Matching Your Skills To A Job’s Person Specification

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Filling in job application forms can be a long and boring process, especially if you are applying for a number of jobs at once. However, it is vital that you use the application form and covering letter to show that you are the ideal person for the job. One way to do this is to match your skills and knowledge to the ‘person specification’.

What is a ‘person specification’?

This is a document that accompanies a job advert. It is produced by the staff members in the department which is hiring, in conjunction with their HR department. The document outlines the knowledge and skills that they are looking for in their ideal candidate. These criteria are divided into two categories: those that are ‘essential’ and others that are ‘desirable’. In some cases, the criteria will be personal attributes, and in others they reflect particular skills or knowledge that you will be required to demonstrate if you get the job.

What if I don’t meet the criteria?

Unless you can demonstrate experience of every item in the ‘essential’ list, then it is probably not worth applying for the job. Some job adverts provide the name of an informal contact and if you believe that you are perfect for the job in every way apart from missing one criteria, contact this person and ask whether they would consider your application.

Proving you can do it:

You cannot simply state that you fulfil the criteria. You have to give examples to illustrate when you have done this previously. Take the case of an essential criteria looking for someone who ‘uses innovative teaching methods’. The examples given must be specific, so it is not acceptable to say that ‘ I have shown innovative teaching methods during my time working at the University of X’. You should say what these teaching methods were, what course you taught at the time, and also give a date.

In many cases it will also be appropriate to demonstrate the results. So, for example, you can show that your innovative teaching methods were effective by giving details of any improvement in attendance, student performance or student feedback on the course. Don’t forget that you may have had a chance to demonstrate certain criteria (such as ‘leadership skills’) outside the workplace, in voluntary work or even while undertaking hobbies.

How to present this information:

Increasingly, job applications are judged on a tick-box system. Because there is not time for the hiring committee to read through hundreds of applications in detail to get a feel for them before deciding who to remove from the pool, many panels start by going through the applications and removing any applicants who do not meet all of the ‘essential’ criteria. Therefore think of ways to be creative when presenting your information that proves you do match these criteria. Using bullet points, underlining or bold letters is a way of attracting the reader’s eye to the relevant parts of your application. Working through each of the criteria in turn may seem formulaic and mechanical, but it will ensure that every box is ticked when your application is being judged.

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