How To Decipher A Job Description To Improve Your Chances Of Getting Hired
If you have been applying to lots of jobs without hearing back from recruiters, or going to job interviews and later receiving the “we’re sorry” email, you have probably assumed that the problem is with one of the usual suspects – your resume, cover letter, or your job interview skills.
However, you have made improvement to both of these crucial documents, as well as your job interview skills, but you are still not getting any responses from recruiters and hiring managers.
If this sounds like you, you are probably wondering whether there is anything else you can do to increase your chances of getting hired.
Fortunately, there is something else you can actually do, and surprisingly, it involves a document that comes from the prospective employer, rather than from you. I’m talking about the job description.
Most job seekers go through the job description casually to determine if they have what it takes for the job, and then they quickly rush to send in their application.
What many job seekers do not know is that the job description actually contains clues that can help you improve your chances of getting hired – but only if you know how to read the job description the right way and decipher these clues.
At first glance, the job description seems like a simple document that tells job seekers what an employer needs.
However, in between the lines of the job description are insights that can tell you exactly what the employer is thinking, the requirements that they actually need and those that are simply placed there to discourage quacks from applying, and so on.
If you know how to read between the lines, you can find insights that could give you an advantage and help you position yourself as the kind of candidate the employer is actually looking for.
In this article, we are going to look at how to read between the lines of job descriptions and decipher these hidden clues. To do this, you need to look at the following elements of the job description:
THE COMPANY DESCRIPTION
Most job descriptions will include a brief description of the company, what it does, and so on. Most job seekers do not pay much attention to this section of the description.
Most will only check to see if the company operates in an industry they are interested in and whether it is a big enough company. If it meets their criteria, they go ahead and send the job application.
What you might know is that the company description section can help you position yourself as the kind of candidate they are looking for. Normally, companies will describe themselves how they want to be seen.
For instance, if a company describes itself as energetic, that is how they want to be seen, and therefore, when it comes to hiring, they will most probably be looking for young, energetic employees.
If a company describes itself as innovative, it wants to be seen as a company that routinely comes up with new, disruptive ideas, and therefore, its hiring preferences will lean towards employees who are full of ideas.
With this in mind, you can then describe yourself in a manner that is aligned with the image the company wants to be associated with.
For instance, if a company describes itself as energetic, you should also describe yourself as energetic and include examples in your resume and cover letter that show your energetic nature. If the company describes itself as innovative, show examples of situations where you came up with new, innovative ideas in your past job experience.
This simple thing – checking how a company wants to be seen from its company description and then presenting yourself in a manner that aligns with these values – can give you an edge over other candidates and increase your chances of getting hired.
LOOK BEYOND THE JOB TITLE
Most job seekers use the job title in a job description to determine whether they are qualified for a job or not, or and whether it is a job they would actually want to do.
The problem with this approach is that very often, job titles can be very misleading. Job titles are not standardized, which means they will differ depending on the company, the industry, and so on.
For instance, in a bid to attract talent, a small startup might issue titles like director and vice-president to just about anyone who is not an entry level employee.
On the other hand, it might take you several years, sometimes even decades, to get to such titles in a large, well established company.
Similarly, some job titles might sound similar, even though they are very distinct positions with very different roles. For instance, “assistant editor” and “editorial assistant” sound like variations of the same position, when they are actually different positions that might exist even within the same company.
This means that if you rely solely on job titles, you might find yourself applying for jobs for which you are either underqualified or overqualified while assuming that they are looking for someone like you.
Therefore, don’t take a job title at face value. Instead, dig into the duties and responsibilities listed for the position and use them to determine if you are a good fit for the position.
Do the duties match the job title? Are you confident that you can comfortably perform these duties? Will you actually be happy performing these duties? Do these duties offer career growth, or are they similar to what you are doing in your current position?
Looking beyond the job title will prevent you from falling prey to catchy titles aimed at attracting candidates without offering an appropriate set of responsibilities.
At the same time, it will also prevent you from ignoring great job opportunities simply because they don’t come with a shiny name tag.
CHECK THE FIRST FEW BULLET POINTS IN THE DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES SECTION
I want you to imagine for a moment that you are a HR executive or hiring manager creating a job description.
