Job seekers: don’t overlook the person specification

When applying for a new job how much attention do you pay to the person specification?  A lot of time gets consumed reading through – what can be – very lengthy job descriptions. The result is that by the time you’ve found the person specification, attention deficit disorder has well and truly kicked in. This is a shame as the person specification is the most important document in determining whether you should apply for a job.

Many job seekers toil for hours CV writing or completing application forms trying to match their expertise to the job description. The job description describes the responsibilities for a role. The person specification details the skills needed to be considered in the first place. There is a huge difference.  Usually, you only need to meet the requirements of the person specification – not the job description. This may be surprising but there are many reasons for this, not least because there could be aspects of a job that are unique or that you might only learn through doing the job for some time.

The person specification acts like a funnel.

An open person specification can attract transferable skills from different working environments. Closed person specifications might channel applications from a very narrow audience.  There is often a tendency for employers to be very closed in what they are looking. This is to the detriment of candidates that could bring an original and different approach. Even worse is to ask for say ‘5 year’s experience.’ This is particularly unfortunate for those that have only 4 years 11 months experience yet attained exceptional results. Surely employers should be encouraged to open up person specifications more generally instead of trying to clone the previous post holder? We’d have a far more creative and productive economy with the introduction of new ideas from different experiences.

Why is the person specification so often overlooked?

One reason could be that the first question you’d ask of yourself is ‘could I do this job?’ The most natural next step is obviously then to read the job description. But wait, think about it. You already know the essence of the role from the advertisement or other source. Before you get even more excited make sure you meet the requirements of the job first – read the person specification.

Another reason might simply be that job descriptions always come first and can be so long and detailed that the reader is suffering from information overload by the time they get to the person specification. Public service employers, particularly local authorities, can be guilty of a ridiculous amount of unnecessary detail. “8.45am switch on computer. Go and make tea or coffee. If PC has not loaded up within 5 minutes go and check the IT team are not playing World of Warcraft and hogging all the bandwidth…”

So, although the job description may be longer and get listed first, ignore the person specification at your peril. After making sure you meet the requirements, make sure your CV and covering letter clearly demonstrate how you match the person specification – using examples to demonstrate. No two person specifications are the same, so tailor your approach to each application. When you’ve got the job you can worry about why the systems are running so slow.

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