A job search is a process, not something that you invent every morning after a cup of coffee. Evaluating, interpreting and responding to a job description are integral parts of that process. All job descriptions are not created equal. They vary in format and content and job candidates who learn how this part of the process works will save time and improve their chances of finding that elusive “right” job. Federal job announcements include detailed job descriptions and are often more comprehensive than those found in the private sector.
Job descriptions are simply a concise rendering of the job title, job responsibilities and qualifications. They go by different names: job ads, classified ads for employment, career opportunities and the like. Sometimes they include a description of the company. They rarely include compensation and benefits, or names and titles of the hiring manager.
Interpreting a Job Description
A candidate’s gut reaction after reading what appears to be an interesting job description is to respond with a resume and other requested information without a second thought. This is unfortunate because job descriptions exist for a number of reasons, and what you read is subject to misinterpretation. To begin, where do these job descriptions originate?
Job descriptions are written by one of three individuals: the hiring manager, the human resources director, or a recruiter working collaboratively with both. In the federal sector the Office of Personnel Management develops a general description using federal qualification standards for each occupational title and then allows the hiring agency to modify them with specific skills sets needed for that position. Hiring managers write the most reliable job descriptions. They are realistic and portray the position and requirements honestly. It is in their best interests to fill an open position as soon as possible. For them, time is of the essence. Human resources directors write credible job descriptions, too, but many times they lack details known only by hiring manager, the person to whom the job reports. Recruiters sometimes write job descriptions at the request of the hiring manager or human resources director. Usually they are credible documents because the recruiter works closely with the hiring manager and the human resources director.
Are Job Descriptions Realistic?
The job description is written with the ideal candidate in mind, and rarely, if ever, does that person exist. In all of my years recruiting for positions from entry-level to CEO, I have never found a job candidate who met every one of the requirements and qualifications on the job description. Employers always make compromises and experienced candidates know this. If the hiring manager or human resources director did not make compromises, nobody would ever be hired. For example, when you read a job description that says, “four to six years’ experience required” do not disregard it if you have only two years’ experience.
Why Job Descriptions Exist
Job descriptions are written to attract candidates for a job opening for one particular position, or for multiple positions with identical requirements but in different locations. For example, one job description will serve for three sales representatives who will work in different parts of the country.
Also, job descriptions are written because the company needs to avoid the appearance of discrimination, or to meet OEO requirements, even though the company hiring manager may have already selected an internal candidate. (The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) is a federal government agency that oversees fair employment hiring practices. All companies doing business with the federal government must sign an OEO document agreeing to meet rigid recruiting and hiring practices.)
Beating the Internal Candidate
When a job comes open for any reason, the first place a company looks for a replacement is within its internal workforce. Frequently, a company knows the internal candidate who will get the open spot, but writes and posts the job description just the same to meet the OEO and/or other state and federal regulations. After a reasonable amount of time during which the company gathers resumes from both internal and external applicants, the pre-selected internal candidate wins the job. All of the candidates who applied for this position unknowingly submitted their candidacy in vain. The company will never admit to it, but rest assured that this happens every day. To avoid the internal candidate trap, one of the first questions to ask in a phone or personal interview is, “How many internal candidates are you considering? If you already have your selection and are interviewing me for other purposes, I’d rather not waste your time and mine by proceeding through the interview.” If nothing else, it will let the interviewer know that you have the experience and maturity to play the game.
What do Job Descriptions Really Say?
The typical job description will state the title of the position and where it is located. It will list the job responsibilities either in bullet point format or in a text paragraph. Usually these are broadly stated items. The job requirements and/or qualifications specify educational background, years of experience, and fields of expertise. The requirements are usually overstated and nobody on Earth or Mars will ever possess all of them. For example, some job descriptions may state, “ten years’ experience in web design” but the company will hire someone with three to five years’ experience. It happens all the time. There are always exceptions and compromises companies will make for certain positions. However, some jobs require strict adherence to the specs in the job description because of legally required certifications and licenses.
If the job description or online application requests your age, driver’s license number, or social security number, do not apply. This is your personal and confidential information. Share it with the employer only if you win the job because such personal information is required for tax and identification purposes.
WHERE ARE JOB DESCRIPTIONS POSTED?
A job description is posted in various places, not just on a company website. The same job description on the website could be on various job boards like Monster, on social media sites like LinkedIn, and on websites of recruiters. It could easily find its way to a dozen or more places, which is one reason why companies receive so many resumes in response to a posting. When you see the same job posted in multiple locations, it is a sign that the employer may be looking for many resumes to satisfy OEO or other requirements.
When you see the same job posted on multiple sites, always respond to the job description posted on the employer’s website. If the selected candidate is hired directly by the employer instead of an outside source, the company saves money because it does not have to pay a fee to a job board or recruiter. That saved money could result in a more lucrative salary offer or better benefits for the selected candidate.
