Filling in the application – understanding the person specification

Picture1We realise that you’ve had to wait five years until this post made sense, but thanks to the amazing system of curation we have in the ADC blog posts and the way it burned into your memory we’re delighted you’re back.

It’s time to fill in the application form. The submission of a good application requires that you’ve done some interesting things (see previous post), and display the characteristics required in the person specification.  And the person specification is what we’re going to concentrate on here.

The person specification is a list of attributes, a bit like a recipe, of the ingredients that will make up the ideal candidate.  Your aim is to achieve all of the essential attributes, and to add in as many of the desirable ones as possible too.   Note that the consultant interview process is strictly regulated; some interview chairs are very strict and will only allow the areas on the person specification to be tested in interview, so knowing your way around this is very important.

There are a couple of important things to think about here:

  • It’s worth putting yourself in the position of someone undertaking shortlisting. It’s not unusual to get ten applicants, and not unheard of to get more than 20 applicants.  It is hard to interview more than four or five applicants.  You need to make it easy for them to shortlist you.  You do not need to make it easy for them to put you on the reject pile.
  • The NHS uses a form-based web application which can make it difficult for the shortlisting person to see and assess someone’s strengths and weaknesses. Before pressing the submit button, you need to ask yourself:  Have I made it easy enough for the shortlisting panel member to see what I’ve got to offer and compare that to the person specification?


Essential attributes in a person specification.

When shortlisting, candidates who don’t achieve the essentials won’t get a look in.  They will be a combination of tick box exercises – for example, having APLS provider status, demonstrating that you’ve got training in child protection.  There will be a series of equally important but slightly more nebulous essentials which may include things like communication skills, ability to work in a team and so on.

Some ways to fail to get shortlisted against the essential attributes:

  • Forget to put in some essential aspect. For example, you may be applying for a tertiary post in an important speciality, and you may be superb at it.  However, if someone has included “APLS provider” in the person specification – perhaps it is a trust rule – and you haven’t taken the time to write it down because you’ve been too busy listing the international conferences you’ve attended, then you cannot be shortlisted.
  • Fail to demonstrate, in the way you deal with your application, an essential aspect. For example, if you have shocking spelling, or your grammar is challenged, then get some help.  The person specification is bound to say “good communication skills”, and if you can’t write well on your person specification, then you are demonstrating poor communication.  Similarly, if you attempt to submit your application late, you are unlikely to have good organisational skills.


Desirable attributes in a person specification. 

The desirable attributes become most important when there are a number of people who have demonstrated that they have the essentials, and the panel need to have a shorter shortlist.  These will be much more post-specific; you should read them carefully and respond – honestly and accurately – to as many of them as you feel you have.


The Domains in a Person Specification

Most of the domains are self explanatory, but they’re worth going through:

  1. Qualifications

The panel considering employing you will want to know that the person they appoint can actually do the things they need you to do.  Note, eligibility for your Certificate of Specialist Training is not the same as having actually applied for it.  If you’re eligible then apply; to do otherwise makes you look like you’re poorly organised.

  1. Experience

This is the part of the person specification which deals with what you should have done – there is often inclusion of the statement “appropriate career progression to date”.  This does not mean that people with unconventional CVs need not apply, but they should be able to explain what they’ve been up to and why.  Note that whatever career path you’ve followed, you should be able to demonstrate that, for example, you’ve achieved what is needed, that you’ve passed the assessments, and so on.

  1. Skills and Knowledge

Aspects covered here will usually  be a description of what an “ideal” colleague might know and be able to do; for example, managing the team, being able to communicate, carry 6 medium lattes etc.

  1. Research, teaching and training

The contents of this section will depend a lot on the type of post you are applying for.  The usual minimum is that you are able to support a research agenda within a team.  You won’t have to have done new and proper research for every job, but most people ought to have accumulated a few publications.   Note that this would include presentations, posters and published abstracts.

Nearly all employees will want to see evidence that you’re able to teach and train undergraduates, postgraduates, and teach outside of your discipline.

  1. Personal skills, qualities and aptitudes

This section gets down to basics about what sort of person the team really want.   It’s worth reflecting that, even with increased career mobility most people will count their time in a consultant post in decades rather than years.  What sort of colleague you will be is an important factor in appointments.

  1. Professional Development

For most people in a training grade, professional development is fairly straightforward to demonstrate.  However,  it’s worth considering how you demonstrate this – for example, your ability to recognise your educational and training needs, to seek out appropriate ways of addressing these needs, and how you demonstrate when the need is met.


So why did you keep a CV up to date?

For jobs in the NHS, most applications are made online, in a form which can be easily anonymised for those doing the shortlisting.  This presents two challenges:

  • Firstly why have you spent all this time preparing your CV if you can’t submit it? The answer here is several fold.
    • You need to have a CV for your visits after you are shortlisted; you will want to leave a copy with people you visit.
    • Your CV is a handy space for all the things you may forget to include in your application otherwise.
    • It’s always a good idea to have an up to date CV. Believe us, it is.
  • Secondly, you’ve now got to cram all of your carefully prepared information into a humourless computerised environment which insists on submitting your Proustian prose to the indignity of a word count. As above, having a CV helps this as you can tick off the various aspects you need to cover.


And finally ..

Getting shortlisted is not straightforward.  You need to start early, and think hard about what you need to do to turn yourself into a colleague that people want to work with and make sure that gets translated onto an application form.  Following the guidance here should find yourself in a strong position to get there, though.

  • Ian Wacogne, Vin Diwakar, Helen Jenkinson


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