Before you recruit a new member of your early years childcare team, you must first effectively define the job to be done and your expectations for the ideal person to do it

The members of staff who make up the childcare team are an early years setting’s most important, and most expensive assets. Recruiting new members of staff to join the team is a time-consuming and costly business so it is important to do everything possible to maximise the chances of success. Remember that a vacancy on the team is an opportunity to review the overall staffing structure, and it is not always the best option to simply replace like with like. A key part of this evaluation process is drawing up an accurate and succinct job description and person specification, which clearly reflects the post which you choose to advertise.

Job description

The purpose of a job description is to set out the main features of the post on offer. It is important to pay close attention to the wording of the job description as it serves several important purposes. The job description:

  • should attract appropriately qualified applicants to fill a vacancy
  • defines where a post sits in the organisation’s structure
  • will form part of the legally binding contract of employment between the employer and the employee
  • can be used for appraisal or performance management purposes with individual objectives being based on the duties and responsibilities in the job description.

A job description should include:

  • Title: Job title of the position being advertised.
  • Accountability: Who the post holder is accountable to.
  • Responsibility: Who the post holder is responsible for.
  • Location: Where the post holder will be based.
  • Purpose of the job: What the post holder is expected to achieve.
  • Main duties: A brief description of the post defining the principle areas of responsibility.
  • Terms of employment: Hours of work, salary scale, holiday entitlement.

When preparing the job description think carefully about the impression it will give to a prospective candidate. Remember that the information in the job description and how it is presented will convey important messages about the organisation and its ethos and values. Job descriptions which run to several pages and itemise every single detail of the post can be off-putting to look at and may give an impression that the organisation is not good at thinking and planning strategically. The key to compiling a good job description is to make it comprehensive enough to describe the important aspects of the job, but still be manageable and understandable. To help achieve this write down all the different areas of responsibility which a particular post would be expected to cover. Then group them together under a series of headings and try to write a single statement which covers them all.

For example, the headings relevant to a job description for the manager/leader of an early years setting might include:

  • organisation and staff deployment
  • children’s welfare
  • health and safety
  • liaison with parents
  • learning and development
  • finance
  • staff training.

Posts at different levels in the organisation will all have their own particular responsibilities. It is essential that all job descriptions in the organisation fit together into a cohesive plan so everyone is clear about the extent of their own, and other people’s, responsibilities.

Person specification

While a job description sets out the responsibilities of a job, a person specification is a profile of the skills, knowledge, experience and aptitudes which a candidate should have in order to fill the post. It should be written so that it gives the applicant a clear understanding of what sort of person the organisation is hoping to appoint. The person specification should list what is required of the applicant under the following headings:

  • Qualifications.
  • Experience.
  • Knowledge and skills.
  • Personal attributes.

Criteria in the person specification can be further subdivided into those that are considered essential for the post, and those that are considered desirable.

  • Essential criteria are those that are critical for the performance of the job and every candidate invited for interview should be able to fulfil these.
  • Desirable criteria will enhance a candidate’s capacity to perform the duties identified in the job description. However, these are not essential as they could be acquired through further training and professional development after the individual has been appointed.

When drawing up the person specification remember that it is vital not to include any criteria which would lead to unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, belief, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability. To avoid the possibility of being accused of unfair discrimination it is important to limit the number of criteria which are included on the essential list. This will keep the field open and attract the widest range of potential candidates for any advertised position.

The person specification is a key tool used in the interview process to allow a panel of interviewers to make distinctions between the different candidates being interviewed. For this reason it is very important to set out the requirements in the person specification so they are specific enough to be measurable. This will make it possible to assess one candidate fairly against another. Resist the temptation to ‘move the goal posts’ part way through the appointment process by shifting criteria from essential to desirable in response to the interview panel’s reaction to different candidates. This is inherently unfair.