If you’re spending time reading job advertisements online, you know that they’re not all written equally. Some include far more details than you need to apply, while others are sparse and leave a lot up to the imagination. It’s up to you to pick out what’s important when applying for a job.
Why should you care whether a job ad is well-written or not? If you apply for every job in your industry, regardless of how descriptive the ad is, and whether or not it’s a good fit for you, you’re wasting precious time that could be spent focusing on jobs and companies where you have more opportunity to secure an interview. It could also clue you in to how serious the company is about the position and give you details about the company culture.
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Weed out the Good Stuff
Certain components of a job ad are skills the employer requires, or at least, would like to see in potential candidates. Start by looking at what is listed for skills, experience, and education. Realize that sometimes companies list requirements that are next to impossible to find. In other words, the specifications are flexible to an extent. For example, an electronics company might want a public relations director with 12-plus years of experience in PR, as well as a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. While there are certainly a few people out there that match the requirement, the chances of finding it are slim and reduce or eliminate a lot of the qualified candidate pool. Other times, the skills the company requires do not match the salary they state they are wiling to pay. Something has to give—either the budget will go up for the right candidate or the qualifications will become more realistic. If you have most of what the ad requires, go ahead and apply.
Focus on Keywords
Some job descriptions are long enough to make your eyes cross. Try to skim and pick out the keywords that stand out. If a quick scan piques your interest, go back and read the description more thoroughly to determine if it’s a good fit.
If you’re searching online for jobs, start by searching for keywords that match your field of expertise. Depending on your industry, a company may have many different titles to choose from, and if you are only searching for a specific title you could be missing out on many relevant positions. You might also miss out on a subset in your industry that requires more general industry skills, but do not require that expertise and give you the opportunity to specialize.
Once you’ve narrowed down a list of positions you’re interested and qualified for, make sure you integrate the keywords and abbreviations in your cover letter and resume. The more you mimic the language used in the job ad, the more employers will pay attention to your application.
Ignore the Fluff
Most job ads are half relevant information and half fluff. The fluff is typically the last half of the job description. While being a detail-oriented, organized person with excellent communications skills may be qualities listed in the job description, this isn’t the area you want to play up in your resume. These aren’t “real skills” and won’t land you an interview, so skip over them and focus on the important parts of the description.
Beware of the job descriptions that leave too much to the imagination. It could be a sign of a job that doesn’t really exist. It may be an instance in which a recruiter or company is simply collecting resumes. It's also a sign the company doesn’t know what to look for or what this person will be responsible for in the company.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.