How to write an effective person specification

Jun 11, 2018 | Recruitment

If you are recruiting for a vacancy, it’s vital to think carefully about exactly what kind of person you need. Defining this right makes sourcing candidates, short listing and interviewing so much easier, and maximises the chance of getting the right person first time.

You can do this on a person specification. Although it’s sometimes part of, or attached to, a job description, unlike the job description (which is about the job itself) the person specification sets out the knowledge, skills and experience that are required to do that job.

You should ensure that all the criteria you specify are justifiable and necessary for the role. Don’t be tempted to put criteria which are not necessary, as you may unnecessarily restrict your pool of candidates and may even put yourself at risk of a discrimination claim. You may wish to list criteria which are- essential’ and criteria which are- desirable’, and could consider including the follow areas in your person specification:


This section could outline knowledge of IT software, office procedures or specific professional areas of knowledge required for the job.


This section outlines the personal attributes the candidate will need in order to perform the job. Some of these will be specific skills but others might be more along the lines of personal qualities. It’s fine to include these as long as you can justify them, as they are often really important, and will also help candidates who don’t have those qualities to self-select themselves out of the process.

Try to be as specific as possible. For example- good interpersonal skills’ is vague and open to wide interpretation. Think about why the person needs these skills, what do you actually require them to do for this role. It may be liaising effectively with a wide range of people, or presenting proposals in a logical manner. The more specific you can be, the more effective your selection of candidates will be.


Formal qualifications from a professional awarding body, degrees, diplomas, NVQs, licenses should be listed here, together with level of education required. When listing qualifications or standards of education, only ask for them if they are actually necessary for the role, don’t be tempted to just use them to reduce candidates, or to assume that candidates who’ve studied a lot will automatically be better at the job in question.

There may be roles for which a degree in a specific subject may be necessary to perform the job, but you must be able to specify which type of degree is necessary and if questioned be able to explain why this is necessary to perform the role. Think instead about what you actually need in terms of skills. Abilities which may have been gained from studying for a degree could also have been gained elsewhere. Older candidates are less likely to have further or higher education qualifications, so including those as a requirement when not strictly necessary may open you up to claims of age discrimination as well as potentially excluding a rich source of valuable experience for your business.


When outlining experience needed, avoid giving a required number of years. Individuals learn at different rates, and this could also constitute age discrimination against younger candidates. Instead think about what you would specifically like people to have had experience of, specific tasks, projects or responsibilities. Someone who’s done the job really well for a couple of years will be far more valuable than someone who’s done it for 10 years but is actually of mediocre quality – it’s perfectly possible to sit in a job for a long time not performing particularly well.


You could include here information about potential flexibility of the role in terms of working hours, where the role is based, any travel required. Make sure these requirements are all genuinely necessary for the job.

Avoid requiring candidates to be able to drive unless absolutely necessary. Specifying a need for the ability to travel regularly around a specific area will convey what you need and will enable those candidates who are disabled or unable to drive for another reason to propose how they could do the job without a car.


Getting the person specification right will help you throughout the rest of the recruitment process and will maximize your chances of successful recruitment of the right candidate.


If you want help writing an effective person specification to find the best person for the job do get in touch.