Job Descriptions 101: The Reality of Requirements
We've been hosting quarterly 'Ask Us Anything: Job Search Q&A Panel' discussions through our company, and we've noticed an increasing trend in questions, issues, and overall confusion and frustration around the topic of job descriptions. Job descriptions as a whole isn't a new frustration, but the challenge of understanding/interpreting job descriptions is becoming a larger 'job seeker pain point!' In our most recent Job Search Q&A, over a third of the questions were around job descriptions, their lists of requirements, and how much weight they should put on the requirements. People posed specific questions such as "Are requirements really accurate?", "Should I apply if I don't have all the requirements?", or made comments such as "Most of the positions I'm interested in have requirements that I don't meet" or "Descriptions are so broad, I don't know whether I should apply."
Before we dive into advice, as you are reviewing job descriptions and determining if you should and would like to apply, let's address some basics around job descriptions from the Manager/Recruiter side that are helpful to know.
Basics Around Job Descriptions from Managers / Recruiters
- Most Managers don't receive training on how to write effective
On the rare occasion where we meet a Manager who has received some sort of training on job descriptions, we applaud their companies! It's not common, but hopefully one day it will be part of every company's Management training and/or onboarding for new leaders who will be in a hiring capacity.
- Many have never walked in your shoes, and thus don't know
the details and information you'd want to know.
One of the biggest frustrations we dealt with when we were Recruiters, and that we still hear about frequently, is that a job description doesn't include the core details that the individual is interested in knowing. Job seekers share the very common sentiment of "Job descriptions love outlining all the requirements they want in one person, but don't outline core priorities, what technology stack(s) are being used, the versions, and important project details." Try not to be discouraged if a description is missing details you care about. Rather, just frame interview questions that would give you the details YOU want to know!
- Many can't write/edit job descriptions.
I'll never forget the first conversation I had with one of our Senior Technology Directors around this point, when he shared "I'm glad we are having a conversation so I can communicate what this position is really all about and what we need. I can't edit the job description on our website. It's just a very basic, standard job description we have had for this job title for at least 5 years." I was in shock. What's the point of even having a job description posted on your website if it's not updated to reflect your current job? Again, don't despair, this is why interviews should go both ways, where you are interviewing them as well.
- Many are recycled.
Similar to the third point above, Managers and Recruiters/Talent Acquisition Specialists will use the same description for the last similar role they hired for that group/team. For one group I used to support, they used the same Business Analyst job description for the last 10 years.
- Some job descriptions are copied from elsewhere.
Another one of my favorite stories is the Manager who asked me to Google a Systems Administrator job description, and then told me he'd make some tweaks to that one. On top of not being the most ethical action to take, doing that results in a job description that is very biased and inaccurate from the get-go.
- They have a lot of different openings for the same role, and so
they want to interview for different projects.
We support hiring for a lot of Fortune 500 companies, and larger organizations/groups is where we see this happen the most. In one recent example, a Manager was hiring Project Managers for 8 different initiatives, and he didn't want to include the specific details of projects, technology stacks, methodologies, etc. in the job description because they varied and he wanted to determine the best project/initiative for that individual during the interview process.
- Requirements aren't accurate.
We hope we haven't frustrated you more with the above points, but it is helpful context to understand. Now let's get to the good stuff, our actual advice on how you can overcome any frustrations on job descriptions/requirements!
Advice on Overcoming Frustrations with Job Descriptions / Requirements
- Apply for jobs that are within your wheelhouse anyways.
If you see a Systems Architect role that looks interesting to you, and you fit the majority of qualifications of a Systems Architect, take a shot and apply! Then prepare a couple open-ended questions that will actually give you more information about the role.
- Apply the 80:20 rule when reviewing requirements.
Have you ever reviewed a job description and list of requirements and not applied because you were missing 2-3 requirements? Most job seekers self-eliminate based on requirements, when again, the odds are that some of those "requirements" are more of preferred qualifications or aren't relevant for the role if it's an outdated or recycled description. As a general rule of thumb, we encourage candidates to apply for roles they are interested in where they have 80% of the requirements outlined and an interest in learning the rest! This rule can be altered a bit by role and level. For more junior level candidates, we encourage 50%+. As an example, if you are a Programmer who specializes in React.js and PostgreSQL, and you've taken some training on AngularJS, we recommend you apply for a position that's asking for experience in React, Angular and Node.
- Ask Recruiters where the job description came from.
Once you get on the phone with the person who is supporting hiring for that role, typically a Recruiter or Talent Acquisition Specialist, simply inquire on "Was this job description written specifically for this role, or is it perhaps recycled or a general description that this group uses?" Once you know where the job description came from and how serious you should take it, you can then ask targeted questions to determine actual goals, responsibilities, expectations, technologies, etc.
- Tell Recruiters what you'd like to know about a role before
Too often, candidates go into an interview a bit blind, i.e. they aren't sure on the basic details of responsibilities, expectations, requirements, technologies, application/project details, etc. If you don't have the information you need about a job description, communicate the information you'd like to know to the Recruiter/Talent Acquisition Specialist. Don't overwhelm them with a list of 10+ questions, but rather, focus on your top 2-3 questions. This won't work for every scenario, as there are many organizations which don't allow Manager contact, so keep that in mind! But you should be able to get some more specifics in the majority of cases from the Recruiter ahead of time. If not, address during the interview!
- Build partnerships with Recruiters who are educated about the types
of roles you're interested in (i.e. skill set focused).
One of the best actions you can take during a job search is to identify tenured Recruiters who are focused on supporting a specific type of skill set. One of the benefits of that is that they are more likely to be educated on what you do, and therefore will typically get better details about a job they are supporting. For example, at our company, our Recruiters support a specific discipline/skill set, and often attend the 'Qualification Calls' we have with Managers to get the details on their hiring needs. We have Data/BI specific Recruiters, Project Management Recruiters, Cyber Recruiters, and so on. A lot of staffing firms operate by this model. So, as a job seeker, get referrals of Recruiters from others in your network, do some searching on LinkedIn, and/or reach out to Recruiters where you notice they mention being skill-set focused in a job description!
Here are our main suggestions to combat your concern around the reality of job descriptions and requirements:
- As a rule of thumb with job descriptions, go in with the mentality that they likely aren't a 100% accurate portrayal of the role at hand. If the role reads like something you could do, you have some of the basic key requirements, and you are interested, apply for the position.
- Try to determine where the job description came from. Was it recycled? Is it their standard job description for that type of role? Was it customized and written for this particular opening?
- Communicate what you need to know about a role to the Recruiter, and hopefully they will be able to shed some additional light.
- Ask quality interview questions to understand the key details about a role, such as "Will you outline the key responsibilities this person will have? What are your expectations in what will get done over the first month, first three months, six months, etc.? Will you explain the project/application details? Will you break down your technology stacks?"
- Do you have relationships with at least two skills-focused recruiters with several years of tenure who focus on supporting local organizations? If not, block off time to do some "recruiter prospecting" where you identify a couple potential recruiting partners. How do you identify good recruiters who support the types of roles you are targeting? Do an advanced search on LinkedIn, ask others in your network who may know some or have done a job search recently, ask the organizer of any Meetups/associations you are a part of, or search through the ClearlyRated Best of Staffing winners by discipline and location.
Last Updated: 2020-12-04
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