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I am going to submit my application to a postdoc in math. In support of my application, I have been asked about what I can do, and they have mentioned that

You should pay particular attention to the person specification as you will only be shortlisted if you can demonstrate that you meet all of the essential criteria.

But I do not know exactly what they mean by the above mentioned statement? Can I provide a brief description of my scientific background and its relation to the advertised project?

There exists a brief description of the project, including the area of research.

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    Does the job advertisement have a part that describes the criteria that a successful applicant needs to meet? – lighthouse keeper Apr 1 at 19:35
  • @lighthousekeeper As many other jobs they have mentioned some general "Main duties" such as publishing papers, attendance conference, preparation reports, being motivated and independent ... – user40491 Apr 1 at 19:39
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    Presumably the advertisement listed some specific requirements for the position and this is telling you that your application will be checked to see whether you meet those requirements. – Brian Borchers Apr 1 at 20:16
  • @user40491 Out of these examples, "being motivated and independent" are not duties, but actual criteria for a person, so they are surely part of the essential criteria that you need to address explicitly. The other examples, which are indeed duties, could be turned into criteria ("experienced in ....") – lighthouse keeper Apr 1 at 20:37
  • Is it a job specifically created to meet minority quotas? In some places it's legal to have jobs created for that purpose to specify something like "Must be black/female/LGBT/[insert desired minority group here] to apply". – nick012000 Apr 4 at 0:47
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I've seen this terminology particularly in the UK, though I don't know how widespread it is. In each of the UK jobs I've seen with this phrasing, the "person specification" was a very clearly labelled part of the advertisement for the opening, or in some cases a separate PDF document. It contained a bulleted list of items clarifying both "essential" and "desirable" qualifications for the position.

I think your contact is urging you to consult such a list. If you have not gotten your hands on this kind of document regarding the position, look carefully for it where the job was advertised. If you still can't find it, I would write back and ask for a copy or where you can find one.

If part of your written materials for the application includes a personal statement, that statement should briefly highlight specific aspects of your background which demonstrate that you fulfill the listed items. Frankly I'd reference the specific items on the list.

I have not personally done job recruiting, but it is my impression a literal checklist of whether these items appear in your application will be made.

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    You impression is correct. It is a literal checklist. There are certain categories of person that must be interviewed if they meet of all of the required criteria on the person spec (e.g. disabled people, or people applying for internal redeployment). In theory the recruitment process is judged enitrely on how well someone demonstrates they meet the essential criteria and how many of the desired criteria they can demonstrate. Of course in practice profs will fudge this to hire the person they want. – Ian Sudbery Apr 2 at 12:32
  • @IanSudbery for the cases I've been involved with, the tailoring (if any) happens at the specification stage, then the shortlisting, interviewing and scoring is relatively direct and targeted to the job, specifically to the listed essentials. HR tends to have a lot of oversight, and everyone is aware that there could be an appeal or tribunal if the process goes wrong. – origimbo Apr 2 at 13:39
  • I'm sure it varies from from institution to institution and position to position. At both the universities where I've been involved in recruitment, you wouldn't have HR present for appointments below faculty level (Ass prof/lecturer level). HR do want detailed notes from the interviews and score sheets that show how the chosen candidate was the best on the specified criteria. But these are often actaully written post facto in order to justify a decision that was made during the interviews. – Ian Sudbery Apr 3 at 11:47
  • Thank you for your answer. I just have one more question, is the statement of "What I can do" in the application form is about providing a research plan or providing just a description of my research experiences is enough? – user40491 Apr 8 at 3:32

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