If you don’t know who you’re looking for, how will you know when you’ve found them?
In last week’s blog, I talked about the large investment that employing someone represents, how a systematic process can reduce the risk attached to that investment, and discussed the starting point for that process, the Job Description (JD). This week, I want to move to the next stage: the Person Specification, or Spec as it’s usually known. This is a key document in the recruitment process, because it sets out what qualities you’re looking for in candidates, and if you’re not clear about that, your chances of making an unsatisfactory appointment increase considerable.
As with JDs, there are lots of formats for the Spec, and you can find one that suits you or create your own. It doesn’t matter – what’s important for business and legal reasons (see below) is that the content of the Spec reflects the duties and responsibilities set out in the JD. It’s effectively your shopping list for a new employee.
What follows is my preferred format. For each quality or characteristic, I specify whether it is essential or desirable, and this distinction is really important. If you specify something as essential, what you’re saying is it’s a deal-breaker. When I cover the legal bit, it becomes clear why this is important. In general, don’t include anything in the Spec that you can’t assess in some way, whether it’s from the application, CV, interview or references.
Physical characteristics – You’ll only be concerned with this if the job has a physical component such as lifting, carrying, standing for extended periods. However, there are real sensitivities around disability discrimination, and I would suggest a catch-all phrase along the lines of “Able to carry out the duties of the post using any appropriate aids or adaptations”.
Education and Qualifications – Think about what’s essential and desirable in terms of the duties of the post. You need to think about academic qualifications, professional or trade association memberships, driving licences and so on. Don’t over-specify for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you set the bar too high you’ll lose out on potentially perfectly appointable candidates. Secondly, you run the risk of indirectly discriminating against candidates who lack those qualifications (see The Legal Bit below).
Experience – Again, don’t over-specify, and for the same reasons. What is actually essential experience, and what can be learnt once appointed? A lot of Specs describe experience in terms of length of time, but I would advise against this. What matters is the depth and quality of experience, not the years. Some people will gain all the experience they need in two years; others might not learn anything from ten years in a job. Using time spent to assess experience is won’t give you much to go on.
Skills and Abilities – This is about what the person must or should preferably be able to do, not necessarily what they have done. So things like ‘able to manage conflicting priorities’ ‘advanced user of MS Office’ etc.
Personal Qualities – What personal qualities will go towards making a great employee for you. Team worker or happy to work alone? Formal or informal approach? Steer clear of things that are entirely subjective like ‘good sense of humour’ – unless what you mean is someone who laughs at your jokes! Obviously don’t put anything in about age, marital status, sexuality etc.
Personal circumstances – Often there’s nothing to say here, but you might need to mention unsocial hours, travelling and staying away from home, being on call-out and so on. If the employee will need to provide their own car, that goes here too.
The Legal Bit
In last week’s blog I listed the ‘protected characteristics’ against which it is unlawful to discriminate, and described how discriminatory content might appear in a JD. But it’s in the Spec where discrimination, however unintentional, can most easily creep in. A quick re-cap on two types of discrimination relevant in the recruitment process:
Direct Discrimination occurs where a person A is treated less favourably than Person B because A has one or more protected characteristics. For example “this job would be more suitable for a man” “unsuitable for a disabled person” “waitress required” “must be married”. Such obvious discrimination is, thankfully, very rare nowadays. It is almost always deliberate.
Indirect Discrimination occurs where a ‘provision, criterion or practice’ is applied to a person A who has a protected characteristic and because of that protected characteristic A is disadvantaged compared with people who don’t have that characteristic. Examples might help here! Specifying that applicants must be at least 5’ 10” tall will discriminate against women, because they are less likely to be that height. Insisting that applicants must be clean shaven will discriminate against Sikhs, who are required to wear a beard. Requiring experience that is unbroken will disadvantage women who have had maternity breaks. Some of these are obvious, but specifying a qualification that is unnecessary might be found to be discriminatory if it can be shown that people of a particular ethnic group are less likely to have it. Indirect discrimination doesn’t have to be deliberate, and in fact usually isn’t. Some years ago, London Transport required bus conductors who wanted to become inspectors to pass a written English test. Almost all of the inspectors were white, despite a significant number of conductors being Asian. It was held that the standard of English required to pass the test was higher than that required to do the job, and that the Asian conductors were at a disadvantage because their English was not up to the standard of the test.
Next week, I’ll be looking at writing job advertisements and other means of getting your vacancy to the people you want to see it. In the meantime, if you have a recruitment need and would like some help or advice, don’t hesitate to contact me for a confidential chat.