When you get to the duties and responsibilities section, you will probably start by noting down the key responsibilities of the position – responsibilities that form the bulk of the work in that position – and then fill up the section with other responsibilities that the person in the position might be required to do occasionally.
This is exactly what happens when hiring managers and HR officials are creating job descriptions. So, what does this mean for you as a job candidate?
The above process means that whenever you look at the duties and responsibilities section of a job description, the first few bullet points that show up first are actually the most important. If you do get hired, this is what you are going to spend most of your time doing.
Therefore, when it comes to highlighting your skills in your resume, cover letter, or even during the job interview, you should focus mainly on your competencies in these first few responsibilities, because they are the most important.
Sometimes, you might even have held off from sending an application because you realized that you are not competent in all the duties and responsibilities listed in the job description.
However, we have already seen that the first few bullet points are what matter most, and therefore, if you can comfortably handle these first few duties, you are qualified enough for the job. Even if you are not conversant with the other job tasks, you can easily learn them on the job, because you will only be required to handle them occasionally.
REQUIRED EXPERIENCES AND SKILLS
This section highlights the skills and job experience that the prospective employer expects you to have. For most job seekers, this is the make or break section of the job description.
They go through this section and only apply when they meet all the experiences and skills the employer is looking for.
However, by doing that, you could essentially be shooting yourself in the foot and keeping yourself from opportunities that would have been a great fit for you.
To understand why I’m saying this, let’s once again look at the process of creating a job description.
When coming up with a job description, employers are creating a wish list of all the skills and experience that they would want the ideal employee to have.
However, the employers understand that it is highly unlikely that one candidate will possess all these skills and experience, and they are therefore willing to hire candidates even if they do not meet all the requirements, provided they meet the most important requirements.
Actually, research carried out by Robert Half shows that 84% of employers have no problem with hiring and training candidates who do not meet all the job requirements.
According to the same report, 62% of employees have gotten hired even if they felt that they did not meet the requirements for the job.
Therefore, by waiting until you meet all the job requirements before you apply for a job, you are actually locking yourself out of jobs that you had a chance of getting.
It’s also good to note that when writing the skills and experience section of the job description, most employers use the same approach to creating the duties and responsibilities section – they start with the most important skills and experience and move down to necessary but less important skills, and finally skills that are not really necessary but can help improve your performance.
Therefore, when evaluating the job description, start by looking at the first few skills and experiences that appear first. If you have these key skills and experiences, you can go ahead and apply for the position, even if you do not have some of the skills appearing towards the bottom of the requirements section.
You can always learn these on the job. When writing your resume and cover letter, you should then highlight your competency in these key skills, and include examples in your job experience that show your competency in these skills.
UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MUST HAVES, PREFERRED, AND GOOD-TO-HAVE REQUIREMENTS
Sometimes, you might come across job requirements labeled as either must haves, preferred, or good to have. How do these affect your application?
Generally, must have requirements are those that it is absolutely necessary for you to have. The employer will not consider anyone who does not meet these requirements.
Therefore, if you do not meet these requirements, there is no point sending the application, because you probably won’t hear back from the employer.
If job requirements are labeled as preferred, this means that it is not an absolute necessity that you meet these skills, but they are still important to the job. These are skills that you will probably need to learn on the job.
The preferred label means that while the employer is willing to hire candidates who do not possess these skills, they will give greater preference to those who do. If you meet these requirements, this can give you an advantage over other candidates.
However, you should go ahead and apply for the job even if you do not meet the preferred requirements.
Good to have requirements are those that can make your job easier, but are not really necessary.
Unlike the preferred requirements, which you might have to learn on the job, it is possible to do the job without ever having to learn good to have skills. Therefore, these should not keep you from applying for a job.
However, if you have some of these good to have requirements, they can still give you an advantage over equally qualified candidates who do not possess these skills.
CHECK THE TONE OF THE JOB DESCRIPTION
The tone of a job description can also help you improve your chances of getting hired by giving you insights about the company culture of the organization.
For instance, if the overall tone of the job description is written in a casual, playful manner, this shows that the company has a fun and informal corporate culture.
When applying for a position in such a company, you can increase your chances of getting hired by showing that you are a professional who loves having fun at work and is comfortable with an informal corporate culture.
