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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Personnel specifications

What you need to know

Writing personnel specifications

As an employer, you should prepare written personnel specifications for every job which accurately describe the justifiable requirements of each post.


When considering the content of a personnel specification, you should take special account of:


  • the contents of the relevant job description
  • the genuinely essential and desirable attributes that you believe the job-holder will need to effectively perform the duties of the post.

These may include:


  • life and work experiences
  • educational standards and vocational and other qualifications
  • skills and personal characteristics

What equality guidance do I need to consider?

Ask yourself whether your job criteria might directly or disproportionately exclude people who have certain characteristics, or might discourage such people from applying for work that they are actually suitably qualified to do. Think carefully before proceeding with criteria that may have this outcome. It will amount to unlawful discrimination if you cannot objectively justify setting such criteria.


  • Criteria that relate to physical characteristics, such as minimum height or physical fitness requirements, may disproportionately exclude women and disabled persons. If such criteria cannot be objectively justified then you should not set them.
  • Avoid using words like ‘dynamic’, ‘energetic’, ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘youthful enthusiasm’. They are vague, abstract words which may be seen as indicating that you are seeking to employ younger persons, rather than middle-aged or older persons. These give rise to inferences of unlawful age discrimination and may discourage older persons from applying for the jobs in question.
  • Avoid using phrases like ‘young person’ or ‘mature person’. They may be directly age discriminatory and, because of their vagueness, are also difficult to justify.
  • Be very careful before setting the criterion of ‘recent graduates’ in personnel specifications. It may be indirectly discriminatory against people over the age of 22 or 23 years.
  • Be very careful before setting criteria that reflect a desire to recruit staff who are able to work to a traditional “9 to 5” work pattern, or which seek to discourage applications from people who have caring responsibilities; e.g. “might not suit those with family commitments”. These are potentially indirectly discriminatory against women.
  • Driving licence requirements may exclude some disabled people for reasons related to their disabilities. You should not set these unless they are genuinely essential for the performance of the job and where no reasonable alternative method of performing the travelling duties is available.

Can I include English language criteria and standards?

You should only set English language standards at a level that is objectively justifiable.

English is the language that is most commonly used in workplaces in Northern Ireland and it is reasonable to expect that most workers will be able to speak English to a certain degree. However, you must remember that some people may have difficulties communicating in English. For example, some people can speak English with reasonable fluency but may not be able to read or write in English to a high standard, or at all. Others cannot speak English but will be able to communicate in writing or by using other means of communication, such as sign language.

If you set English language standards for a job that are over and above the standards that are actually needed to perform the job, you will exclude some disabled people and migrant workers from the applicant pool. If the standards cannot be objectively justified, then this will cause unlawful discrimination.


Can I include a non-English language criteria?

If you set any other language criteria you should only do so for a reason that is objectively justifiable. Also, you should only set language standards that can be objectively justified too.

It is obvious that setting a non-English language criterion for a job may indirectly have some racial, or even religious, implications. For example, requiring applicants for a particular job to be able to speak French is a criterion that can be satisfied by more French people than British or Irish people. Similarly, requiring applicants for a particular job to be able to speak Irish is a criterion that can be satisfied by more people from the Roman Catholic community than from the Protestant community. But, this does not mean that an employer cannot set such criteria.

Setting a non-English language criterion for a job is akin to setting a requirement for technical knowledge or qualifications. It may be something without which the job cannot be performed. For example, it would be reasonable, and lawful, to require a teacher in a school who is employed to teach French to be fluent in both spoken and written French. The same goes for any other language, including Irish and Ulster Scots, so long as it is a criterion that is reasonably necessary to enable the job to be done.


What about academic qualifications?

When you set criteria about academic qualifications, you should apply the same academic standards to all applicants.

To avoid discriminating against migrant workers, you should not simply specify that candidates must have qualifications that can only be obtained in the educational systems of Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland or Great Britain (e.g. GCSE’s or A-Levels or Leaving Certificates).

You should make allowance for the fact that persons who have been educated elsewhere are unlikely to have these particular qualifications but may have corresponding qualifications of equivalent value gained in the educational systems of their home countries.

You should, therefore, evaluate the comparative value of qualifications gained overseas with those gained in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. You can obtain advice on these matters from the following bodies:



When should I review personnel specifications?

Review the personnel documentation periodically, or before starting each fresh recruitment exercise to ensure that they continue to remain relevant to the jobs in question.


In conducting these reviews, you should seek to promote equality of opportunity by taking account of technical or other developments that affect the way the jobs may be performed. Also consider legal developments affecting employees’ rights or which expand the scope of anti-discrimination law and allow for organisational changes, flexible working arrangements and reasonable adjustments.

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