Job adverts explained

Confused by a job advert, or not sure exactly what employers are asking for? Use our guide to crack the code, and make a cracking application...

Where can I find the role description and person specification?
Job adverts come in many different sizes, from a few sentences in the classified section of a newspaper to a full page on a website. In some cases, the role description and person specification will be shown in the advert itself. In others there will be a telephone number or email address to contact for more information. There is no standard format for the role description or person specification; sometimes they may be written out in bullet points, but you might also just see a paragraph of text, or a combination of both.
Role description
This tells you all the details you need to know about the job. This will normally include:
  • Job title: what the job is actually called e.g junior salesperson.
  • Location: where the job is based.
  • Hours: whether the job is full-time or part-time. Some might tell you exactly how many hours a week you will be expected to work – such as 37 or 40 hours for full-time. It will also tell you if the job involves working evening and weekend shifts (sometimes called anti-social hours).
  • Contract: whether the job is permanent or temporary (sometimes called fixed term) contract e.g six months.
  • Salary: how much the job pays. If the job is full-time you might be given a straight figure e.g £20,000 per year (sometimes called pa or per annum). However, a similar salary might be offered at between £17,000 and £20,000 or up to £20,000 DOE (dependent on experience), which means candidates with more experience will be offered more money. You might also see terms like £20,000 + overtime, which means you’ll be paid more for working more than your set hours. If it’s a part-time job you might be told your pay per hour or per week. In other cases the salary might be advertised pro rata. This means a proportion of a full-time salary will be paid according to how many hours you work. So, if you work 20 hours a week for £20,000 pro rata, you will be paid £10,000 a year.
  • Duties: what the job actually involves. This might be things like ‘liaising with customers’, ‘compiling reports for management’ or ‘stock taking and ordering.’
Person specification
This is where the employer describes the type of person they are looking for:
  • Experience: whether you need any previous experience in a similar job. Depending on the position, no experience may be required. In other cases, the employer might say that previous experience is essential or specify a set amount e.g ‘with a minimum of two years’ experience.’
  • Essential qualities: the skills you must have for the job. These might include things like ‘good communication skills’, ‘ability to manage workload’ and ‘excellent IT abilities’. Some job adverts might also list ‘preferred' or 'desirable' qualities, which are skills that aren’t essential, but could help you get the job.
Not all job adverts specify the skills they need in simple terms. Some will use vaguer words like ‘dynamic’, ‘proactive’ or ‘flexible’ instead. In general, words like this mean they’re looking for someone who is motivated and can work on their own initiative. Many jobs will also ask for people who are ‘team players’ – which doesn’t mean playing football, but that you can work well with other people.
Should you apply?
Job applications take time and effort, so there’s no point applying for something you’ve got no chance of getting when you could be looking for more suitable jobs. So use your common sense: if it’s an advert for a human resources manager with five years’ experience, don’t waste your time if you’ve only done a paper round before.

However, if it’s a job you reasonably think you could do, don’t necessarily be put off applying if you don’t think you fit everything on the person specification. Although this describes the employer’s ‘ideal’ candidate, you might well have picked up some of the skills like ‘communication’ and ‘teamworking’ at school or at home – see our articles What are my skills? and Going extra curricular for some inspiration.

Also, while employers may ask for previous experience, this doesn’t always have to be in a similar job. If you’ve worked somewhere else or done some volunteering before, think about the general skills you picked up there that could be useful here. Showing that you can use these transferable skills flexibly and presenting them to the employer in your application is an important skill in itself!
How to apply
The job advert will also include details of how to apply. In some cases, they might ask you to fill out an application form. In others, they might ask you to send in a CV and a covering letter. If you are asked to send in a covering letter, go through the person specification and include short examples of ways you demonstrated the skills you are looking for. It’s also worth going over your CV again and rewriting the personal statement to emphasise any experience particularly suited to the job you’re applying for, and removing anything more irrelevant.

The job advert will also include a deadline, details of who to send your application to and sometimes a reference number. Make sure you know all of these before you send it off so it doesn’t get there late or end up getting lost. You might have spent ages looking for a job, but employers aren’t going to spend a second looking for your job application if you don’t follow their instructions.
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