The person specification

A person specification is profile of the knowledge, skills, education and training, personal qualities and proven abilities you will look for during the recruitment and selection process.

A person specification informs potential applicants about theleveland complexity of the job and helps them to decide whether to apply for the job.It:

  • Establishes the essential criteria against which all candidates will be judged objectively
  • sets desirable criteria which can be used to establish the most suitable candidates

The criteria you decide on should relate directly to the duties detailed in the job description, and contain the minimum  requirements necessary to do the job effectively.

  • You are advised to take care over the content of the person specification as discrimination claims often relate to the wording of this section of the job description.


Deciding on Criteria

You should consider the attributes that an applicant will need to have at the point of appointment in order to carry out the job description.

When filling in the boxes you should consider carefully whether the requirements are 'essential' or 'desirable':

Essential  - those criteria that are critical for the performance of the job and every candidate invited to interview should be able to demonstrate.

Desirable  - those criteria that will enhance the candidate's capacity to perform the duties within the job or indicate potential for candidate development.

For example, if the post is one for a qualified Youth Worker then 'Youth Worker qualification' would appear under 'Education and Training' in the 'Essential' column.  If the post is for a caretaker and the ability to operate a specific type of heating system within the role would be helpful but is not an essential requirement for the role, an entry should be made under 'Proven Ability' in the 'Desirable' column.

These should then be added to the boxes on the person specification (template available here) an overview of the categories is available below. 


Categories of Criteria

  1. Education/Qualifications/Training
    Be careful not to narrow down your choice of applicants by being too demanding here: is there an equivalent or similar qualification that is also sufficient. Are you quite sure that a qualification is needed? Could the applicant prove that they are suitable by demonstrating a particular skill or proven ability instead?
  2. Skills and abilities
    Be as precise as possible and try to identify the level required. For example, "Communication Skills" is imprecise. What do you mean by this? Do you actually mean a range of things such as "the ability to communicate clearly in writing", "skills in preparing and delivering presentations to groups or people", and "the ability to write senior level management reports" ?
  3. Proven Ability
    Specify the type and level of ability. Stipulating a length of time that someone must have worked in a particular job previously may feel necessary but may be contravening employment law. Often it is the ability to undertake particular tasks, projects, or activities that is important. Be careful not to exclude people by stipulating precise periods of past experience; focus on what it is you need them to have done previously.
  4. Knowledge
    There might well be particular legislation, good practice, or guidance that you need applicants to know about. It might be reasonable to say that it is essential, but think about whether it would be acceptable for the person to pick up the knowledge required within a short time of starting work.
  5. Other requirements
    This is where you put other job-based requirements which might be things like: driving licence (if the job requires the person to drive); or flexibility in relation to working hours (bearing in mind that we try to accommodate people's different needs in relation to working hours).

    A well thought out person specification will ensure that you have the largest possible field of appropriate applicants to select from, and that your decisions will be made as fairly as possible.


Avoiding Discrimination

If, at this early stage of the recruitment process, inappropriate or unnecessary criteria or conditions are attached to the job or to the person being sought, this could in certain circumstances constitute indirect discrimination on grounds of age, disability,  gender, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.

Managers responsible for defining the various elements of the job description and person specification should thus take care to ensure that the requirements specified for candidates' qualifications, experience, skills, etc are sensibly matched to the needs of the job. Where a particular criterion or condition could potentially have a disproportionate adverse impact on a particular group, for example a racial group, it is particularly important to scrutinise it carefully to establish whether it is genuinely necessary and proportionate in relation to the effective performance of the job, and not just based on an individual manager's personal opinion or attitude.


  • PHRASE requirements (other than vocational qualifications) in the form of competencies or abilities, for example;
  • Able to communicate clearly (both in writing and verbally)
  • Able to maintain accurate written/computer records
  • Able to keep accurate records of petty cash transactions up to £100
  • Has a flexible approach to working pattern
  • Has a good knowledge of Microsoft Office software
  • Able to travel within all areas within the circuit


  • AVOID speaking in terms of years of experience, health or personality. These can be challenged on the grounds of being discriminatory, for example;
  • 5 GCSEs
  • GCSEs in English and Maths
  • 5 years' experience working as an Administrator
  • In good health
  • Energetic


Circumstances in which criteria and conditions can be discriminatory

Careful thought should be given before specifying a religious affiliation.  It is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief unless there is an genuine occupational requirement.  If there is a requirement (that is, the job cannot be done unless the requirement in the specification is met) then it must appear as an essential and not as a desirable.  This information needs to be stated clearly in the advert and also tasks relating to the occupational requirement should be reflected in the body of the job description.

Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults

It is a legal requirement for all circuits and districts to ensure that all employees - who will have prolonged dealings with vulnerable adults or children e.g.  Carers, Youth Workers, Care Takers - obtain the required certificate of disclosure from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).  For further information see the paragraph on Disclosure in Section 8, and the Guidelines for the Appointment and Employment of People with a Criminal Record, provided in Appendix 2.2.

People with a Disability

An employer must make reasonable adjustments in the recruitment and employment of disabled people.  This can include adjustments to recruitment and selection procedures, working arrangements and physical changes to premises or equipment.

A person specification must never include unacceptable risks to an employee's health or safety at work.  For example, a job that requires heavy lifting should have provision for lifting equipment; a job that requires working at heights should have provision for supervision when the higher risk duties are to be carried out.  Reference should be made to the Health and Safety Executive's guidance before such requirements are included.

Using specific definitions in the specification (as long as they are relevant) will help to avoid claims of discrimination on the grounds of disability.  The checklist is intended to help you define what is needed.  Some of the prompts relate to health and safety standards. 

A checklist to help you define the physical and mental requirements of the job is provided at Appendix 5.6.  This should be used to identify specific requirements in the person specification and should not be sent to applicants. 


Template Document

There are two examples provided at Appendix 5.3 and Appendix 5.4 as a guide.  A blank person specification template is available at Appendix 5.5



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