The 2 things you need to know before writing a job specification (and how to use them)

by Sheridan Halls, on 28 June 2021

Most job specifications deliver poor results. Why? Below are my two top tips on how to put yourself in the lead and beat the competition.

1. Know what you need from an applicant and why you need it.

How much thought have you given it? Have you had conversations with other stakeholders and advisors to make sure you’re all singing from the same hymn sheet? Have you defined it? Have you agreed on it?

If you don’t have a distinct idea before your hiring process starts how can you ask the right questions? Worse still what if you hire someone but you explained a different job to the one they end up doing, and they either can’t do it effectively, or they quit!

Perhaps you fix the problem early and just waste the first batch of CVs. Maybe you conduct multiple interviews before finding out everyone is not on the same page, and more time is wasted. But perhaps worst of all you actually find and interview that Unicorn Poo candidate, but your lack of preparation leads to messy interviews and delays in decision making. Whilst you are scrabbling around to pick up the pieces your perfect candidate decides they are better than this and pull out. Or your rivals swooped in and steal them from under your nose.

You’ve wasted time and money. Your employee brand suffers due to poor candidate experience. Hiring managers grow frustrated because their input is bearing no fruit. And if you used recruitment agencies the good agencies have flagged you as a bit of a timewaster.

So how do you avoid these pitfalls, and what should you do before you write your spec?

  • Speak to all decision makers and ensure agreement on the “must haves”
  • Gather ideas on the “nice to haves” too
  • Write down clearly defined requirements making sure that the must haves are genuinely 100% required
  • Once you have it black and white run it past those same decision makers again for final approval.

Now you’re ready for part 2!

2. Know what people want and what you offer

I recently spoke to a CTO who puts together a fantastic job spec, who said “For me it’s simple, I just try to include everything I would want to know”. If you take just one thing away from this article, make it that.

So ask yourself “What would I want to know? What could my future employees want? Why would they want to work here? What can we offer them?”.

That’s what attracts people.

Start with the basics, the stuff in the benefits package. Holiday days, remote working, location, flexibility, salary (if you aren’t including salary, ask yourself why. Many people will never apply if you aren’t including it).

But that’s easy, now the real work starts. What separates you from the rest.

Think about your culture. What really keeps your employees engaged (protip: It’s probably not the free tea and coffee!). The best question to ask yourself is “what would the employees say they like about working here?”

  • Are you the biggest brand? Or have the highest quality products?
  • Are you the fastest growing in your sector? Or most stable?
  • Are engineers encouraged to create high quality solutions that are only shipped when they are ready?
  • What is exciting about your product? Is it known by the person on the street? Is it an exciting area of tech?
  • Are you investing heavily in to R&D? Or taking existing products to the next level?
  • Have you recently won new major clients? Are your current clients well known?
  • If you’re a startup, what experience does senior management have in startup success? What’s the funding situation? Share options? How much runway do you have?
  • Do you provide training budgets, or send your engineers to conferences?
  • Perhaps one of your senior team is a world renowned authority?
  • Have you won employer awards?
  • Do you invest in the latest tech?
  • Are employees given autonomy to solve problems their own way?
  • Do you have social events?
  • Do you have examples of positive structural changes based on employee feedback?
  • Are you award winning?
  • Career progression? (Make sure to talk about your success stories in interview, it makes it real)
  • Flexible hours and remote working?
  • General employee happiness? Can you back it up with a low staff turnover?
  • Unusual benefits, like personal development days, or flexible benefits, gym memberships, free fruit (okay fine, you can talk about free tea and coffee, but only if you have a proper coffee machine… giving people a kettle and a jar of Nescafe doesn’t count, sorry).

Sure healthcare and life insurance are nice. But it’s the rest of it that matters. ASK PEOPLE who are already doing the job what they like about it (and what you can do to improve). Once you’ve discovered what makes your current employees excited to come in to work, shout about it!

Tell stories that back up what you are saying, and don’t be afraid to use facts and figures.

Now you are ready to write a better job specification, and every stage of your candidate pipeline will thank you for it.

Oh, and before I forget, if you’re hiring in to Embedded Software, C or C++ spaces, you can find Sheridan on The Scoop.