How to Write a Job Description and Person Specifications

Job Descriptions and Person Specifications
Recruiting new staff is a hugely expensive purchase. Apart from the one-off costs of the recruitment process, advertising etc., there is the ongoing cost of the successful candidate.

The true cost of employing an individual is approximately their salary multiplied by two. Someone earning £25,000 a year actually costs £50,000 per annum.

With the exception of our home, the vast majority of us never spend that sort of money on a single purchase. That is why due care and attention need to be given from the outset. This all begins with having the best 'shopping list' we can put together. The better the list, the more successful the purchase is likely to be.
The list is made up of two component parts - the job description and the person specification.

Whilst these are compiled separately, and in that order, for reasons explained below, they are combined as the template for the individual we are seeking to employ.

How to Write a Job Description

When compiling the job description you should focus entirely on the functional or operational side of the position in question. There may be some simple information here, job title, for example, but it is important that you are clear about what the role entails. It is also important not to give a false impression of the job to prospective candidates.

The purpose of the job should be clearly stated. This is more than the job title. It is a sort of overview of the role, for example, 'To maintain all software applications within the business.' Beyond this, the next step is to outline the main duties associated with the position. This should not go into minute detail, but should provide enough information to give any applicants a good feel for what will be required of them.

Other information to be included in the job description might be, whom the successful applicant would be reporting to. It is also important to be clear about any key working conditions, such as the hours worked, shift patterns and so on. Think about any aspects of the job itself, which would be central to its successful delivery. Another example might be to state that the job will require the successful applicant to spend up to 5 nights a month working and living away from home.

Person Specification

As its name suggests, this where you need to think very carefully about the type of person you are looking for with regard to the job in question. At this point, managers need to be mindful of the implications of Employment Legislation (see Recruitment Procedures). Nothing within the person specification should be seen to be discriminating either directly or indirectly against any of the six categories specified in the law.

Having said that, you can state anything you want within the person specification, providing that you can justify it in terms of the job in question. That is why you should concentrate on the job description first and then think about the type of person required second. You can, for example, specify a maximum height, if the job involves working in a confined space, such as for cabin staff on an aircraft. This can be justified on grounds of health and safety, as someone too tall would be required to spend each shift stooping.

The person specification should contain information about things like any qualifications required. These could be academic, professional, or practical (such as clean driving licence). Sometimes companies are looking for someone who has previous experience in a similar role.

Managers should think carefully about the skills, abilities, and aptitudes they are looking for from the person. Something as basic as cheerful disposition is always good for those, say, working on reception in a hotel. Try, however, to avoid just putting in clichéd wish-list words: 'Must be a good team player'. This is not necessary if the job is sitting at a desk inputting data into a machine all day.


Having given careful consideration to both of the above, you now need to add a little sophistication to the shopping list. To do this, the list is taken and broken down into two categories - critical and desirable. Those elements deemed to be critical are the minimum requirements of any applicant. These would be the non-negotiables. To use buying a house as a parallel, it having three bedrooms might be critical, and therefore you would not look at any that did not meet this requirement, whereas a garage might be desirable.

This differentiation is important and helpful in a number of ways. It assists with screening and the short-listing process. The first stage of screening can actually be the job advertisement. If that advertisement contains the critical elements identified above, then only live applicants should apply, thus saving time on inappropriate candidates. It will also be of use at the interviewing and selection stage.

Job descriptions and person specifications are vital for both you, the manager, in the recruitment process, and for prospective applicants. Managers need to be clear about what they are looking for and candidates need to be clear about what the job entails.

Getting this part of the process wrong can be very costly. A poor 'shopping list' will lead to a poor appointment, either from the point of view of the manager, or the successful candidate. In the former case, the manager may now have an underperforming member of staff to manage. In the case of the latter, the member of staff may be very able but feels they have had the job misrepresented to them, and subsequently leave.

As with many things the planning and thinking stage is key.

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