How to Decode Job Descriptions

Words like “fun” or “flexible” may be clues that the opening isn’t for you

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If you’re an experienced job seeker, you remember when job ads were three or four lines in a classified newspaper section. Today’s job descriptions, however, range from a 300-word ad to longer than 1,000 words; it can be a lot for job seekers to digest.

Instead of bemoaning the verbose job descriptions, embrace them! Read the job posts carefully to determine what the employer really wants. Don’t forget to read between the lines, and to notice and learn from what the job description doesn’t say

How should you interpret these ads, and how can you use them to your advantage when applying for jobs?job-interview-intro__1303750811_5965

Be a Sleuth

The best job descriptions clearly explain what the position involves and what skills the employer expects in successful applicants. With no word limit, there is no excuse for organizations to fail to say what they want in an applicant.

However, just because the ad is long doesn’t mean that it is necessarily clear. If the ad seems jumbled, confusing or non-specific, assume that tells you something about the job and the organization.

Perhaps the hiring manager does not know exactly what the position will entail. This may be a red flag if you’re not interested in jumping in and creating a role for yourself. On the other hand, it may be the dream opportunity if you enjoy forging your own path

Look for phrases that give you a sense of the company culture. Is there an emphasis on “fun, social environment” or “teamwork?” Be aware that you will be expected to fit into this company culture if you land the position. If you’re the type of person who likes to get your work done and go home, this may be the wrong job for you.

Does the job description use words such as “flexible,” “fast-paced” and “high energy?” These could be code words for “be willing to do whatever no one else is doing,” “never take a break” and “work long hours and weekends.” You’ll want to rely on networking and what you learn in interviews to determine what these words really mean.

Analyze the job description as a whole, but pay attention to the specifics. Another example: if you’re looking for growth potential and training opportunities, if there is no mention of them, you can assume these desirable job features may be missing from this opportunity.

Look for What’s Most Important

While some of what you find in your careful analysis of job descriptions may cause you to click over to a new job ad, when you focus on those descriptions in your application, you can use them to your advantage.

For example, keep an eye on the order of the skills and qualifications listed and how often certain types of skills are mentioned.

If the description uses five synonyms for the word “teamwork” or “dedicated,” for example, you can be sure that’s an important item to address when you apply. If the first three qualifications focus on one particular skill, it’s clearly crucial.

Don’t just mirror their language back in your resumé, though. Be sure to show, not just tell, that you’re a great fit for the job.

For example, if the most used or alluded to concept in the description is “integrity,” be sure your resumé describes examples of how you have demonstrated that skill in your past positions. Emphasize results and accomplishments so it’s very clear that you are well qualified for the job.

Hone in on Your Skills 

Every ad should have a list of required qualifications. In your application and resumé, be sure you address all of them if you want to land an interview. Be aware, unless you have a great networking contact, if you are missing a key qualification, such as a master’s degree or specific computer skills, it is very unlikely you will win an interview.

How can you be sure to address all of the key points?

Copy and paste the job description into a file and highlight the parts of the job you can demonstrate that you’ve done in the past.

If you don’t highlight the majority of the description, don’t waste your time applying, because that job isn’t a great fit. Instead, find jobs whose descriptions showcase your skills and spend your time, effort and energy showing those hiring managers how well qualified you are for those positions.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Business Success, Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success.