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Before you start recruiting - How to devise a Job Specification or Person Specification

Have you ever found yourself second guessing your hiring choices? Or ever wished you knew a method to match a candidate's traits with the ones needed for the sales job before you hire the prospective employee?

Your frustration is shared by many; no one purposely hires a "bad fit". It is extremely difficult to determine during an interview if the person will work out or not, and this is even harder to verify if you have not devised an effective job and person specification.

Recruitment selection can be compared to dating. When a man is courting a woman, he showers her with chocolate and flowers, is kind to her mother and is very aware of his manners at the dinner table. The women might not think he's perfect but carries on dating him thinking "I can change him in time". However, as soon as the honeymoon period is over surprise surprise, the gifts come to an end, he doesn't want to visit her mother for Sunday roast and he also reveals that his real talent is being able to down a pint of Stella in less than 10 seconds.

Unfortunately, the same applies for recruitment processes. During the selection process sales candidates are not only on their best behaviour where they fill out job application forms with close to perfect pre-prepared answers, arrive to interviews on time, have relatively good points to make throughout the interview and they seem to be one of the best candidates you've seen for a while. You know the candidate isn't perfect but hire them with the idea to train them once they are hired. However, poorly made decisions create turnover costs and your other employees may lose faith in your decision making. However if you have created an outstanding and accurate job and person specification, it is a lot easier to recruit a candidate - and the right one.

As we all know, recruitment is a costly operation.  The planning, processing and selection process takes up many hours of your time and resources. It is imperative that corporations get the right person for the job where making the right choice is essential. To help this process, your job and person specification must be top notch.

Logically, you will want the best candidate for the job however setting unrealistically high achievement levels increases the problem of attracting that person and can often result in job dissatisfaction if they later find their talents are under-utilised.

Take Baby Steps

Defining exactly what you are looking for in terms of the job role and person is the very first principle of recruitment. Firstly, look at the job, is there actually a vacancy?  What tasks will the job involve? How much work is there - enough for a full time position or would part-time be more sufficient? Consider the terms and conditions of the job; what hours will it involve, will it require travelling too? Does the role require training and how might the job develop in the future as your business expands. After these factors have been considered a job description can be drawn up and you will be left with a thorough overview of what the job will entail and this will act as an invaluable recruitment and selection tool.

How should a person specification be created? See Sample questions here

Competencies" are often used when recruiters are designing a person specification. These are then further classified as either essential" or "desired" to help determine which attributes are most important. This will help you to make an informed and fair decision should you have many potentially suitable candidates.

Competencies may include:

  • Attainments (e.g. highest level of education completed, relevant sales experience, abilities to perform certain tasks)
  • Aptitudes (e.g. verbal reasoning, numerical aptitude, psychometric testing etc)
  • Personal Interests (social activities, sporting activities, hobbies and personal achievements)
  • Personal Circumstances (e.g. flexibility to work shifts or overtime, full or part time work, etc. - see questions that employers are not allowed to ask)
  • Languages (e.g. is the ability to speak other languages important?)

You must finally ask yourself the following questions before advertising the job... Is the specification credible? Do such people actually exist? If so, are they likely to apply for the salary that is being offered? And finally, what are the options if the answers to these questions are probably 'no'?

Download free sample job specification questions:

(simply click on the graphic)

Be Fair To Them All

Person specifications must be prepared with great care - you must ensure that the competencies required do not lead to any unlawful discrimination against potential employees. Remember that it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, marital status, age, disability, race or religion.

Eliminating The Unsuitable And Undesirable

Potential applicants can clearly determine whether they have the ability to meet the requirements of the job - therefore reducing unsuitable candidates at an early stage of the recruitment process.  The specification further ensures that all candidates are judged systematically on the same criteria and ensures selection decisions can be justified using objective criteria should they be called into question at a later stage.

Too Much or Too Little Experience?

Previous experience in that industry or similar job role is often required. However, how many years worth of experience is needed? Being too specific about the number of years of experience may rule out very able candidates who have just less experience. The candidate with the most amount of experience doesn't make them the best candidate for the job - yes, they could have lots of years underneath their belt, but they could also be absolutely hopeless at their job. Instead of judging the amount of years of experience, candidates can show experience in particular tasks.

Do Clarify

Be very aware and careful over the words and phrases you choose to use.  You wouldn't want your perfectly reasonable job specification to read badly or set the wrong tone turning away potentially outstanding candidates.

So, What About The Job Description? See Sample questions here

Preparing a job description is not a legal requirement but it is good practice and can be useful for deciding the scope of the work, advertising the job, and clarifying what applicants will have to do in the job. It is very important to pay close attention to the wording of the job description as it serves several important purposes. The job description should attract appropriately qualified applicants to fill a vacancy and be further used for appraisal or performance management purposes - individual objectives can be based on the duties/responsibilities in the job description. It is important to make a job description practical by keeping it dynamic, functional and up to date. Don't get stuck with an inflexible job description!

Job descriptions which run on for pages and pages and pages and pages itemise every single detail of the role in hand can be extremely off putting to look at. They may even portray an illusion that your organisation is not good at planning strategically. To create a compelling job description, write down all the different areas of responsibility that the candidate is expected to cover. Then group them together and write one single statement which covers them all.

A job description should outline the expectations and requirements of the position so that you can attract the candidates who not only can do the job, but want to do the job.  See article from our extensive employer's advice library - Why employees deserve a proper job description

Every Good Job Description Should include "And Other Duties As Assigned"

An ideal situation for an employer is to hire an employee who is eager to do more than their assigned tasks. Employees that are interested in learning new skills can be invaluable to any businesses (especially small corporations). However, not all workers are dedicated to their jobs or the company that pays them every month. Employees who refuse to do more than their job description may only create headaches for an employer - and these candidates can be crossed of your potentially hiring list.

To summarise, a job description is prepared to clarify and explain to candidates what their duties and tasks are in the workplace.  It further details where and when an employee's duty ends and the duty of another employee starts. This will help to avoid shifting conflict and employee job duty related complaints.

To Conclude

Vacancies can't be filled successfully unless the job has been accurately defined in the first place. The job description and person specification are just as invaluable to candidates as they will be to you as an employer. Creating a clear picture of what is expected of the job and prospective employer will allow candidates to self-select thus enabling you to save your time rather than having to screen heaps of unsuitable applications.

Further Reading: Recruitment Planning Template and Checklist


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