The Person Spec


How do you write a Person Specification for a recruitment?



Recently I was talking on recruitment at an event and I was asked about how to write a person specification.



There are the easy bits that everyone knows, like the experience, the qualification and circumstances (within one hour of the office and so on) but what about the personality?



You can use all kinds of personality profiling tools, but what if you don’t know anything about them or aren’t qualified to use them?




How to define personality in a person specification without using tools


They objective here is you need to be clear about how you want your recruit to behave. More specifically you need them to behave in particular ways is very specific situations.



So here’s what you do. You identify the key situations your recruit will need to handle. For

Specific behaviours

How do you need your new recruit to behave in specific situations?

example, he or she may have to deal with upset customers. If this is the case be a specific as you can:


  • Able to calm down customers whose orders arrive late and persuade them to wait for new widget to arrive.
  • Able to calm customers who have recently experienced a bereavement and enable them to make the funeral arrangements.



In some person specifications these would both just be described as:



Excellent verbal communications skills.



Which isn’t very helpful.



Here’s another example:
Able to identify which products a customer needs for their pet and sell it to them.



Again, this would be described as “Excellent verbal communication skills.” But that wouldn’t be very helpful in recruiting them.


Once you have defined five or six situations (usually that’s all you need), then you can use this information in your recruitment process.



How to use the information


You can use this in your advertisement, to let people know what skills are required, and you can use it in your screening process, to check if people have those skills.



This is the purpose of the person specification – to help you discover if the candidate meets your needs. The better defined those needs are, the easier it will be for you to find your ideal candidate.



Our recruitment service


Our recruitment service includes helping you all the way through the process, and does not finish till your new hire is performing successfully in the role. If the candidate doesn’t work out we help you to deal with that situation and hire a candidate who does work out at no extra cost. We charge a flat rate of £4,500 + VAT – less than agencies charge you just to get you a CV.  To find out more contact us.


If you can’t wait that long, get our booklet “How to Hire Well” now.


To find out more about our recruitment service, contact us and we’ll arrange a call to go through your requirements.

Where did your good people come from?



Many years ago, when I was working as a production manager, I became intrigued by a

Woman on phone

Why did we hire her?

specific recruitment problem. Why was it that we had recruited so many people who were quite clearly not very suitable for the jobs they did? You know, the kind who hardly produce anything or spend more time on the phone than doing their job.


So I did a little bit of research. I asked my colleagues to name their top three employees and their worst three employees (their serious recruitment mistakes). Then I searched out the recruitment records of those individuals and put them into two piles (no computer records in those days).


I was looking for a correlation between what we thought at interview and performance in the role, and I found one. It was a negative correlation. Many of the people we often thought were good at interview turned out to be unreliable at best, troublemakers at worst. Those who had only just scraped in often turned out to be our most productive employees.


How did we get it so wrong?


Our biggest problems was that, on a factory floor you generally want people who will happily get on with their work and will produce consistently high quality. These people, by nature, are often shy and quiet. So they don’t come across very well in an interview. However, people who are extroverted and fun to talk to – in other words, great at interview – can get bored easily. They can lose concentration and then make mistakes.


They often like chatting to their friends so spend lots of time at the coffee machine or water cooler. At worst they can distract others and cause problems.


It was obvious really, but no one had taken the time to run the numbers.


How do you know what kind of person to recruit into a specific post?


From the way some people recruit, you’d have thought they haven’t given this aspect of recruitment the slightest thought. They simply recruit what they have always recruited and get the results they have always got.


Or they just make a guess and go for that. But it’s easy to be wrong when you make a guess about something so important. You assume that the ‘best qualified’ person will be the best for the role. Or the person with the most experience.


Here’s a really easy way to find out what kind of person you really need. Look at the facts.


A sensible approach


Find someone who is already doing the job in a way that produces the results you are looking for and identify what kind of person they are.


It may be you are recruiting someone to fill a post that is one of many similar posts in your organization. In that case, do a bit of research and identify the most effective people in that role and find out where they came from, what their qualifications are and what their experience is. Most importantly, find out where they would look if they were trying to find a new job.


A useful check


Do also look at things from the other side. Identify the people you would definitely not want to recruit again and do the same background research on them.


Once you have the information from both areas you can identify they key differences. They may surprise you, but whatever they are, you will have a head start in your recruitment campaign.


How to be happier with your decisions


How to be happier with your decisions



Here’s some great research on decision-making. The main reason I like it and wish I’d been involved in it is because it involved chocolate.



People were asked to choose a chocolate from a box. Some people had a choice of 24

A box with chocolates in

Life’s like a box of chocolates, well the decisions might be

different chocolates, others just six.



