Job Advert: what is “desirable but not essential”

Thursday, April 9th, 2009 - Employer, Employment, Job Advert, Legal, politics, recruitment, tutorial

Job Advert

Big Ben + Houses Of Parliament

Cheryl Gillan, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales has been attacked in both Welsh and National media for advertising for a research assistant, stating knowledge of Wales and devolution is “desirable but not essential”

The job advert which can be found at (closing date: April 27th, 2009), says that the job would involve dealing with policy inquires and carrying out political research on behalf of Mrs Gillan and her Scottish counterpart David Mundell. Located in the House of Commons, responsibilities will include:

  • drafting responses to policy enquires from constituents
  • political research
  • general office administration
  • meeting and greeting visitors
  • answering the telephones and taking messages
  • The ideal candidate would have:

  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • A keen interest in politics and current affairs
  • An attention to detail
  • Proficiency with IT
  • Prior experience of working in an office environment
  • The advert then says, right at the end: Knowledge of devolution, Scotland or Wales is desirable but not essential.

    The Conservative party insist that the wording of this phrase is essential to comply with employment laws prohibiting discrimination. Are they right?

    Yes, they are! Simply the compliance with the law is defined within the jobs title and main tasks. For instance:

    • Changing the title to Assistant to Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Wales would have changed the focus, and hence brought in the option of making knowledge of Scotland, Wales and devolution core, and hence essential over desirable
    • Changing the job location to Scotland, or Wales where the advert would have had to have been dual-language posted in Welsh, would also have changed the main job tasks and focus
    • Changing the job tasks away from mainly administrative support to their constituents, to either focusing on the general Scottish and Welsh public or a primary focus on regional issues, would also have accomplished the same effect

    But they didn’t. It looks like from the job description that they need an experienced office assistant to a couple of MP’s: one of whom happens to be the Shadow Secretary of State fro Wales, while the other just happens to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.

    Job descriptions need to reflect job task needs and focus. This then allows job adverts to reflect the job description, and comply with discrimination laws.

    As a job advert for an office assistant to a couple constituency MP’s, this advert is legally correct. Getting said assistant to support Scottish and Welsh shadow secretaries without thinking of the political angle seems politically naive, but not illegal.

    Good Luck!

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