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Identifying Job Qualifications


Be sure to check the bottom of this page for printable user guides.

Once you have a clear sense of your position's essential duties, you can then identify the qualifications your ideal employee will need to have. Defining job duties must come first. Every qualification will be linked to a specific task that the employee will perform. (For an important discussion about how this applies to educational requirements, see our article about equivalencies.) When you finish, you should have a list of both requirements and preferences.

Job requirements include skills and experience an employee must have on Day 1.
  • A staff assistant routing phone calls needs to know how to operate a multi-line phone, and to be able to provide one-on-one customer support.
  • A marketing specialist making brochures at least needs to know Microsoft Word, and maybe Adobe In-Design, as well.
Any other skills or experience that add to the quality of work are preferences.
  • The staff assistant might help maintain files and records, and experience with Microsoft Excel or Access may be useful.
  • A marketing specialist with 36 months experience may be preferable to one with 12 months, even though only 12 months are necessary.

At HR, we see two mistakes most often among staff writing out job qualifications.

Qualifications Written Too Vaguely

It may be difficult to understand the position well enough to know precisely what skills or experience are important, and research may be necessary. Remember, listed qualifications should a) give the department a clear sense of which candidates are or are not a good fit for the position, and b) give the candidate a clear sense of whether they are willing and able to take on this role. Doing so successfully requires detail.

Consider the following job duty: "Developing, auditing and reviewing grant proposals and contracts." This is a broad description of the work that will be performed, and it encompasses multiple qualifications. First, the employee must be able quickly research the organization offering the grant and criteria for securing it. They must be able to use that research to create a plan for the grant proposal, and then use software like Microsoft Word to create a flawless proposal document.

So one qualification I may list for this job is proficiency with Microsoft Word. But that isn't detailed enough. Someone may be able to make simple documents or memos with Word but not be experienced enough to manage the graphs, charts, tables, and aesthetic design of an attractive grant proposal. To be clear to both the hiring committee and the potential candidates, I need to include these details. So my final listed qualification may be, "Advanced skill with Microsoft Word, including creating styles, templates, and graphs and charts.

There are many kinds of qualifications that tend to be too vague. Customer service is a broad group of skills and means different things to different people and settings. Customer service in a healthcare setting is different from customer service in a retail or food service setting, and yet listing "customer service experience" as a qualification will lead to people from one setting applying for other settings they have no experience in. If you mean "experience answering a multi-line telephone and routing calls" versus "experience serving customers or cashiering," you must specifically say so. Otherwise, you may well be setting up an unqualified candidate for failure in your position, and that helps no one.

Unnecessary Qualifications

Positions frequently contain qualifications that should not be included. Remember, every qualification should be linked to a specific task that the employee will perform. Driver's licenses should not be required unless driving is an essential part of the job. If all you need is a candidate with reliable transportation, then you cannot require a driver's license. After all, a candidate getting a ride from their spouse may have more reliable transportation than a licensed driver behind the wheel of an old lemon.

For your essential duties, think about what knowledge, skills, and abilities are necessary for this person to be immediately successful in this job. These are different from the things we could teach the new employee once they've come on board. Because qualifications are based on the tasks the employee will perform, some skills from a candidate's previous position may transfer to their current one, even if they're not a one-for-one match. So, for instance, if the position requires that the employee work with Canvas, OU's classroom management program, and a candidate is familiar with a similar program like Blackboard, they should be able to pick up the new system fairly quickly and perform the job. This may even be a benefit: If the university later moves to a new program to perform this function, you already know your employee is able to transfer to new software with little trouble.

So rather than requiring a candidate to be "Proficient in the use of Canvas," you can simply require that they be "Proficient using classroom management software."

Like any other part of creating a position, crafting qualifications is an artform. Take the time to get to know the position and its duties. Well-written qualifications can save a lot of time and heartache later on when your hiring committee knows exactly what they're looking for, and your candidates know exactly what's expected of them.
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