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Person specifications

Contents
Purpose

The person specification is a description of the qualifications, skills, experience, knowledge and other attributes (selection criteria) which a candidate must possess to perform the job duties. The specification should be derived from the job description and forms the foundation for the recruitment process. You will use the person specification as a basis for your selection decisions at shortlisting, presentation/test and interview stages. Interview questions and selection tests should also derive from the person specification and be designed to elicit more evidence on candidates against the criteria. The person specification should also be used to write your advertisement for the position.

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Selection criteria requirements

Selection criteria must be:

Specific

Selection criteria should be specific rather than general. This is to ensure that the person specification properly reflects job requirements. It also helps ensure that candidates understand the skills/qualifications and experience you are looking for. In addition, it helps ensure consistency of selection decisions by shortlisting or interview panel members and avoids confusion.

Example:
The criteria “good communication skills” is vague and covers a range of possible skills. Try to specify the nature and level of communication skills that the job requires (e.g. effective presentation skills, report-writing skills, the ability to draft complex correspondence, counselling skills, the ability to converse with a diverse range of people at all levels).

Justifiable

Selection criteria must be justifiable in relation to the job tasks and requirements. Non-justifiable criteria could be discriminatory and prevent suitable applicants applying for your position.

Example:
A requirement for a Courses Secretary to hold a good first degree will be unjustifiable. The role is an administrative one and a competent, experienced administrator could perform all the functions of the role effectively without a degree.

Measurable

When writing selection criteria, you need to consider how you are going to assess how each candidate measures against the criteria.

Example:
How would you assess the criteria “A commitment to equal opportunities”? You could question or test candidates on their knowledge of equalities legislation and best practice but arguably, this would not test commitment only understanding and the criteria should be rephrased as ‘A knowledge of equal opportunities legislation and best practice”. Alternatively, at interview, you could ask candidates on how they have demonstrated their commitment to equal opportunities through their work, however, if this was the evidence you were seeking, it may have been better to phase the criteria as “Demonstrable evidence of promoting equal opportunities through work experience”.

Non-Discriminatory

Selection criteria must be fair, objective and directly relevant to the job requirements. Discriminatory language or statements concerning race, ethnicity, colour, nationality, martial status, age, religious belief, sexual orientation, transsexuals, disability or age must not be used. Advice can be obtained form your designated HR Officer.

Examples:
A requirement that an applicant must have English as their ‘mother tongue’ or be a ‘native English speaker’ is likely to be considered by an employment tribunal as discriminatory on the basis of nationality or race.

A statement that “We are looking for candidates who have recently completed their PhD” could deter or discriminate against older candidates or female applicants who may have a career break.

A criteria of “ten years continuous employment in the field of ….” could exclude more female than male candidates and be indirectly discriminatory.

A criteria of British qualifications which excludes equivalent overseas qualifications, could be discriminatory against on the grounds of national origin.

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Types of criteria

You may find it helpful to list your criteria under the following headings as appropriate to your vacancy.

Qualifications

If the postholder requires a specific qualification to carryout the functions of the role, this should be stated in the criteria. Academic person specifications should state the level of the qualification (i.e. PhD) and the relevant discipline. Some posts may require professional qualifications – management accountants for example. Avoid setting qualification levels higher than required by the nature of the post, as this could be discriminatory. Consider if relevant experience could be a substitute for a qualification – for example, could an applicant carryout a management role with a substantial amount of experience but no MBA?

Experience

When defining criteria which relate to a candidate’s experience, remember that experience can be gained through voluntary activities and study as well as work experience.

You will need to specify the type and level of the experience. For example, for the role of Senior Management Accountant, the postholder may need considerable post-qualification professional experience. However, for the vacancy of Accounts Assistant, the post-holder may be able to carryout the duties with just prior office experience.

Setting an exact length of experience required to carryout a role can be problematic. Firstly, the exact length of service can be difficult to determine and justify; why does a post need five rather than three years experience? Secondly, quality of experience is more important than quantity – candidates may have ten years of poor or limited experience.

Instead, think about what exact experience or competencies the candidate requires. For example, rather than ‘ten years staff management experience’, it would be preferable to state the criteria as “considerable experience of managing staff including monitoring work performance, experience of conducting staff reviews/appraisals, experience of interviewing and recruiting staff, and experience of carrying out formal performance procedures”.

Skills

State any skills required by the post-holder to carryout the role such as computer skills, interpersonal skills, report-writing skills, presentation skills.

Knowledge

Specify any knowledge the candidate is required to bring to the role such as knowledge of a specific academic area, or professional knowledge such as health and safety legislation.

Be cautious about insisting on knowledge of a particular type of computer software as disabled candidates may use adapted technology with their own software. The Disability Rights Commission advise that such software often carries out the same function as more commonly known software packages and so rejecting a disabled person for lack of a knowledge of a specific software could be discriminatory. If specifying specific software packages, such as Microsoft Word or Excel, make it clear that equivalent packages will be acceptable.

Competencies

Describe the behaviour that the person will need to perform the role effectively such as the ability to work independently with minimal supervision or the ability to use initiative and be pro-active.

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