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Rob Ashton

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Recruiting? Get the job spec write!


Rob Ashton explains how to write your way to the ideal candidate. 

It’s the start of the new year and the UK is sitting on a glut of unwanted Christmas presents. Matching present to person is seldom an easy task. It takes time and effort. But in the run up to Christmas, many people will have taken a wild stab in the dark; picking up something passable from a department store and hoping for the best. Little wonder then that the bill for unwanted gifts is an estimated £700m (according to recent research by eBay and market research firm TNS).

Style tips

  • Proofread everything thoroughly. Get a colleague to fine-comb through your specification to spot any spelling mistakes or typos. Make sure they use a pointer (such as a pen or pencil) and stop it at every single word to ensure that it’s error free.
  • Keep your sentences short and sweet. The human brain struggles to process sentences longer than 34 words. So keep yours between 15-20 words for the greatest impact.
  • Visit to access a host of free online writing resources. You can subscribe to Write On – a free monthly writing skills podcast. You can even put your business writing queries directly to a team of experts for a response within 48 hours.

When it comes to choosing a new recruit, no HR professional would ever use this haphazard approach. But sometimes you can outline exactly what you want in a job specification and still end up with the equivalent of a naff jumper. Communicating with prospective candidates is not a perfect science. But it’s disheartening to trawl through CVs or application forms that bear little relation to the qualities that you carefully described. Not to mention a waste of time and money.

In such a situation, the problem is that somewhere along the line, what the hirer meant was lost in translation. And even though they may have received some spot-on applications, they’ll be unable to shake the feeling that they’ve lost the opportunity to find the largest pool of talented individuals.

If that’s ever happened to you, the good news is that learning some writing skills techniques can help you to be as clear and concise as possible – increasing your chances of finding the ideal people for your positions.

So here are my seven tips for writing winning job specifications that will resonate with job hunters.

1. Examine why you need the role to start with
To do this you can brainstorm using the headings who?, what?, where?, when?, and why?  Make sure that the role fits your departmental processes and that you are not empire building. And be realistic about the nature of the role. Whether the role is temporary or permanent, you need to understand the commitment of either structure to the organisation.

2. Before you begin writing the job spec, focus your thoughts on the job hunter
Avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ by asking yourself:

  • Who will read it?
  • How much do they already know about the prospective job?
  • What do they absolutely need to know?
  • What will excite my ideal candidate?
  • What response do I want from them?

Then write a clear description of duties and include the key deliverables. Whether it’s a junior or senior role, use language that the level of applicant you want to attract will understand – even if this includes jargon. But avoid management speak at all costs.

3. Be honest about the duties of the role
In most situations, candidates will appreciate your candour about the level of energy required. And it will help you find someone with the right level of drive that the role requires.

4. Write a summary of your company and department
Include an organisation chart defining where the position sits. It also helps to provide some background information explaining why the role has been created and how it will integrate into the organisation.
5. Outline both the hard and soft skills and experience required to make the role a success
Make your writing reader-centred by using words such as ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘us’. Opt for verbs instead of nouns. For example, instead of ‘we’re looking for a hardworking consultant for the completion of an IT project’ write ‘we’re looking for a hardworking consultant to complete an IT project.’ And choose simple words over more complicated ones. It’s better to say you want someone ‘enthusiastic’ (or even ‘keen’) rather than someone ‘ebullient’.

6. Clearly define the location, salary, benefits, duration of contract (if necessary) and start date
Make sure you account for statutory requirements, such as procurement or legal terms and conditions.

7. Finally, ensure your contact details are included and end with a call to action
Something simple such as, ‘If this sounds like you, call the human resources department now…’ will encourage candidates to take action.

Remember to keep your focus on your ideal candidate throughout the writing process, and you’ll increase the chances of securing the perfect match.

You can get a free copy of The Write Stuff to help you with the writing process

This 60-page guide contains the very essence of good writing. And Emphasis has agreed to send a copy free of charge to the first 100 members to contact them. Visit to get your copy.

Rob Ashton is chief executive of Emphasis, the specialist business writing trainers. For free online writing help, go to

© 2009 Emphasis Training Limited. First British serial rights offered.


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