Interview Prep: A Roadmap for Dissecting Job Descriptions
Have you ever encountered the following feelings after you start a new job?
- “I get so frustrated when I start a job and realize what I’ll actually be doing doesn’t match what the description communicated.”
- “I wish I had known more details about this job before starting the position.”
- “I never would’ve accepted an offer for this job if I had known what it truly entailed.”
- “I need to start looking for another job again. This is a step backwards from what I wanted to do next.”
- “I can’t realistically accomplish what they need. There are some core skills I don’t have that they need in order to complete this project in the expected timeframe.”
We hear these comments and frustrations, as well as others, from numerous professionals after they start a new job. Oftentimes these same issues trigger them to restart their job search so soon after starting at a new company. It is extremely frustrating when you start a new job and realize that what you are expected to do does not align with what you thought you would be doing after the interview. It is even more frustrating when you feel the job is taking a step backwards in your career, or it is a project, application, technology landscape, etc. that is outdated or does not interest you for some other reason.
The reality is that most hiring managers were not trained on writing effective job descriptions. As a result, the job description or posting you review is rarely a 100% accurate depiction of what the job will truly entail, the expectations, the required skills someone needs to walk in the door with, and/or the complete technology landscape and roadmap. Even if the manager does have an accurate picture of all of these things, a “time constraint” might yield an incomplete job description. The issue here is that you (the job seeker) are basing your opinion of the job based off that job description.
So what does this all mean?
First, never assume that the job description you are reading is completely accurate, nor that it is was created/written for the role you are even interviewing for. It is common for organizations, and hiring managers, to recycle job postings. Both of us have spent time sitting down with hiring managers to craft accurate job descriptions, and in almost all cases, it is the first time these individuals have had help doing so. In some cases, an inaccurate job description is due to a time constraint. We have both experienced multiple occasions where a Manager asked us to “Find another job posting for a similar job” or in one case to “Google a Systems Administrator job posting that I can tweak and use.” Managers often have a lot going on and writing a job description for their opening is just another item on their lengthy to do list.
Second, we strongly believe that job seekers/interviewees should take shared ownership in this area, i.e. capturing the “complete picture” of a job description, expectations, and requirements during the interview process! Do not rely on the job description, or for the Manager to be forthcoming with all the details you need and want to know about the role. During your first conversation with a Recruiter or Talent Acquisition Specialist, which is usually the first step in the hiring process, ask them a question such as "Was this job description written for this particular opening?" to give you an indication of the accurateness.
Third, truly reflect on the job description and strategize in a few key areas, including determining questions to ask during the process that will help you validate the job description, core job functions and desired outcomes, main technologies and tools that will be used, and dive deeper into what the manager really needs and expects from this individual.
Five Key Questions to Ask
Here are our five reflection questions recommendations to ask while reviewing a job description. Then, in turn, re-frame these questions and ask the Recruiter and hiring Manager during conversations/interviews to help paint a clearer picture and gain more accurate information on the job duties and expectations:
- What do the core goals, priorities and expectations appear to be?
- What are 3-4 accomplishments I have had that relate to the goals and expectations?
- What are the hard requirements vs. preferred qualifications?
- Why am I interested (in the role, group, project/s, technologies, company, culture, environment, etc.)?
- What questions do I have?
- Possible consideration areas here: Is there any information that is missing from the description that is important to me? Does it outline project or team goals/objectives? Does it possess enough details on technology stacks and any methodologies or concepts the team/company operates by? What questions do I have about the company, benefits, culture, perks, etc.?
As you review job descriptions or postings, recognize that what you are reading is likely not a complete or 100% accurate reflection of the role. Therefore, you will want to ask open-ended questions to the Recruiter and/or hiring Manager that help you validate the description and paint a clearer picture of exact expectations! Again, a simple “Was the job description written for this role or do you know if it’s a recycled job description? This will help me determine some of the questions I may want to ask the hiring Manager during the interview.”
With this in mind, you will be able to better assess whether the role is one you will be interested in, and suitable for. It will also help you better highlight why you are a fit and why you will would excel. You will be able to share relevant career highlights and skills you will bring to the table that will contribute to resolving the Manager’s current pain points (i.e. why the role is open).
As a second step, hopefully after you have better and more accurate information on the role; review the job description and additional details prior to an interview, and ask the following:
- What are the main position goals and expectations, and any established timelines?
- What experience/skills do I have that relates?
- What skills are required? Which are plusses?
- Why am I interested and excited about the role, project, company, technology stack/s, etc.?
- What questions should I ask the Manager about the role?
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