Developing a Job Description and Person Specification

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A job description sets out the overall purpose of a role and the main tasks to be carried out. The associated person specification details the skills and experience required in order to perform the job effectively. Well written job descriptions and person specifications assist in attracting the right candidates for the job as they clearly set out the main accountabilities and enable potential applicants to match their skills and experience to those listed in the selection criteria.

The job description firstly captures why a post is necessary and where it fits into the current structure. It is also used by Human Resources to evaluate the post in terms of complexity and responsibility against the job level descriptors and to determine the appropriate grade. Please see our website for further information on Academic Job Level Descriptors and Support Staff Job Level Descriptors. The job description forms part of the contract of employment, detailing what is expected of the post-holder and should be used as a measure of performance going forwards.

The Job Description and Person Specification should be populated within the Further Particulars Template.

Job Purpose

This should be an accurate and concise statement, one or two sentences in length as to why the job exists and the main contribution it makes to the university.

Some examples of job purposes are listed below:

  • Food and Beverage Assistant: to prepare and serve food ensuring hygiene regulations are adhered to.
  • Clerical Assistant:to provide clerical support for postgraduate and undergraduate courses and to provide support for student administration.
  • Technician: to develop, construct and maintain mechanical and electrical components and apparatus for teaching and research.

Main Activities/Responsibilities

This is a list of the main responsibilities with an emphasis on contribution and outcomes, and should be listed in order of importance. It is not a detailed task list i.e. how the job is done.

It is important to avoid ambiguity and be clear about the post holder’s principal activities. For most jobs up to approximately 10 statements are sufficient to cover the main responsibilities, depending on the complexity of the role. Each responsibility statement should follow the format – ‘what is done…to what or with whom…to achieve what end result’. Here is an example:

“Allocate work fairly and evenly to four clerical assistants to ensure that the Departmental Office runs smoothly and effectively”.

This statement is appropriate because it includes information on the three elements mentioned above:

What is done:  Work is allocated
To what or with whom: To four clerical assistants
To achieve what end result: The smooth and efficient running of the Departmental Office

A less appropriate example of a main responsibility statement would be:

“Support students in a laboratory”.

In this example, it will not be clear at what level the post-holder is operating, this information is necessary for evaluation purposes and for clarity for applicants/post-holders. The statement does not, for example, show what the end result of this activity would be. A more appropriate example would be:

“Provide technical assistance on a one-to-one basis to undergraduate students so that they are supported in completing their laboratory experiments”.

Template job descriptions for Academic Professional posts are available on the HR Website.

Selection criteria

The selection criteria detail the skills, experience, abilities, and expertise required to carry out the job effectively and enable recruitment panels to evaluate and select candidates objectively, consistently, and transparently to reduce the possibility of unfair discrimination.

  • The criteria should flow directly from the duties, be specific to the role, and be measureable so as to judge and select candidates objectively, and manage future performance.
  • Criteria which are subjective and for which little evidence is likely to be obtained through the selection process must be avoided.
  • The type of experience applicants are required to have should be specified, however stipulating length of experience required should be not be used.
  • The criteria should be realistic, don’t set higher standards than are necessary for the job.
  • Avoid listing criteria that can be interpreted in many ways e.g. excellent communication skills, or good educational background, and be more specific about what is required
  • Differentiate between essential and desirable criteria. Essential criteria are those that are required to perform the job effectively. Desirable criteria are those that may enable better or more immediate performance in a job.