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How To Write A Job Spec

A job specification is a piece of text that sets out the details of the role on offer.

Writing a job spec is not as easy as you might think. It takes a level of skill to get it right. And by right we mean targeted at the right candidates, and correctly advertising the vacancy on offer.

A job spec should never be rushed. It’s your future employee’s window into your company and the role they’ll potentially have within it. Get it right, and you’re on your way to finding the perfect fit. Get it wrong, and you’re setting yourself up for bad retention rates and never-ending recruitment cycles.

Writing a Job Spec

First things first; before you sit down to write your job spec, set aside some time to think about what your business needs, and who is ideally placed to fill that vacancy.

Be clear. If you write vague job descriptions, you’re not going to attract the right candidates. You’ve got to be clear about what and who you need. Anything else is a waste of time for you, your company and the applicant. Give a clear job title and set out what the responsibilities of the role are. It should also include a person specification setting out the skills and attributes you’re looking for in a candidate.

Be concise. There’s no set rule when it comes to the word count. However, waffle and complex jargon should be avoided at all costs. As should cutting out important details in a bid to be short and snappy. As a general rule, state what the job is, what skills and qualifications are needed, and what the benefits of working for your company are. Keeping it simple and straightforward will make it easier for you to fill the role with the right candidate. It also means that your job spec will be easier to find by candidates searching online for a position they want.

Be honest. Time and again, we’ve come across candidates who are disillusioned with the recruitment process, because the job they ended up being given was nothing like the description they signed up for. For example, don’t advertise the post as working from home, if what you mean is working from home one day a week. If you know that the role requires somebody for five days per week, don’t state that you’ll consider part-time.

Make it readable. Think about using bullet-points and shorter paragraphs. Highlight the most important points and required attributes to ensure that they don’t get skim read or missed.

Include the salary. Studies have shown that job advertisements containing salary information have a massive 40% increase in interest than those that don’t.

Talk to the applicant. The job spec should appeal to the person reading it. A good job advertisement talks directly to applicants.

Be flexible. Do you offer flexible working? Flexible working can do wonders for your business and will avoid missing out on excellent candidates.

Don’t discriminate. Avoid discriminatory language. As an employer, it’s against the law to discriminate on the grounds of ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality or health.

How To Identify The Skills You Need

An important part of a job spec is identifying the skills and traits an applicant will need to to carry out the role you’re advertising for. This is important, because you need to ensure that the right people, who are actually qualified and enthusiastic about doing the job, apply. It will also serve to manage the expectations of your future employees – everything is clear form the outset and you’ll minimise the risk of your team members being clear about their responsibilities and objectives.

When identifying the skills you need in the future members of your team, there’s a lot to think about.

For example, will your employee be required to work with particular software or IT systems? Is the work experience you’re looking for essential or desirable? Sometimes employers make the mistake of thinking that a particular skill or qualification is vital to apply, when in actual fact, it’s something that can be learned or acquired in-house for the right candidate.

That brings us onto training. Training and development are important for employees and your business as a whole. If you intend to invest in training for your new staff, this will have a bearing on how you write your job and persona spec, and the difference between an essential and desirable skill.

When it comes to the type of person you want to employ, make sure that you’re seeking recognisable traits to appeal to the widest possible audience. Some qualities are desirable across the board. Everyone values prospective candidates who are excellent communicators. You will also always need someone who can work as part of a team, but who are also able to use their initiative and work independently.

Make sure you’ve taken the time to research the right keywords to use in your job advertisements. This will increase your chances of the most appropriate people finding the role and applying for it. The keywords and phrases you use should relate to the specifics of the job spec, and include the skills and experience you are looking for.

Essential and Desirable Skills

When you advertise a vacancy, and write the job specification and person specification for it, the entire purpose is to tell candidates what the role is, what their responsibilities will be and how much they will get paid.

In terms of being able to carry out the job itself, it’s always a good idea to specify the kind of qualifications and skills you’re looking for in a candidate. You should also outline the type of person you’re looking for in terms of personality and drive, and whether you need them to have a specific way of working. The skill sets and personality types will vary from company to company, because each business has its own unique culture.

Most job descriptions tend to cover this by including different skill sections, namely; essential and desirable skills.

Essential Skills

These are the skills, qualifications and traits that are not up for discussion. They’re the things that your company cannot do without, and which are the absolute minimum that a candidate must posses in order to apply for the post. As a general rule, you wouldn’t offer an interview to someone who didn’t meet these criteria.

Such skills include qualifications, licenses, and certifications. It also covers the minimum number of years experience you’re looking for (whilst being very careful not to discriminate on the basis of a candidates age).

When it comes to the specific qualifications you require, be careful not to set the bar too high. You might want to consider being reasonable here, and give people a little room for manoeuvre. For example, if you want your candidates educated to degree level, do you absolutely need them to have achieved a first? Don’t make the mistake of making it impossible for potentially great candidates to apply, as you risk losing out on some very promising hires. Remember that as well as filling the vacancy, you’re looking to inspire confidence in the talent pool, not make them fail at the first hurdle.

When looking at essential skills, try to think outside the box. Do you need someone to be flexible?
Do they need to have a high level of initiative to work independently, or do they need to work as part of a team? Do you need someone capable of leading a team? Keep in mind that these things do not always come as a result of experience alone.

Desirable Skills

Desirable skills are exactly that; desirable. They’re not mandatory or essential to enable someone to carry out the job, but they’d certainly be beneficial. Such skills would enhance a candidate’s ability to do the job, and do it well. It might also be the case that you’d be willing to pay more for someone who was in possession of such skills, than for someone who wasn’t.

For candidates, the fact that they don’t have any or all of the desirable skills doesn’t bar them from applying. Only a lack of essential skills can do that. They’re still entitled to make an application and should be considered. Desirable skills can be thought of as bonus points, that extra something that would give one candidate the edge over another.

For an employer, desirable skills can result in less training being required on the job, and a sense of assurance that their chosen candidate is the best fit for the company. Quite often, employers see the same thing from their applicants in terms of skills and qualifications (particularly in high- level roles). The preferred skills section of a job specification helps to narrow the pool of serious contenders, whilst at the same time widening the pool of applicants.

The result? A diverse and varied recruitment process.

Person Specification

A person specification sets out the qualities you are looking for in your ideal candidate and future employee. It should include the type of personality traits you are looking for, as well as the necessary skills and experience.

What it should include:

The general skills a candidate should possess. This includes skills around organisation, communication, technology and creativity.

The level of experience you’re looking for. Does your ideal candidate require a certain number of years in the industry, or have a particular level of qualification?

Whether candidates need a specific skill or qualification to undertake the job. For example, if you’re recruiting for a secretary, do they need a typing qualification?

The character traits you know the candidate needs to do the job. Think about who would blend well with your current team and what type of person could effectively meet the needs of your clients. This is why it’s important that your job spec contains a level of detail and information about your company culture and ethos.

Any other relevant experience or successes. For example, would you welcome applications from candidates who have worked abroad or travelled? Does your company value volunteering work and experience?

It’s never a bad idea to talk to your existing staff and clients when you have a recruitment drive. Ask them the type of people they’d like to work with and who they think would do the job well. After all, they’re the ones who will be working with your chosen candidate on a day to day basis.

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