The interesting twist here was that, once people had chosen their chocolate, some were then asked to close the transparent lid of the box.



Interestingly, in the case of the box of 24 chocolates, those who put the lid back on the box enjoyed their chocolates more than those who did not. It made no difference in the 6 chocolate case.



Choc box closed

Make sure you close the lid after choosing

This research took me back to a lecture I attended by Dan Gilbert that touched on similar issues. His research identified that having longer to think about decisions and change your mind makes you less happy with the decision – even if you didn’t change your mind.



For some reason he didn’t include chocolate in his research.



Making decisions



Just today a client emailed to say he had 105 applicants so far for his post.



To me this indicates that his advertisement has attracted too many people. And I won’t be surprised to see that many of them are entirely unsuitable. So often I have seen clients struggling with recruitment. They seem convinced that the more candidates they have to choose from the better.



The key in all these situations (including the chocolate decisions) is to have a clear set of criteria. It’s worth spending time on your criteria to make sure they are right.



Chocolate criteria



Charlie, who works with me here at Vinehouse, asked me to get some chocolates for her husband, as she knew I was going to a particularly good chocolate shop yesterday. When you walk in to Chocolate Utopia (and it really is), you are confronted with a counter filled with 38 trays of their wonderful chocolates. You can imagine the challenge.



However, Charlie made it easy for me by letting me know that her husband prefers dark chocolate. She had also given me a budget and that made things even easier.



I picked a box in her price range and asked the very helpful assistant to fill it up with dark chocolates.



Naturally I also bought a few for myself. Having tried most of them (yes, really) I already had my criteria prepared. The criteria were that the chocolates must include only my top 6 favourite flavours (Mint Truffle, Madagascar, Tonka, Ginger, Chilli and Plain Chocolate) and one I had not tried before, in this case Morello Cherry.



I was able to complete my onerous task quickly because I had spent some time working on my criteria in advance.



And I can assure you I walked away with a light step and a happy smile on my face. I had no regrets or worries as I bit into the first one.



Recruitment decisions



The key with recruitment, just like chocolate, is getting those criteria right in the first place. I have been working on this with one client for three weeks already. However, we are making progress. If we’d rushed ahead when we first spoke we would have been aiming at completely the wrong person.



The other key thing is; once you have found a candidate who meets the criteria, stop looking.



Offer the candidate the job and then do your best to help him or her to be successful in the job rather than worrying about all the other people you could have employed.



It’s the same as putting the lid back on the box or walking out of the shop.



You can find out more about the research here:


To find out more about Daniel Gilbert’s research, see his book: “Stumbling on Happiness”.

What are appraisals and PDRs really for?


Do you remember the first performance review or appraisal you carried out?



My first appraisal


When I think back to the first appraisals I carried out, I cringe with horror. I had no idea

Worried woman

My first appraisal – how did it help?

of what I was doing. I had had no training so I was just using my initiative. In fact the first time I did one, I don’t think I’d even had one myself, so I couldn’t even follow the example of my manager.



I remember vague pieces of advice like “Go through what they have done over the year.” That was about it. Oh yes, and probably something about objectives. That was a complete joke. Our objectives were meaningless phrases that were generally completely meaningless by the time it came to appraisal time.



No one knows what performance reviews are for


Over the years I have run many training workshops on appraisals and performance reviews. Sadly, I am never surprised to discover just how many people have no idea what appraisals are really for.



The trouble is, the title “Appraisal” or “Performance Review” is not helpful. “Performance Development Review” (PDR) is better.



What is the purpose of the Performance Development Review?


In my view the purpose of a PDR, appraisal or performance review is to make sure the individual (the appraisee) has all the tools he or she needs in order to achieve the objectives for the next year to the required standard.



I have spent a great deal of time over the years thinking about this and researching all kinds of ideas on appraisals, but ultimately, if you don’t make sure the individual can achieve the objectives for the following year, you may as well not have bothered. Discovering how well or badly you have done is of no consequence if you don’t act on that information.



Dreadful paperwork


Over many years I have seen a great number of performance review forms. Most of them have been unhelpful at best. The worst one (some 17 pages long) would have been funny if it hadn’t been such a waste of resources. It was full of repetition, irrelevant questions and was viewed by those whose performance was recorded on it as a very effective way of ensuring they never got a pay rise.



Once you realise that the appraisal is there to ensure you can do your job well over the next year, it makes carrying out a performance review much easier. Your whole approach can be focussed on helping the individual to identify what they need to do differently (if anything) and agreeing a plan on how they go about that. Of course this does depend on making sure you have the objectives for the following year (or relevant period) up to date and ready.



For more help with appraisals and performance reviews, get “Praise and the Appraisal” a step-by-step guide on what to do to make it easy and effective.