Intimidated by long person specifications? Don’t be ! Tips to make it easier

So you see a vacancy listed and it sounds ideal – you open up the person specification and see the 3 pages of requirements and give up.  Sound familiar?

It’s quite common in the public sector (and some others) for job specifications to be very long.  Do not be put off, it’s not that hard to break it down into something more digestible.


This job is looking for some specialist skills but a long list of transferable ones. With 44 items listed it appears pretty daunting.

The blue highlighted areas are the specialist skills for this particular job, you can imagine the specialist skills for the job you want here.

There are 44 things on the essentials and desirables, 27 of which are fairly generic transferable skills, the others you either have or you don’t due to your degree or perhaps some work experience.


What if this job wanted you to apply using a CV plus cover letter or personal statement – what would you focus on?

  1. Most jobs will have something that is role specific that will need addressing, in this case it is scientific knowledge and experience.
  2. Transferable skills – ouch there are a lot of them, how are you going to tackle that? They have given you a handy list – use it.
    There are too many items to go through individually, your application would become repetitive and over-long, so break it down into some sensible chunks.

I would suggest something around:

2.1  Analytical skills including numeracy, recording  and reporting. This should also cover off meticulous, accurate and attention to detail and possibly IT skills too

2.2  Team work , flexibility, organisation skills, equality & communication skills

2.3  Project management, innovation, creativity, problem solving, organisation, time management.

You will want to blend into your examples:

  • Ability to learn new techniques and ways of working – it’s flexibility again.
  • The specialist (scientific) context or experience they are looking for,  but also give some examples from other areas such as extra curricular activities or other jobs if you have them. This is where transferable comes in!

The CV would need:

  • Information from your degree to match the blue areas – some academic modules and some practical examples from labs and projects.
  • A relevant work experience section if possible.
  • You might have a lab skills or scientific skills section.
  • The evidence you give will cover the key areas you have identified above, now it’s just a few it’s not so daunting. Spread your examples across your whole CV. See our blog about creating a skills audit

The cover letter or personal statement would address:

Motivation – why this organsiation and why this job, show that you appreciate who they are, what they do and how this role fits in.

Your skills – so now you have to look at your broad areas again

  • Specialist (science) stuff
  • The analytical / reporting stuff
  • The team / people stuff
  • The problem solving and working on a task stuff

If it’s a cover letter you have only 1 page to do this in, so you might choose a lot of scientific context to base your other skills in, thus killing 2 birds with one stone.

If it’s a personal statement – there could be a word limit – but if its unlimited don’t go crazy. 1-2 pages of A4 is usually plenty for a graduate entry-level role.  The extra space will give you the opportunity to go into more detail and cover off some of the key points at a more granular level (especially if you have some of the desirables)

Don’t be put off YOU DO have the skills! 

It’s hard reflecting on what you have done, it’s easy to overlook or be modest about experience. I suggest talking it over with a friend or family member who knows you reasonably well, they can help you identify examples. (see tips on skills audit post)

Lets take an easy one –  team work.

Working with other people has its challenges as well as its positives, so really think about instances where you have worked with other people on: A course project, while volunteering, in a society, playing sport, in a job, as part of a university role you may have. Think …..what went well?  What was difficult and why? How did you make it work?


  • CONTEXT – What was the situation?
  • ACTION – What did I do that had an impact?
  • RESULT – what was the impact of your actions or what did you learn?

It doesn’t have to be formulaic in approach, you can see in the examples below how a number of skills or attributes can be evidenced in one example if you are short of space.

It could also be spread over several bullet points with more detail on the actions to provide more evidence of a particular skill.   (I have underlined the skills or abilities in the examples below)

  • Team work / working with people example:
    Promoted to Team Leader after working for the company for ten months, I managed a team of five and motivated them to meet individual sales targets by devising a graph which plotted the amount of bonuses they could earn through securing additional sales.
  • Example of managing a task:
    As social secretary of the Faculty of Life Sciences Society, working to tight deadlines, I coordinated the printing and sale of tickets for the society’s summer ball and negotiated with a local hotel to get a good rate for the venue.

Check out our employablity skills pages for some examples of skills, ways to gain them while at University and skills based questions you could encounter on application forms and at interview.



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