Law guide: Employment

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Job descriptions

Job descriptions

Job descriptions

When employing staff, an employer should write a job description. Job descriptions should detail the purpose, tasks, skills, qualifications, experience and responsibilities required for the job. A good job description should:

  • Describe the main purpose of the job in one sentence
  • Detail the main tasks and duties of the job using active verbs, like 'writing', 'repairing', 'machining', 'calculating', instead of vaguer terms like 'dealing with', 'in charge of'
  • Expand on the main tasks and the importance of the job. Job importance can be indicated by giving information such as the number of people to be supervised, the degree of precision required and the value of any materials and equipment used
  • Contain a profile of the skills, experience, qualifications or aptitudes considered essential and desirable in the jobholder (a person specification)

A good job description can help with recruitment, induction and training. It enables prospective applicants to assess themselves for the job, and can be used as guidance for judging achievements. Consequently the job description should be included in the covering letter sent to each applicant with the job application form.

Person specification

Drawing up the person specification allows the organisation to profile the ideal person to fill the job. It is very important that all the skills, experience, qualifications or aptitudes included in the specification are related precisely to the needs of the job. If not, there is a greater chance that someone will be employed who is not suited for the role.

The person specification should not state any unnecessary requirements for the job to avoid the possibility of discrimination against particular groups of potential applicants. Writing a job and person specification should help an employer to develop and implement a policy of equal opportunity in the recruitment and selection of employees.

Factors to consider

Factors to consider when drawing up the specification include:

  • The length and type of experience necessary, being careful not to overstate the requirements (For example, do not ask for 'excellent knowledge of English' when 'good understanding' is more appropriate.)
  • The competencies necessary, making it clear what importance is placed on each criterion, and whether it is necessary or desirable. Try to avoid vague criteria
  • Education and training, but only so far as is necessary for satisfactory job performance, unless the person is being recruited on the basis of future potential (e.g. graduate trainees), when a higher level of education may be specified. It should also be made clear that degrees or diplomas attained abroad are acceptable, so long as they are of an equivalent standard to UK qualifications
  • Any criteria relating to personal qualities or circumstances which are essential and directly related to the job. These must be applied equally to all groups irrespective of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnic origin, nationality, religion or belief (England, Wales and Scotland) or religious belief or political opinion (Northern Ireland) and membership or non-membership of a trade union. To do otherwise is potentially discriminatory

The person specification assists with the selection of candidates and the subsequent interview. For more information, see the Code of Practice on Racial Equality in Employment from the Equality and Human Rights Commission or, in Northern Ireland, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland website.

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