How to Read a Job Description
When cruising online job boards or other sources of job listings, you get used to seeing a lot of job descriptions. How you read and interpret those has a lot of bearing on how well you think you’re qualified and how you’re likely to customize a resume.
Often people read it wanting it to be the right job for them, and only look for the things that might match rather than understanding what the company is really seeking. As a result, they are often surprised that they didn’t get chosen for an interview when they believed the description seemed to be a close fit.
How should you read a job description? And what are they really looking for?
Here are some observations that may help…
Don’t get bogged down by the fluff! The vast majority of job descriptions are not written by a hiring manager that has very specific things they are looking for in a new employee. However, they are generally written by someone in Human Resources that uses a template for all their open positions, and then adds some additional information based on their discussion with the hiring manager or their own understanding of the role.
Much of the job description is standard language used in all of their job descriptions. Verbiage describing the company, their culture, the kind of people they generally like to hire (self-starters, strong communicators, people that work hard and play hard, strong written communication skills, etc.) are commonly copied into all job descriptions. All of these things are good points to keep in mind, however, are virtually never things that they actually look for when reviewing resumes.
It’s not unusual for a job seeker to read that first part of the description, and believe the job is a great fit for them because they have those skills and traits. They may even customize their resume when applying to emphasize those keywords and attributes. Unfortunately, they find it has no bearing on their overall fit for the specific position.
Look for multiple job postings from that company in various types of roles, and you’re likely to find that each of those job descriptions has identical or similar wording. It’s generally fluff that can mostly be ignored.
Don’t get bogged down by the job duties! Job duties listed on job descriptions are commonly created once and used every time that particular kind of role is open again. They are rarely updated, and sometimes turn out to be very different from the actual job expectations at the time they are actually seeking to fill the position. They are also often written very broadly and in general terms, and it can be difficult to determine what the actual tasks of the role might be. The job duties listed in the description can be important reference points to consider, however, they should not be the determining factor of whether a particular position is a great fit or not.
Focus on the requirements! More often than not, a hiring manager will have primarily communicated the essential requirements of the position that they want in the job description. This is the area that will provide the most relevant insight to the role and what they are looking for. It’s not unusual for a hiring manager not to take the time to write a detailed description of a position, however, they will communicate the 3 or 4 things that they want to see from candidates. Those points generally get listed as the first few items in the requirements list.
Order matters! Not only is the Requirements section the most important part of the job description, the first few items listed are the most important requirements. Those are the ones that were most likely conveyed by the hiring manager.
Consequently, emphasizing your skills and experience in those first few requirements is the most likely way to get noticed and considered for the role. While you may have great experience in many of the requirements further down the list, they are far less likely to have an impact when they are considering all the resumes to select who to interview.
When reviewing job descriptions and deciding which ones to pursue and how to customize your resume appropriately… the first few points listed in the requirements section are the most critical items to focus on. Be smart about how to best present yourself by concentrating on the things that will be most highly valued!