How to read a job description
With some thoughts on job ads...
It’s the beginning of a new year and you’ve spent the Christmas holidays pondering…
Between the food comas and board games, and on the rare occasion you managed any downtime, your thoughts might have turned to work.
Specifically, your career motivations and ambitions or – simply – if you even care about what you do and where you do it.
And that’s ok.
(You may have even been inspired by a careers article based around a single quote from The Office – for example. A completely random example, of course…)
After much thought, mulling over options and ideas that have probably been in your head for some time (plus late-night chats with your other half, family, or friends) you look yourself in the mirror and decide it’s time.
Time to start reading job descriptions and repeatedly questioning your own abilities…
You know, the fun stuff!
The job hunt begins 🏹
Before diving into job descriptions themselves, it’s important to consider the search itself.
And ok, this isn’t the case for everybody right now, but for a lot of people job hunting is their January reality.
(I should point out that I’m not job hunting, in case you were wondering!)
It makes sense.
The Christmas break gives you the time and space to reflect – something you don’t really ever get at any other point in the year.
And while many of you will have come back to work ready to kick on where you work right now, some of you will have realised that it’s time for a change.
The search 🔎
Your reasons for looking may vary, but it all leads back to one thing – the search.
And that can feel hugely daunting – especially if you haven’t changed jobs for a while – but there a ways to make it a little bit easier.
Here are some ideas:
Set up notifications on LinkedIn and other job platforms for your current job title, close variations, and the one above what you do now.
Speak to trusted members of your network for their advice, or to keep their eyes out for you. You’ll know who you can and can’t trust!
The above may also lead to some reputable recruiters who will often have links to jobs well before they ‘hit the market’.
Speak to your line manager. Now, of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but you might work in a business where internal hires are common, so let them know you’re thinking of applying to another team. After all, how are you going to interview for it without telling them anyway? Plus, they might be able to offer some advice. This happens frequently in businesses where there are pathways from entry-level customer service roles, for example.
There’s also a scenario where this applies even if it’s not an internal hire, but a completely different business. Perhaps you’re working a job to financially support your education so it’s more of a means to an end, for example. Only you will know if this is a wise decision, but you wouldn’t be the first person to do so.
Once you’ve concluded that the search is the right decision for you, next comes the trawl itself and the inevitable imposter syndrome when you think you don’t exactly match what’s being asked for.
But here’s the truth, you probably never will.
And that’s the point.
Wishlists, not checklists ✨
It took me years to realise this.
Job descriptions in ads are wishlists. They're not checklists or must-haves.
(A few more thoughts on those last two words in the next section).
They are a list of skills or qualities that the hiring manager thinks will work best for them – ultimately helping the business with whatever challenge it’s currently facing.
This does not mean job descriptions are wrong, but it does mean our interpretations of them can be crippled with self-doubt.
Even if one line out of twenty seems like something you can’t do, you can be guilty of immediately dismissing the rest of the job description because “you can’t do it all”, and tossing it in the bin.
(Or just closing the tab on Chrome, but let’s not split hairs here!)
Reframing a job description can give you a realistic view of your suitability for the role.
So, after you’ve considered the salary (be honest, it’s nearly always the number one consideration), the company itself, and the location requirements, here are some thoughts to help.
Probably best to open a spreadsheet for this…
What do you do now - if you’re looking for a similar role or one that’s a step up, there will be things you’re doing right now. Drop this heading into that spreadsheet and go through the job description line-by-line. As well as your personality and experience, this will be your key area of focus in any interview. You will quickly understand if the bulk of this role is realistic for your skills and experience.
What don’t you do - it’s not necessarily a question of what you can’t do (see below), but is there anything that you categorically don’t do right now? It’s important to outline this so you understand if it’s a small fragment of the role or most of it. Crucially, be honest with yourself.
What can’t you do - even more honestly, is there anything on there that you really, really can’t do? At least right now…
What could you do - before you get stuck into that third point, ask yourself, even if I don’t do it now… could I? If the learning curve isn’t too steep, you absolutely can!
All of this process will give you a clearer understanding of how suited you are for the job in question.
This will give you the confidence to know if you’ll be able to meet and exceed these requirements on a day-to-day basis. Then you can consider if your existing experiences, skills and personality are also a fit for the company.
More importantly, is the company’s culture, values, and work-life balance the right fit for you?
You can create your own wish list if you want!
It may be you only need to meet 40% of the requirements anyway.
Use that information how you want… positively I hope!
Some thoughts on job ads 💭
Let’s go back to this statement:
Job descriptions in job ads are not checklists or must-haves.
Focusing on those two words at the end is where job ads can often let themselves down, and create a situation that confuses your ability to rationally and honestly analyse your skills against the criteria.
And it comes down to what the business considers to be must-haves.
Here the lines blur between skills, role-critical training, and qualifications, or a nebulous definition to filter out inexperienced candidates (in their eyes at least).
Must-haves are things that the candidate really does need to have or be able to do, to succeed in the role. Actual critical factors!
If you’re hiring an experienced forklift driver, they probably need the appropriate qualifications!
(Any excuse for another Office reference).
Putting aside the Brent-isms and being semi-serious for a moment, the point is that businesses should not use must-haves to include unrealistic expectations within the role. This will only hurt both parties later down the line when it’s time for a probation review or appraisal.
To be honest, businesses don’t even need to call them ‘must-haves’ or anything similar. They can just be listed as skills or preferred experience.
Other considerations that really should be standard these days, but aren’t, include:
Salary expectations - come on recruiters! This defines whether a candidate will even entertain the role and if it’s not clearly shown from the beginning, then businesses are wasting their own time and yours, especially if you go deep into an interview process, only to find out the salary is lower than expectations. I’ll allow for showing salary ranges (at the very least) if an actual figure isn’t quoted.
Office, hybrid, remote - which one is it really? And I mean really? Don’t use remote or hybrid as a hook to get candidates in for interviews, then claim you’ve ‘accidentally’ mislabeled a role as five days a week in the office. It’s not on!
Advertise the right location - multi-location businesses have the beauty of advertising for roles across their sites, to attract a wider range of candidates. But this shouldn’t be used to advertise for a role in the Midlands when the HQ is in London and that’s really where your office time will be required.
Entry-level role… with 10 years’ experience - we’ve all seen them. Anger rising, FFS.
I’m sure there are more I’ve missed or forgotten, but these cover what I see as the main issues.
And after all of this, then comes the easy part… the interviews! 😬
Thoughts are welcome in the comments.
Image created via ChatGPT image generator.