JOB DESCRIPTIONS WITH STRICT REQUIREMENTS
Job descriptions for positions requiring certification and licensure leave little room for compromise by the company. Examples are jobs for medical personnel, educators, lawyers and certain government personnel, that by law require licensure and certification.
THE BIG RED FLAGS OF JOB DESCRIPTIONS
Frequently, postings on job boards, or even on LinkedIn, are tricky to say the least. I have identified the big red flags of job descriptions. Note them well.
Red Flag #1. The job description does not disclose the name of the company or its location. The company could be a back alley operation or a prominent company on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley. You just don’t know. The reason for this non-disclosure is known only to the entity writing and posting the job description, and you do not have time to play games. Do not send a resume or click the “Apply” button if there is no company name. Doing so is equivalent to sending your resume into space and a waste of your precious job searching time.
Red Flag #2. The job description does not state the name of the company contact or job title. It might say, “Send your resume to Position # 256, or Job #897.” Sending your resume to a job number is equivalent to sending your candidacy to the third moon of the planet Jupiter. If there is no contact name and title on the job description, but it looks interesting, call the company customer service department and ask for the name and contact information for the human resources director and hiring manager. Then you can submit your candidacy to a living person by email or ground services like UPS or FedEx.
Red Flag #3. Some job descriptions are nothing more than a general statement about a particular kind of job. Recently, I saw one of these on the LinkedIn site called “Recent College Grads.” The job title was “Virtual Executive Assistant to the CEO.” There were no bullet points about responsibilities and qualifications and did not include the name of the company, the hiring manager, or location of the company. In addition, it had a deceptive major heading titled “Professional Chemistry” under which were three bullet points: “upbeat demeanor”
“adaptable attitude” and “composure under pressure.” This could have been a bogus job description. It gave you nothing but asked for much personal information after you hit the “Apply” button. Handing out your personal information to an unknown entity is a recipe for potential disaster. Never submit your resume or application for what appears to be a bogus job description, even if it comes from a reputable source such as LinkedIn.
ELEMENTS OF A CREDIBLE JOB DESCRIPTION
Job descriptions come in all sizes and shapes and are written by any number of sources. They are not all created equal. Some are bare bones and others are encyclopedic. There is a natural tendency for all candidates to respond to every job description that seems to match their vision for employment. However, you can spend useless hours responding to job descriptions that have no merit and will not yield even a thank you from the employer. Your reward will be utter frustration to the point where you cry out in desperation, “THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE!” Learning which job description to disregard and which to address is just another part of the search process. Here is a list of elements that credible job descriptions should have, and a brief example of each.
- The name, location and description of the company. Example: “Facebook, a social media company located at 127 Smith Rd., San Jose, California.”
- The job title, and the title of the person to whom it reports. Example: “IT Assistant reporting to the IT department head, Mary Smith.”
- The job location. Example: “The job location is the corporate regional sales office in Seattle Washington.”
- A list of responsibilities and expectations. Example: “Selling product line to hospitals; meeting sales goals; reporting customer concerns to marketing; written quarterly sales plans; daily expense accounting.”
- Background qualifications. Example: “Experience in residential HVAC installation and repair. HVAC certification”
- Desired level of education. Example: “BS in biology.”
- Required certification or licenses. Example: “State of New Jersey. Certified Nurse Midwife certification and license.”
- A general description of the compensation and benefits package. Example: Base salary; bonus based on performance; life insurance; medical/dental insurance; IRA; paid annual vacation; paid holidays; paid sick days; long term disability insurance.
Do not expect every detail of the job to be on the job description. As you read it, make notes for discussing the particulars with the hiring manager during the interview.
HOW TO RESPOND TO A JOB DESCRIPTION WITH A CAREER PROFILE
If you decide to pursue a position you found through any source and it does not contain any red flags, what do you do next? Conventional wisdom says that you should submit your resume to a person with a name, a title, and company affiliation. However, is that all one should do? Send just a resume?
Consider this. Hundreds or maybe thousands of other candidates probably saw the same job description that you saw on a company website. What happens next? Hundreds or thousands of candidates will, like sheep, send only their resumes. Why? Because that is what the job, descriptions requested. Just submitting a resume and maybe a cover letter means that you will be one of hundreds or thousands applying for that same position. For example, Southwest Airlines receives over 100,000 resumes each year. To distinguish yourself from the rest of the crowd submit a Career Profile, which consists of the following:
- Cover letter
- College transcript
- Letters of reference
- Certifications and licenses
- Any articles or blogs you have authored as an example of your written communication skills
Submitting the Career Profile is one of the tools in your job-hunting repertoire that will give you a distinct advantage over the competition and enhance your prospects of landing a job.
For an expanded version of this material, read Chapter 32 in my book titled, OPERATION JOB SEARCH, A Guide for Military Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Careers, Skyhorse Publishing Inc. c 2016. It is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and eBook.
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