On the other hand, if the job description is excessively formal, you can infer that the company is equally formal, and therefore, this is the kind of image you will need to present, both in your application and during the job interview.
Presenting a casual or informal image to such a company is a surefire way of ensuring you don’t get the job.
WATCH OUT FOR KEYWORDS AND BUZZWORDS
When going through the job description, you might notice that the employer keeps on mentioning certain keywords or buzzwords. These keywords give you clues into what exactly the employer is looking for.
These could also be the same keywords programmed into the employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS).
Therefore, to ensure that your application goes through the ATS, and to increase your chances of getting the job, you should also use the same keywords in your application. However, don’t just stop there.
You should also include examples from your job experience showing that you actually possess the skills highlighted by these keywords.
For instance, if the job application mentions that you need experience with JIRA, include the term JIRA in your application, and include instances that demonstrate your experience with JIRA.
WATCH OUT FOR RED FLAGS
Knowing how to properly read and decipher a job description also means being able to notice any red flags that might tell you that applying for the job is a waste of time.
Sending applications to such jobs not only wastes your time, but it also kills your motivation, and therefore, it is important to learn to spot such job ads immediately. Some of the red flags you might want to watch out for include:
- Insufficient level of detail: A good job description provides clear information about what a job involves, what duties and responsibilities you will be tasked with, the skills and qualifications necessary for the job, how job performance will be measured, and so on. If you have read a job description from beginning to end but do not still understand what the job involves or what skills and qualifications you need for the job, it might be wise to ignore this job opportunity. Before doing that, however, you can reach out to the hiring manager and seek clarification about the position. If they still cannot provide you with clear and detailed answers, do not apply for the position.
- Unclear or unreasonable expectations: Does it seem like the employer doesn’t know exactly what they want? Are they looking for recently graduated candidates for entry level positions, but they want the candidate to be an expert? This is a red flag. You cannot be a recent graduate and an expert at the same time. This could be a sign that the employer wants someone who will perform expert-level duties while paying them an entry-level salary. If the employer’s expectations seem contradictory or unclear, it is best to ignore the job opening.
- Excessive job requirements: Does the employer want someone who is an expert in graphic design, web design, social media and content writing? If the job requirements seem excessive, like the employer is looking for several professionals rolled into one, this should be a major red flag. It shows that the employer does not know what is required for the position. Even if you do get hired, you will probably be required to handle many tasks that are outside your job description, something that can leave you frustrated.
- Excessive upfront commitments: Does the employer expect you to work for a long period of “training” during which you will be unpaid? Do they expect you to remain in probation for an unusually long period of time, during which you will be earning a fraction of what you should be earning? Such an employer is probably out to exploit you, and it’s therefore best to keep away.
- A position that is always vacant: Do you keep coming across the same job opening every few months? This is an indicator that the position has high turnover, which in turn means that there is some problem within the company, such as poor management. Even if you were to get hired for such a position, you will probably be job hunting within a few months, and therefore, it is far much better to wait and find a job with better job security.
- Scams: Does the job promise high earning potential without requiring any meaningful skills or experience? Are they asking you to pay some money upfront for something such as training? Does the job description seem shady? Does it seem like the people behind the job advert are doing as much as possible to keep themselves anonymous? All these could be indicators that you are dealing with a scammer. While getting scammed hurts, it is even much worse for someone who is job hunting, because the scammers could end up making away with the money you had saved up at a time when you do not have a reliable source of income. Therefore, in as much as you should be aggressive in searching for job opportunities, you should also be careful not to fall prey to the exploits of scammers.
Many job seekers do not know this, but the job description might actually hold clues that could help you present yourself as a strong candidate and increase your chances of getting hired for the job.
For you to notice these clues, however, you need to carefully scrutinize the job description and read between the lines.
Carefully deciphering the job description can give you hints about the company’s corporate culture, the personality of the candidates it is looking for, the most important duties for the position, the most important skills, and so on. It can also help you identify red flags and keep you from wasting time on fraudulent job posts.
To properly read and decipher a job description means paying proper attention to the company description, looking beyond the job title, focusing on the first few bullet points in the duties and responsibilities section, understanding the required skills and experience, checking the tone of the job description, watching out for keywords and buzzwords, and watching out for red flags.
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