How to match your skills to a Person Specification

When you read a job ad, there are certain items of information you are probably most interested in, such as the salary on offer, the number of hours’ work expected of you, and the location of the role, among others.  Down at the bottom, you’ll typically find a bullet point list of the attributes expected of the ideal candidate, and if you feel like you meet enough of the criteria, you may decide to apply for the job.

But it’s not like buying a sandwich or a new car – that tempting wrapping, in this case the job advert, isn’t just there to entice you into applying, it’s also there to weed out unsuitable candidates.

As such, your chances of making it to the interview stage – and beyond – are maximised if you can ensure your application shows how well you fit all of the essential criteria, and as many of the desirable attributes as possible.

Reading a Person Specification

A Person Specification is usually quite straightforward, and comes in two parts: essential attributes, and desirable qualities.

In either section, you might find a mix of specific qualifications or experience, along with less tangible attributes such as the ability to work well in a team, or under your own initiative.

The Person Specification is your best indication of exactly what the recruiter is looking for. You shouldn’t lie in order to fit the bill, but you should make sure you clearly demonstrate how well suited you are to the role.

CV or cover letter?

You may have the knowledge and skills for the vacancy being advertised, but how do you let the recruiter know that? A good job is likely to receive a very large number of applications, giving you just a few seconds to make a good impression.

One option is to have a fairly standard CV that you tweak for each role, and to write out a unique cover letter for each application that is tailored to fit the job description.

But the person responsible for giving you an interview (or not) might never get as far as your cover letter, if a cursory glance at your CV doesn’t seem to show that you’re right for the job.

As such, it’s worth going beyond a slight tweak, and making more extensive adjustments to your CV especially when applying for a job that suits you really well, or one that you really want.

Spell it out

Don’t be afraid to hammer home your suitability for the role – the formal structure of a CV makes it easier to do this without coming across as arrogant.

In some sectors it is common to include a short personal statement at the top of your CV, so make good use of the precious few words in this space to cover anything that doesn’t fit naturally elsewhere.

You might even want to go so far as to include bullet points towards the top of your CV, addressing the required attributes from the Person Specification each in turn.

It’s not enough just to state that you meet the requirements; you need to show how and when you obtained the relevant qualifications, skills or experience, including short but specific examples of any soft skills picked up on the job.

In the interview

Assuming you portray yourself in the best light, you should make it to the interview stage, and whether you get the job depends largely on the answers you give.

Memorise the Person Specification – remember, if a skill isn’t listed on there, it is largely irrelevant whether you have it or not.

Try to give relevant answers to the questions you are asked, but always keeping in mind the essential and preferable qualities from the Person Specification, so that you can incorporate them into your responses where appropriate.

In preparation for that must-have job it’s useful to be aware of the skills you have – some may be obvious, such as bookkeeping or computer literacy, other less so, such as empathy and leadership. We suggest you conduct a skills health check on yourself (don’t worry, it’s not painful!) to highlight some of the great attributes you have and uncover others you might want to improve. Download our useful skills health checklist and get started right away!

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