The Truth about Job Descriptions


By:   |   Updated: 2020-04-17   |   Comments   |   Related: More > Professional Development Job Search

Problem

Your current position is coming to an end and you're in the market for a new job. As you're looking through online job postings, you notice some of the following:

  1. Many appear to be similar
  2. Some have every technology under the sun listed
  3. Some barely have a paragraph of information
  4. Others just show a list of requirements with no details on what the role will be doing

Unfortunately, inaccurate job descriptions, incomplete job descriptions, or exaggerated requirement lists are common realities when it comes to many job postings. This can hinder your ability to conduct an effective job search and may cause job seekers an immense amount of frustration, confusion and uncertainty in whether they should apply.

Solution

As a job seeker, here are the 5 key job description realities to know, and advice on how to proceed!

1 - Many job descriptions are recycled

I cannot tell you how many times over my 15 years in IT Staffing and Services that I've heard a hiring manager say "go ahead and use the same job description that we used last time." Hiring managers have a lot on their plate, and writing an accurate or current job description typically does not fall at the top of most of their lists. Often times they are also choosing a job description that best matches the role at hand and there are limited options in their archive of descriptions. Therefore, it is likely that when you are reading a job description, it has not been tailored to, or updated for, the specific role.

As a job seeker, what can you do? Simply accept that many job descriptions aren't the "real reflection" of the role, take them with a grain of salt, and seek out more information once you talk to the Recruiter, Talent Acquisition Specialist, peer or manager of the role. 

Side note: As staffing professionals, we always encourage hiring managers to work with us to develop a custom job description, or get information on the requirements, plusses, day-to-day responsibilities, perks, etc. and write them ourselves. However, we encourage you to ask any Recruiters you are working with on a position these questions: "Where did the job description come from? Was this job description written for this opening?"

2 - The Requirements section listed may not be all true/accurate requirements

We see this a lot. The Requirements section is often a laundry list of tools, technologies, certifications, education, and so on. In our experience, the first few requirements (2-3 or potentially 3-5 depending on how many are listed), are often the most important requirements of the role. Focus on those and if you meet those requirements, submit your resume. We tell job seekers to apply to postings where they meet 75-80% of the requirements. The job description often portrays an ideal candidate in a perfect world, but we all know there is no such thing as perfect. If you feel confident and comfortable in those top requirements, go for it!

Best practice: If there are requirements or plusses you're uncomfortable with or haven't heard of, spend a few minutes researching them. You may be surprised with what tools and technologies you have utilized that are similar. This extra time can also really show a Recruiter or hiring manager how strong your initiative is, as well as your interest in the role.

3 - Managers often rarely go through job description training

As a former hiring manager, I never went through training on how to write an effective job description. And most hiring managers I currently know are in the same boat. Because of this lack of training, many descriptions are reused and provide little insight into the role, responsibilities and requirements. They are also typically put together by someone who has "never been in your shoes" (i.e. hasn't done your job), and therefore are missing some of the pieces of information that would most interest you.

I would follow the same recommendation as mentioned in #2. As you are evaluating the requirements, do the top 1-3 items look like things you'd be interested in spending your day doing? If so, apply. If you are selected for an interview, this will be your opportunity to deep dive into aspects like major responsibilities, project/s, expectations, technical stacks and roadmap, methodologies, etc. 

4 - Many lack specifics that would determine your interest level

This can be really frustrating for the job seeker. You want to know more about the environment, tech stack, perks, work-from-home flexibility, benefits, PTO, salary, additional compensation, etc. and none of that information is listed. We always encourage hiring managers to include the 8 Ps in their job descriptions (we call these the position attractors): purpose, project, potential, place, pay, people, priorities, and perks. Many of these Ps, however, will inevitably be missing from the job description, and the key person supporting hiring for the role (i.e. Recruiter/Talent Acquisition) likely won't know it all either.

How do you overcome this? Evaluate the job postings you're seeing, identify what information is missing, make a list of what's missing that you care about, and ask questions around those details during any interview/s. What if there is no insight into pay rate/salary, bonus structure, or 401K? Don't worry! If you're working with a recruiting firm, these are great items to address. Same goes if you're in contact with an HR/recruiting department directly at an organization.

5 - Many Managers don't understand what they really need

This may seem strange, but you'd be surprised at how often the candidates that get hired do not match what the job description originally portrayed. Some managers think tech skills are the be-all and end-all (and sometimes they very well may be), but I've had so many managers hire individuals with strong personalities, vision, initiative, that communicated well and seemed to be great team players. They key here is take every job description with a grain of salt. If you know you can impact change or add value, apply. If you don't have enough experience but are driven and pick up things quickly, apply. If you're over qualified, apply. Never sell yourself short and, after all, you miss all the shots you don't take! You could be the ideal candidate the manager is looking for, and they might not know it.

BONUS TIP:

Use the description as a way to identify companies in your area who hire for the types of roles you're interested in! This is great advice, especially if you're new to a market or it's been a while since you've searched for a new role. Use key words and job titles to search through postings for similar roles. You can also ask your recruiting firm if they have any positions similar to the ones you've seen online or if they know what company the open position is at (if the client name is not listed).

Next Steps

It's important to understand the reality of job descriptions before you embark on the job search train. Always remember:

  1. Job descriptions are often reused/recycled. Are there other avenues for you to get additional information? Your network/mutual contact, recruiter you're working with, HR/Talent Acquisition contact at the company, etc.
  2. Requirements are often a laundry list for the ideal candidate. No one is 100%! Focus on the top 2-3 or 3-5. And always remember, if you meet 75-80% of the requirements, apply! You may be the ideal candidate the hiring manager is looking for.
  3. Hiring managers typically do not receive training on writing strong job descriptions that will attract top candidates. Keep this in mind and take every description you see with a grain of salt. If there are specifics missing like tech stack, environment, team details, jot that down and ensure that you're information gets answered during the interview process.

Take these actions now, or moving forward:

  1. Hiring Managers - Job descriptions can get outdated quite fast, so as a manager, we encourage you to audit your typical postings once a quarter and make updates accordingly. Don't know where to start? Check out our Tip on The Importance of a Quality Job Description for SQL Server Professionals.
  2. Job Seekers - As you come across a job posting that looks pretty "bland," ask yourself "how else can I gain access to other information? Is there anyone you know at the company that could provide some insight?" If you're working with a recruiting firm, and they have history with the customer, it's likely they'll be able to provide some color around the role. If you can't get more information, and it looks like a role you're interested in and could do, even if you are missing some of the requirements, take a shot and apply for the role!


Last Updated: 2020-04-17


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About the author
MSSQLTips author Cate Murray Cate Murray is responsible for managing the nationally-based talent acquisition strategies of the Apex Systems PMO and Business Analysis Practice and holds her PMP certification from PMI.

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