Understanding job descriptions and person specifications

Employers use these documents to ensure that only qualified applicants submit applications. Job Descriptions, Person Specifications or adverts may use words or phrases which are unclear or relate to the role – if you can, ask someone you know who works for a similar company if they can understand them.

Job Description (JD) outlines the scope, duties, responsibilities and tasks of the role. If written well, it can help you visualise what it would be like to do that job. It also often forms part of your employment contract.

Job Descriptions are sometimes vague – the words “anything else that is reasonably requested” is often included in job descriptions as employers can’t always predict what might need to be done and don’t want to limit themselves

Person Specification describes the qualifications, skills and experience needed to do the role. It will help recruiters to write job advertisements, and like advertisements can help you decide whether to apply or not.

Skills tend to be learnt e.g. use of a software package, whereas competencies are knowledge and behaviours. You will have competencies whether you’ve worked before or not.

The ability to learn is one of the most desired competencies in today’s workplace:
Showing that you can master new tasks, skills and techniques might negate the need to show that you can do everything today, as you’ve proven you can learn how to in the future

Some of the common competencies that employers look for are:

  • Teamwork: Can be one of those competencies that causes autistic jobseekers to worry, as they can quite often be introverted and don’t always understand the many social dynamics that can go on in team environments. However, teamwork is also a competency that we can all relate to and know something about – even if you have no prior work experience, you have probably been in a team or group at school, or in a social or sport activity. We may have been in teams that have worked well, and we have probably been in teams that haven’t! The key here is to think about your role in the team and how you helped the team perform more effectively than it would have done without you.
  • Decision Making: Key to thinking about this competency, is to think about the process of decision-making, rather than the result of it. Do you evaluate multiple alternatives, do you consult with others, do you take your time or make instinctive judgements? Everything you do every day is determined by decisions – what shall I do today, how well shall I do it, how long shall I spend doing it etc. so you should have plenty to draw upon.
  • Communication: Depending upon the role you’re applying for; it may be more important to illustrate written or verbal communication skills. Things that are often overlooked are listening and clarifying understanding, which are essential to effective communication.
  • Leadership: Doesn’t just mean having authority or being in charge. It might also mean taking responsibility to ensure things happen effectively or helping others to achieve their objectives.
  • Problem Solving: This is similar to decision making but infers that the decision is difficult – perhaps it needs a little research, or some creative thinking to identify an alternative option that isn’t immediately obvious?
  • Ability to Learn: We tend to learn through education – formal classroom training, exposure – observing how others do things, or experience – trying stuff out and learning from our successes and failures.
  • Initiative / Independence: One thing that is true abut many workplaces is that people working there are often busy. They don’t want to have to constantly show people what to do, or how to do things. When might you have been resourceful and either worked out how to do something for yourself or solved a problem that no one asked you to solve?
  • Creativity and Innovation: Sometimes autistic people feel they think differently to others around them. This can be a great source of creativity and innovation. Coming up with ideas and designs that make things better will always be something that employers value.
  • Influencing Others: Sometimes we need to change people’s minds or get them to believe in our idea. How we go about persuading them to think differently might sound manipulative, but often it can be to their advantage. It’s a competency that lies at the heart of many sales and marketing roles. People often forget that influencing isn’t simply about presenting a well-rounded argument, it’s also about understanding your audience.
  • Adaptability. As well as the ability to learn, this also relates to our ability to cope with change. Change can feel daunting for autistic people, but you will have developed ways to navigate changes. Preparedness and planning are often key skills that autistic individuals have that actually make them good at adapting, despite not necessarily liking it very much!

Where listed in Job Descriptions, Person Specifications and adverts, these skills and competencies are likely to form the basis for the upcoming recruitment and selection process.

Remember, you have experiences from all aspects of your life that are relevant to the workplace and that you can draw upon to show how you might perform against a job description