The information hidden in job postings that can help you apply (or warn you not to)

There can be a great deal of information revealed in job ads just below the surface. That is why you need to read them very closely before applying for a position. The hidden details can give you clues on how to make your candidacy more successful – or warning signs that you probably shouldn’t apply at all.

See also: Decoded: The five words most often appearing in job postings

Because I have a public profile on LinkedIn – as many professionals do – I am regularly approached by recruiters with potential job opportunities. I received a job posting from one just last week. The opportunity was for a major financial institution, so I can only assume they are coasting on their well-known brand name to attract talent. Because the job posting itself contained a number of red flags that would prevent most professionals from applying.

Here are a few things to watch out for in job postings before you decide to apply.

Mismatch between the job title and the actual job

Job titles can be deceiving, so you have to read the details of the job itself to see what you would actually be doing at work. Sometimes employers try to hire for a lower-paying position but require you to have the qualifications and do the work of a much more advanced position.

For example, a company might want to hire a Jr. Proof Reader, but the job description says the successful candidate be writing and coding the company website, translating materials into a second language, and creating graphics. (So, what they really want is an advanced, tech-savvy web writer and translator with coding and graphic design skills who will work for the wages of a ‘Jr. Proof Reader.’) Red flag.

In the case of the job posting, I received last week, the title and the job were simply unrelated. The job title was for a Content Publisher, which is something I do, and a job I would apply for if I was looking for work. However, there was nothing in the job description at all about writing, editing, or even publishing. The duties were all concerning internal communications between stakeholders, documenting changes and processes, and other behind the scenes administrative tasks. The job was for a ‘Project Manager,’ not a publisher.

People who are actually interested in publishing content to the web, wouldn’t be happy in this role. Of course, this works both ways. If your goal is to work for a specific company, you should read all of their job openings, even if they don’t seem to be closely related to your field. A talented project manager might have missed this opportunity, simply because the hiring manager gave it the job title of publisher.

Warning signs of a bad employer

A negative work environment can take its toll on your career and your health. You’ll be better off if you can spot the red flags of a bad job before even going in. The job posting sent to me last week listed in the details that they were looking for someone with “longevity in roles, promotions, and not a lot of gaps on a resume, or job hopping.” The thing is, the job they were hiring for was for a one-year contract.

There is nothing wrong with contract jobs. More and more companies are using short-term roles to deliver on projects and cut costs. That is the way business is going.

You just can’t be hiring for a short-term role and say that you have a negative view of candidates who take short-term roles. Basically, the employer is telling you that if you take this job, you will be harming your own hireablility and future career prospects in their estimation.

Someone who thinks less of you as a professional for taking the job they offered you is not somebody you want to work for.

Other warning signs of a bad job hidden in the ad include:

Unrealistic expectations: Sometimes employers try to hire one person to solve all of their problems. So, they will tack on everything that they wish they had into a single role. Such as asking for the new ‘receptionist’ to have a degree in finance, a certificate in marketing, and an MBA. (Because along with greeting visitors and answering phones, they will be writing all of the executive correspondence, planning the office events, scheduling the sales calls and meetings, and supervising the budget.)

Micromanaging: If the job posting describes the company as having a ‘hands-on management’ style, or as being a very ‘detail-oriented’ organization, they are telling you that they will likely be looking over your shoulder and heavily-scrutinizing your work. Some people appreciate a great deal of supervision and feedback. However, if you chafe under that level of authority, steer clear.

Long hours: Phrases such as ‘must be flexible on scheduling,’ ‘willing to work outside of regular hours’, ‘evenings and weekends required,’ ‘and ‘overtime as needed’ all indicate that if work/life balance is important to you – or you have kids to pick up after school – this job might not be for you.

Culture: Companies also reveal details about their workplace culture in their job postings. Do they describe themselves as ‘up-and-coming’ or with a ‘start-up mentality’? Or are they more established and corporate? The differences in working styles can be striking between environments in terms of hours, dress code, supervision and training, and job security and benefits.

Phrases like “we work hard and play hard” are supposed to conjure up images of a high-achieving team that regularly celebrates their successes. This is also usually associated with workplaces where long hours are expected, and the company has frequent parties, events, and activities after hours. (Again, this can be great if you live to work and have the time – possibly less good if you have a family or other obligations.)

What to watch for in job postings to make your application successful

Who to apply to: Does the job posting reveal the name of the hiring manager or an email address to apply to? Any information you can glean to help you address your application to a specific person will help your chances.

How to apply: Read the instructions on how to apply for the job carefully – and follow them. One of the employers’ biggest pet peeves – and the easiest way to get screened out of the contention for a role – is when you fail to apply as directed. If you can’t pay attention to the details (or follow instructions) in a job posting, how will you perform on the job?

If the job ad asks you to send your resume as a PDF, send a PDF. If they request samples of your work, include a portfolio. Apply for the job in the format and timeline specified and with all of the information and documents asked for. Right away you’ll be ahead of all the candidates who didn’t.

Relevant keywords: The wording used in the job description to detail the experience, credentials, and skills required will likely be the same keywords that the company’s Applicant Tracking software will be screening resumes for. Make sure your application contains the same words and phrases as the job posting.

Qualifications vs. job responsibilities: As I mentioned in this article’s red flags section, job titles can sometimes be misleading, or employers can ask for unrealistic credentials from applicants. Read the job description to determine what the actual challenge of the role is. If you have the demonstrated ability and qualifications to be successful at the job, then apply. Use your resume to highlight how your skills and experience make you a stand-out candidate for the work they need to be done. A tailored, relevant application for a specific job is more important than ticking off every qualification on an employer’s wish list of possibilities.

Watch closely for the way that job qualifications are listed and described. Employers will usually list the more important requirements, skills, and qualifications first and in more detail before delving into the lesser ‘nice-to-have’ credentials.

Just don’t apply for jobs where your qualifications are clearly not a match. You won’t get hired, and you’ll only be wasting both your and the employer’s time.

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