Deciphering a Job Description: What to Look For Before You Apply

August 24, 2023

Applying for jobs shouldn’t be a numbers game. But when you’re doing it on your own, without a recruiter, that is exactly what it becomes. It’s overwhelming to comb through one posting after another to find the perfect fit. 

Learning to carefully decipher a job description and what to look for in a post can increase your chances of landing a position that aligns with your skills and career goals. Here’s how.

Look for Keywords

As you review the job description, pay attention to any keywords or phrases used repeatedly. They can indicate the main responsibilities or tasks associated with the position, as well as the types of skills and qualifications important for the role. 

Remember that many employers use software programs to target and identify the same keywords in your resume and application, so it’s a good idea to tailor a version of your resume to reflect those keywords. 

For example, if you come across a job ad with the requirement, “Organize and analyze budgets, income statement forecasts and process analysis,” strategically placing “analyze budgets” or “process analysis” in your resume as tasks you have experience in will improve your chances of getting noticed by the employer.

Decode the Job Requirements

Job requirements are typically split into “essential” and “desirable” categories. Essential requirements are the minimum skills or qualifications that you need to perform the job effectively. If you don’t meet these requirements, it’s unlikely you’ll be considered for the role.

Desirable requirements, on the other hand, are ‘nice-to-have’ skills that could make you stand out from other applicants. These could include knowledge of specific software, language skills, or industry-specific certifications.

What to Look For

  • “Experience in…”: This indicates that the employer is looking for someone who has worked in a similar role or industry before.
  • “Knowledge of…”: This usually means that you should be familiar with a specific tool, software, or concept, but may not need to have used it extensively.
  • “Proficiency in…”: This is a step up from ‘knowledge of.’ It suggests that you should be able to use a tool or software effectively.
  • “Expertise in…”: This suggests that you should have a high level of skill or knowledge in a particular area, often backed up by evidence such as certifications or significant work experience.

Read Between the Lines

While the job requirements provide a list of the technical skills needed, the job description often gives you a sense of the company culture and the soft skills required. 

A company that emphasizes “work-life balance” or “employee development” is likely to value their employees’ well-being and professional growth. On the other hand, phrases like “wear many hats” or “roll up your sleeves” may suggest that you’ll be expected to take on a wide variety of tasks, which could be exciting or overwhelming, depending on your perspective.

Phrases such as “fast-paced environment”, “team player”, “self-starter”, or “flexible” can hint at the type of work environment and the personality traits the employer values.

Be Wary of Red Flags

While it’s essential to look for what you want in a job description, it’s equally important to look for potential red flags. Vague descriptions, unrealistic expectations (like an entry-level job requiring 5+ years of experience) or requirements that seem mismatched with the job title may indicate a lack of clarity about the role or unrealistic expectations from the employer.

Decode your Future Career 

Pinnacle can help take the guesswork out of your job search. Our recruiters get to know you and what you need in your next role and they take the lead in the position, company and culture that are good fits for your experience, work style and values. 

Contact us today to get started.

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