Writing job descriptions and person specifications

Job descriptions and person specifications are essential documents in any recruitment process, describing the components of a proposed post and the experience and skills required by the post holder. They are also key documents for anyone once they are in post, providing a reference point for Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and for staff appraisal and performance management systems and cycles.

Job descriptions and person specifications may be contained in single or separate documents. If being used for recruitment they may be preceded by general information about the museum, including location, mission, collections and links to websites.

Both documents may be informed by competency frameworks and some museums may have their own in-house competency frameworks. The Collections Trust has developed a Collections Management Competency Framework describing skills and knowledge for the management of collections.

When writing job descriptions and person specifications:

  • Describe the post not the person
  • Don’t rely on the job’s history, instead describe the post in terms of the current needs and plans of the museum
  • Try to reflect proprieties for the objectives and deliverables of the job, sometimes this is expressed in percentages, or in a list with major priorities at the top
  • Describe a job that is achievable
  • If you have access to a Competency Framework for your museum, sector or discipline make use of it
  • Be specific e.g. Instead of computer literate, write proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel and Access
  • Avoid acronyms and abbreviations
  • Use clear, accessible language and avoid meaningless jargon. The Plain English Campaign website contains free guides, as well as offering editing services.
  • Use inclusive, non-discriminatory language. Any references to age, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy or having children, race (including colour, ethnic or national origin), religion, or disability are illegal. See GOV.UK for more information.
  • Create the job description (i.e. what the person will actually do) before you write the person specification (i.e. the attributes the person will need to have in order to do the job).
What might be included in a job description?

Job descriptions will vary from one organisation to another, but will contain key points about the post, and the duties of the post.

When writing a job description the following headings may be useful:

Post details
Job holder Name of employee once in post
Job title The title of the post e.g. Collections Manager, Collections Assistant. If the museum uses a Competency Framework the title may be informed by that Framework.
Job duration Details about the term of employment e.g. full time, part time, hours per week, contract
Job location Details e.g.  museum name, site name, department
Date Date of issue of job description
Reporting to Title of the post that the job holder reports to
Pay scale/band Details about pay scales
Purpose of the position Narrative text which summarises the main points of the job. This text is useful in job listings or advertisements.
Special requirements of the post Any special requirements of the post (e.g. Disclosure and Barring Service Checks)
Post duties
Key areas of accountability The main areas of accountability for the post e.g. budget management, event co-ordination, collections management. These areas may be drawn from a Competency Framework, and will ideally sit within a wider framework of accountabilities for the museum.
Main objectives and deliverables of the position The key strategic objectives of the position. Objectives can be grouped under the Key Areas of Accountability. They should be measurable, and informed by the strategic direction of the organisation, e.g. to lead and facilitate collections management projects as identified in the museum’s Forward Plan would describe a duty under the Collections Management Accountability Area.
Budget responsibility Any budgetary responsibilities for the post
Organisational information
Working relationships and contacts Key contacts, teams and networks relevant to the post. This may include contacts and networks outside the museum e.g. friends groups, shipping agents, external project teams.
Organisational chart An organisational chart illustrating how the post fits into the structure of the museum
Relevant organisational policies and regulations A statement that the post holder will be required to follow organisational policies e.g. Equal Opportunity Policies and Health and Safety Regulations
Agreement and review
Agreement Job descriptions that are for use after the employee is in post may contain a section for employee and line manager signatures, which are dated. Include a statement that the post holder and line manager can sign to indicate that they accept the job description e.g. I understand and agree to the duties and responsibilities outlined in this Job Description.
Renewal date A statement to indicate when the Job Description was reviewed and renewed as part of an Annual Appraisal System e.g. Job Description reviewed and renewed on [INSERT Date].


What might be included in a person specification?

Person specifications will vary from one organisation to another, but will always be written in the context of a job description.

A person specification is a profile of the skills and aptitudes required to carry out the job. It provides:

  • A set of criteria against which all applicants can be measured objectively and a systematic way to compare applicants
  • A document to ensure that decision-making for short listing and selection is transparent.

The person specification may include reference to required qualifications, skills and experience which are expressed in terms of essential and desirable. Essential criteria are those without which a job holder would be unable to effectively carry out the work. Desirable criteria may mean that a prospective employee would perform better or require a shorter familiarisation period.

The person specification should reflect the post duties section in the job description, and be specific, measurable and non-discriminatory. You may have framed the job duties section in the context of a competency framework, or areas of accountability that you have defined for your own museum.

When writing a person specification the following headings may be useful:

Qualifications and experience Specific qualifications may be needed for a post, however it might be better to think in terms of experience rather than qualifications.  Many organisations will try to be open to knowledge which has been gained through means other than formal qualifications, and will consider experience and evidence of knowledge equally valid. A museum might reflect this by writing “Essential: MA in Heritage Management or evidence of equivalent experience and knowledge”. Expressing the need for high level knowledge and qualifications in this way means that you will not miss out on shortlisting a good candidate who does not have an MA, but has evidence of high level curatorial experience.
Knowledge and skills The skills and abilities required to carry out the work effectively. This includes practical and technical abilities as well as organisational, communicative and creative skills. A Competency Framework is very useful in writing this section of a specification. Be specific about the skills you need, e.g. Good communication skills is vague and could be better expressed as a series of competencies which reflect skill in different areas and levels e.g. Ability to draft collections management policies; Ability to build and sustain networks of collections users.
Personal qualities and behaviours It may be useful to indicate the kind of personality that would fit in with your team and the values of your museum.


Date created: 2015

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust