those characteristics that the candidate must have in order to do the job. For instance a driving licence would be essential for a delivery driver. So they form your list of basic criteria that you use to rule out underqualified candidates.

Desirable criteria are the nice to have characheristics. A candidate who possesses some or all of these qualities may be able to do the job better than a candidate who can only demonstrate they have the essential criteria. For instance a qualification in colouring hair may be desirable if you were recruiting for a hairdresser, but you could train an applicant who didn’t have a qualification or experience in colouring. So these are the criteria you will concentrate on to narrow your long list of suitable candidates down to a short list.

The Person Specification will help you ensure you don’t end up trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole!


Problems arise when the selection or exclusion of candidates is based on unlawful and unjustified criteria.

If you specifically state that the job is only open to people from a particular group i.e. ones aged 25 or over, then this would be a case of direct discrimination, unless you can justify that because the insurance company insist drivers of company vehicles are aged 25 or over.

Similarly, if you specify that you require a certain quality which is likely to disproportionately affect a particular group of people; this may be a case of indirect discrimination. For example, if you stated that you wanted applicants to have five years’ experience in teaching English, then this could disadvantage younger applicants and would be illegal. Again the only defence would be that it is a genuine occupational requirement (GOR). For example, someone employed to teach English as a second language would have to have a good standard of written and spoken English supported by a teaching qualification and five years experience of teaching English at secondary education level. A desirable characteristic may be that they have experience of teaching English as a second language.

Top Tip

Avoid focusing on length of experience as this can result in indirect age discrimination, particularly against younger candidates, who may be less likely to have the same length of experience as older candidates. Similarly it could discriminate against women who have taken a career break to have children. If you must indicate length of experience include language such as:

  • Relevant experience – to replace up to two years’ experience
  • Significant experience – two to five years’ experience

Anything above five years’ experience is probably no more significant than five years’ experience.

The expample used above would then become: The successful applicant will have a good standard of written and spoken English supported by a teaching qualification and significant experience of teaching English at secondary education level. Experience of teaching English as a second language would be a distinct advantage.

How to Assess the Essential and Desirable Criteria

Once you have chosen your essential and desirable criteria you need to consider how you will assess each candidate against them.

The most commonly used examples are detailed below:-

CV or Application Form
Application forms guarantee consistency of information and allows you to ask specific questions so you get information that might not be included in a CV. However they do take time to complete and you might lose good candidates simply because they don’t have the time to dedicate to completing form fully, or rush it and therefore don’t complete it as well as they could. Most candidates who are actively looking for a job will have their CV ready to send to you, so the process will be much quicker.

Provides the opportunity for checking the information supplied in their application and allows for checking the candidates knowledge of the essential and desirable criteria.

Provides the opportunity to check the skills that candidates have laid claim to in their application and can indicate how they use their initiative and prioritise their workload.

Document Checks
Provides the opportunity to check the qualifications the candidate has claimed to have completed in their application.

Provides the opportunity to check the employment history that the candidate has supplied in their application.

Top Tip

I find it useful to indicate to the candidates how I will assess their skills and experience. This helps clarify to the candidates what you will be looking for and at which stage in the process. So there’s no nasty suprises down the line. If a candidate has embellished their skills and experience and see their will be a test at the interview stage they will hopefully amend the embellishments or reconsider their application!

Specification Essential Desirable Measured By
Education & Training Level 2 Maths and English (e.g. GCSE A-C) Level 3 AAT Application Form
Documentary Evidence
Work Experience Familiarity with bookkeeping and basic accounting procedures Experience in a busy accounts department from the same industry Applications form
Performance of task / test at interview
Skills & Knowledge Excellent IT Skills, including the ability to use spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel Working knowledge of Sage Accounting Software Application form
Performance of task / test at interview

The Person Specification plays a key role in ensuring you recruit the right person.

Template Job Description and Person Specification

My Job Description and Person Specification has been designed for you to describe the main duties and responsibilities of your job and the qualification, skills and experience your ideal candidate will need to posses to perform the role. The essential criteria should describe the minimum level of skill, experience and qualifications you could work with whilst a candidate who possesses all the essential and desirable skills, experience and qualifications would be able to hit the ground running.

I include example abilities and behaviours which you can use on your person specification. They include: professional, resourceful, respectful, reflective, leadership, future focus, commercial aawareness, managing risk and drive for results. Each of those has a sub-set of behaviours such as decision making, flexibility, communication and self development. All you have to do is chose the abilities and behaviours which you wish to assess during your selection process and decide wether they are essential or desirable criteria.

The template is provided in Microsoft Word format so you can adapt the content to suit your industry as well as the role you are recruiting for.

Download the Template Job Description and Person Specification!

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Why A Good Job Description And Person Specification Is Important