How to read a job description (what savvy job seekers should look for)

There is valuable information hidden in job descriptions that many candidates fail to take advantage of. Here’s what you can watch for that can give your application a significant boost over the competition.

The job title

The job title is generally the first thing you read in a job posting. It’s the reason why you clicked on an online job ad in the first place. You found a job that matches your ambitions. Similarly, your resume title is the first thing that employers will read in your application. It’s your headline across the top of the document. Make sure it matches the job you are applying for.

(Many candidates don’t bother to tweak the title of their resume to match specific jobs. Employers don’t want to hire someone who is really looking for a different kind of job than the one they are trying to fill.)

The hiring manager’s name

Career advisors will often advise you to address your application, email, or cover letter to the specific person doing the hiring. The trouble is – many job postings don’t name the hiring manager. However, sometimes there are clues.

If you are directed to submit your application to an email address, does that contact information give hints as to the recipient? If you are told to send your application to [email protected], Google D Smith, and the company name.

Many job descriptions indicate the job title of the person you will be reporting to. Read the company’s About Us page for the identity of the department heads. Who has that title? Check out their LinkedIn profile to see who their connected employees are. Hiring managers often share their open positions on their social networks. So, even if you don’t have a giveaway email address to start with, you can often find the contact you are applying to with a little research.

The specific instructions for how to apply

A job posting will almost certainly provide you with specific instructions on how to submit your application for the role. You’d be surprised by how often candidates miss (or ignore) those steps. If the job postings request that you apply online, don’t show up at the office with a paper resume.

If the ad asks for a resume, cover letter, and samples of your work, send all of those things. And watch for more subtle requests as well. Employers sometimes require specific steps in an application process as a screening tool. They want to engage with those candidates who are motivated enough to read the job posting in detail and can follow instructions. Attention to detail matters.

The relevant keywords to use in your resume

Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems to filter applications. One of the tools they use is a keyword scan to determine the relevancy of resumes. If your application is missing the specific words and phrases that the software is looking for, you could be screened out before a human recruiter even reads your resume.

You can avoid this pitfall by carefully reading the job description, and closely matching the language used to describe the skills and experience required in the way you outline your own credentials. The job ad will tell you what the employer is looking for and how they refer to it. Use this information to present yourself as a good match.

The challenges of the role

Employers are hiring a new member for their team because they have a problem to solve. This is true whether it is a new position or you’re replacing an employee who has moved on. Every job has its challenges. The way to stand out as an applicant is to demonstrate that you understand those challenges and are prepared to solve them.

Can you close a deal in a competitive market? Handle a high volume of customers while remaining upbeat and energetic? Instruct an existing team on adopting new technologies? Whatever field you are in, understanding the employers’ needs is an essential step to getting hired. The job posting will give you the first clues as to what they need you to accomplish.

Doing that analysis will also help you determine how well you fit the role. If you don’t quite have all of the qualifications an employer is asking for, but you clearly understand the job and you are confident that you could be successful at it – write an application that proves this. [See how to apply for a job that you are not quite qualified for.]

If you are clearly overqualified for the job, then write an application that shows how hiring you would make the employer more successful, and why the job is a good fit for you at this point in your career. [See how to apply for a job you are overqualified for.]

Take the time to read a job description carefully before hitting the apply button. It contains valuable information that can boost your chances of getting hired. Paying attention to the details will give you a competitive advantage over those candidates who don’t.

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