What is a Person Specification?

emily gordon brown
Emily Gordon BrownLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 21st December 2023

If you are an employer seeking effective strategies in defining and refining person specifications and ensuring a seamless and inclusive hiring process, then you've come to the right place.


Unlock the key to hiring success with our article, with tips to tailor your hiring criteria and find the perfect match for your team.

We cover:

  • What are person specifications used for?

  • What needs to be included in a person specification

  • What shouldn’t be included in a person specification

  • Differences between person specifications and job descriptions

  • Tips for writing person specifications

What is a person specification? 

A person specification is a description of the essential and desirable traits of an ideal candidate for a job role. It can also be described as profile of the ideal candidate you need to fill a position.

What is the purpose of a person specification?

The purpose of a person specification is to find the right candidate for a job. 

It can be a handy tool for your internal recruiting team as it means they know the candidate they’re looking for and the key skills and experience to search for when reviewing CVs. In essence, it will help refine and streamline the interview process

On the other hand, job candidates can assess whether they are the right fit for your organisation as you’ve taken the trouble to spell out the type of candidate you require.

It differentiates between essential and desirable skills. These can be communicated to candidates via a job ad, so now prospective employees will know how closely they meet your businesses requirements and whether applying for your role is worth their time and effort.

A person specification also gives employers an opportunity to state that they do not discriminate against applicants, whether by age, gender, sexual identity, gender assignment, disability and more.

Based on all of the above, you should be assessing all candidates on the same level playing field, removing bias.

What should be included in a person specification?

Person specifications should include the exact skills needed to perform a job. Employing someone who doesn’t match your person specification can lead to disappointment for the job candidate and your business if they end up not being a right fit for the company.

These documents should lay out the type of experience a job role needs, not necessarily the number of years needed. You don’t want to scare talented people off from applying - indeed, many job ads now try to reassure candidates that they want to hear them even if their skills, and number of years’ experience aren’t an exact match for the role.

Someone may have a wider range of experience and bring more to a role than another candidate with many years’ experience doing the same tasks, so don’t be afraid to widen your search for the ideal person. Moreover, you might consider referencing the amount of experience someone has in a particular area, rather than mentioning a specific number of years of experience.

It is important to include the desired experience and qualifications candidates should have, especially as some industries and job roles are legally required to list this.

The following should be included on a person specification: 

  • Attainments – qualifications, experience, training 

  • Soft skills – collaboration, project and time management

  • Specific competencies – exposure to agile ways of working, proficiency with software

  • Personality – motivated, self-starter, resilient, independent

  • Physical – if manual labour is required, or perfect eyesight is needed (airforce)

  • Languages – the role might need other language skills or list them as desirable

  • Work location – whether the person is comfortable with a hybrid, remote or 100% office-based role

What shouldn’t be included in a person specification?

A person specification must be:

  • Justifiable – only include selection criteria that is relevant to the candidate being able to perform the tasks mentioned in the job description you post online. Non justifiable criteria may be discriminatory: an example could be insisting someone has a degree for a role when they can demonstrate their capability through work experience, or have gained the necessary qualifications through other forms of education

  • Measurable – how do you measure how a candidate meets your criteria? If it’s a job in a creative field, you might ask to see examples of their work. If they need to understand legislation, you could ask competency-based questions.

  • Non-discriminatory – An example of a discriminatory job advert would be to request native English language skills, or not to give people the opportunity to list any disabilities they might need accommodations for in the job application process. We've written an article on 10 hidden signs of discrimination in the workplace, if you’re looking to eliminate the possibility of discrimination in your workplace.

  • Specific – it’s hardly surprising that you need to be specific in a person specification. But what does this really mean? For example, what does relationship building skills really mean? You should instead specify that the ideal candidate for the role needs to be comfortable working with anyone from the CEO to managing a junior colleague, all while being approachable and professional.

Person specifications vs job descriptions

Like a person specification a job description is a constituent part of a job advertisement

As a person specification comes first, someone reading a job advert will have established whether they are the type of person that a company is looking for before they get to the job description element of the advert. Now, they can analyse whether the job itself is suitable. 

A job description outlines the purpose, tasks, responsibilities and job. Another way of looking at the differences between the two is - a job description describes the specifics of a job and a person specification describes the qualities of the ideal candidate.

Here’s how the two fundamentally differ:

Person specifications

Job descriptions

Purpose of the role

Essential skills and qualifications

Company background and team structure

Desired skills and qualifications

Position responsibilities

Personality traits

Tasks and measures of success

Anti-discriminatory requirements

5 Top tips for writing a person specification

When writing a person specification, it might be tempting to be too prescriptive and idealised. Explore our top tips for writing a person specification below to help you attract a suitable pool of candidates.

  1. Always be realistic – there’s no point in being too restrictive with the experience and qualities demanded of desired candidates - you may end up turning away qualified people and have to start the job search again with a brand-new advert.

  2. Set S-M-A-R-T criteria – to assess someone’s competency and capabilities accurately criteria should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based. Think about how you can test the interview candidate based on the information provided in the person specification. If you’re expecting them to grow sales by X% for instance, ask about a time when they did something similar in their previous work experience.

  3. Skills – list skills that are complementary to the rest of the team - perhaps you’re looking to cover a skills gap in the company with the new hire’s experience?

  4. Tone of voice – your job ad might be the first exposure a potential employee has to your business. So, you’ll want to ensure that your business comes across in the right light. You’ll need to advocate your brand values and mission, highlight your achievements, and accurately represent the culture at your business. Overpromising, covering up inconvenient truths, or lying about what your business stands for and represents can cause poor onboarding processes and lead to new employee dissatisfaction and even a high turnover.

Our experts can help your business stay compliant

Employees increasingly know their rights at work, so creating legally compliant person specifications, policies and employment contracts is crucial to avoiding workplace discrimination claims and fostering a diverse, inclusive work environment. For help in any and all employment matters, contact our solicitors today.

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