As documents go, job descriptions and person specifications are vital. They’re at the heart of each recruitment journey, forming the structure that both candidate and hirer work to. The information included should, at best, help applicants to self screen and employers to understand their own requirements. However, at worst, these documents can be incomplete, misleading and actually contribute to high staff turnover. So how can you make sure that you get it right for the next recruitment at your organisation? 

What is a job description?

A job description is the accurate written breakdown of a role, its duties and its responsibilities. This document is used in the process for the recruitment of a new individual into an organisation. In addition it should be referred back to during ongoing appraisal and review processes. It should detail all regular tasks, even if they only come up annually. Ideally, it will also indicate a level of prioritisation and focus for the role. A well-written job description helps to attract the right candidates and ensures that qualified applicants are applying for the job. 

What is a person specification?

A person specification outlines the qualifications, experience, knowledge, skills, and personal attributes required for a particular job role. It is considerably more flexible than a job description, and is normally split into essential and desirable qualities. The person specification is a chance for an employer to outline their working environment, culture and expectations of a successful candidate. This means that it’s a really useful document for candidates to use to self screen, thus avoiding incompatible applications.

What should be included?

While a job description should reflect the duties that an individual will undertake, the person specification is focussed on the attributes that enable that person to fulfil those duties. Each document essentially approaches a job role from a different perspective. Together they should form the basis of a successful recruitment. So what exactly should you remember to include?

Job description

Begin with the title of the role and where it sits within the organisation. The document should list areas of responsibility and specific regular tasks that the post holder is responsible for. Objectives and opportunities for progression should also feature, to give a more rounded picture of the role. In addition, there should be practical and logistic features of the job. This includes salary, hours, location, benefits, and travel requirements. There should be an indication of the levels of flexibility that a candidate can expect in the role. 

Person specification

This document should include the skills and qualifications that the organisation feels are necessary to undertake the role. It is helpful to use multiple areas of the organisation to draw up this outline, as there is a direct link to the values and mission of the business. Clearly there are some elements that are crucial, especially when specialisms such as accountancy qualifications are required. However, other elements of the person specification should touch on additional past experience or ways of working that would be beneficial rather than essential. 

Good Wording

For both a job description and person specification, it’s crucial that the wording is accurate and comprehensive. Too brief and you’re likely to end up wading through excessive inappropriate applications. Too long winded and you risk putting off the really desirable candidates. So how do you go about writing a good job description and person specification?

Concise language

Many roles within an organisation are busy and multi-faceted, especially in finance departments. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of the tasks required, especially when there are elements that are organisation specific. Take the time to refine the wording so that clearly reflects what the role entails, without unnecessary detail. 

Clear subheadings

Break down the job description and person specification into sections with clear subheadings. This will make the information much easier to digest by potential candidates. As the information is more easily processed, potential candidates are better equipped to self screen prior to application.

Include context

It’s helpful to include context that is both role and organisation specific. A candidate will need to fully understand all reporting and managerial elements to the role, so that they can gauge whether this fits within their experience and ambition. A paragraph detailing the background of the organisation will act as a guide for candidates to match their values and interests. 

Avoid repetition

Try not to let your job description and person specification blur together. While writing or updating these documents, be wary of repetition between the two. You should have very clear boundaries of the elements each will include. Clarification in these documents is really healthy for an organisation’s employer brand, since it shows that the business invests time in their recruitment process

Check and update

Take the time to either research or update a job role’s tasks within the existing team. A new recruitment is the ideal time to evaluate how reflective a job description is of the work that is actually done. Input towards a person specification should come from both colleagues and managers as both have relevant perspectives on what is required to fulfil a role.

The risks of inaccurate information

An inaccurate job description can result in inappropriate applications for your vacancy. If the detail is too vague, you may be inundated with unqualified applications. Overly dictatorial and you may be limiting your pool of applicants too much, or indeed putting good applicants off with a tone of excessive rigidness. At worst, it can lead to employment law challenges including wrongful dismissal in extreme cases.  There’s a middle ground that accurately conveys the role and the culture in a constructive way. The next step is getting this information in front of the widest pool of top talent with specialist recruitment services.

A well written job description and person specification can be seen as two parts of a 3 piece puzzle. The gap in between would then be filled by the successful candidate. This is why getting the parameters of these documents right is so vital. At Howett Thorpe, we work with our clients and candidates to make sure that each puzzle is perfectly completed.