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Recruitment and Selection: The Person Specification

The person specification is the single most important document in effective recruitment and selection. It enables you to do a number of things. It allows you to define the kind of person you want and so helps you to write an accurate job advert. It enables you to assess each candidate fairly and objectively. And it enables you to compare candidates against each other and therefore make selections based on evidence. The best-written person specifications also comply with the following 3 practices.

1. Job Requirements are Specific and Measurable

The value of a person specification is that it allows recruiters to compare evidence from each candidate against the requirements of the job. It is important therefore for information to be specific and measurable. Verbs like "to know how to... ", "to understand...", "to appreciate..." are not specific and should be avoided. It is much better to describe specific requirements such as "the ability to bring conflict to positive outcomes", "at least one year's experience of leading teams". These can be measured. Criteria such as "sense of humour" or "must fit in" are equally unspecific and should be replaced with actual job requirements, such as "an ability to meet deadlines"; "a detailed knowledge of programming" which can be measured.

2. Job Criteria are Fair, Relevant and Justifiable

The person specification you use in recruitment and selection must contain fair, relevant, and justifiable criteria.

• Don't ask for qualifications unless they are essential as an entry requirement for the job (eg a doctor, an architect) or desirable to do the job well
· Don't equate a qualification with a skill
· Don't confine yourself to looking only at work experience if you want a skill: it could have been acquired outside work
· Don't talk in terms of minimum time periods for experience since we all learn skills at different rates. "Around three years' experience" is better than "a minimum of three years' experience"
· Avoid unnecessary qualifications just because "we've always asked for two "A" grades for that job"
· Add the phrase "or equivalent" when specifying qualifications, just in case similar qualifications were obtained abroad or by a different method.

3. Each Requirement is Classed as Essential or Desirable

The essential criteria in a person specification are the requirements which all applicants need to possess if they are to be considered for the job. The desirable criteria are the extras which make the difference between the candidates and allow you to select. Essential criteria are the minimum requirements, the basis for rejection. Desirable criteria are the optional extras, the basis for selection. Since nobody can be considered for the job unless they possess all the essential criteria, you shouldn't make things too hard by listing too many or to few essential criteria. A norm of seven to ten is about right.

When you design your person specifications in this way, selections are almost automatic and the hiring process is as near scientific as it can be. With requirements set down and evidence recorded, not only is your recruitment and selection free from bias, you are also bound to get the best candidate. 

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