How to Read a Job Posting (& How to Read Between the Lines)
Let’s talk about job postings. Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!
A job posting is a tool employers use to communicate the qualifications, responsibilities, and expectations of a specific role within their organization. Job seekers need to understand that the purpose of a job posting is to attract the best-qualified candidates for the position. Employers want to find someone who can do the job well and make a positive impact within the company.
“Hiring is a risk—so everything for the employer is about lessening the risk,” says Elizabeth Laukka, CEO of Elizabeth Laukka Recruiting, a Minnesota-based executive search firm specializing in marketing communications, advertising, and digital talent placement. “Simply stated, employers want the best-qualified candidate who solves problems and grows the business.”
Some job postings are well-written. Some are put together quickly and rushed. The reality is hiring managers, recruiters, and business owners—those who hire—can be great at their job but not well-versed in writing job postings. That’s why Wave, a UK-based recruitment technology solutions provider, created the WaveTrackR job advertising platform. This technology uses artificial intelligence to write job postings for recruiters.
A Job Posting is an Advertisement Written to Sell The Employer
“A job posting is an advert and, like any other advert, is designed to sell a job and an employer to a job seeker,” says Emily Buckley, Head of Content for Wave. “For this reason, recruiters and employers need to keep the job ad brief and compelling, only providing the key information.”
There is another strategy behind the way job postings are written, Buckley adds.
“To be picked up by job board algorithms and search engines, keywords need to be peppered through the copy, and standardized job titles should be used so that they’re found by people searching for that kind of job,” she says.
Understanding the Requirements Listed in a Job Posting
Laukka has written numerous job postings in her career, working directly with employers to craft compelling messages that attract top talent to an organization. As a job seeker, it’s essential to understand why employers ask for specific skills, qualifications, and experience in job ads.
“In today’s competitive job market, employers are looking for candidates who not only have the necessary qualifications but also can perform well, solve problems, and contribute to the growth of the company,” said Laukka.
Here is an example.
Let’s say a commercial airline (Southwest, perhaps?) is looking to hire a pilot. Some minimum qualifications for this job include the following:
- Pilot’s license and a degree from an accredited school.
- 5+ years of experience flying for a major commercial airline.
If the job posting requires a licensed pilot to have five or more years of flying experience for a major commercial airline, there is a reason for this, says Laukka.
The organization has determined these are the minimum qualifications for the person hired for this role. They likely won’t hire a candidate with less experience and expect to attract several candidates who could be the right fit for a job. They know they will also likely attract candidates with even greater qualifications since the job posting listed the minimum required. They aren’t interested in someone with three years of experience or looking for an entry-level pilot who has never worked for a major airline.
“View every job and read every job posting through that lens,” says Laukka.
Now, pretend similar requirements are requested for a person applying for a marketing, supply chain, or administrative assistant role, for example.
- 10+ years of experience as an administrative assistant for a C-level executive within a Fortune 500 organization.
Why are such requirements listed? Because the employer assessed the needs of the organization and has determined what they’re looking for. They don’t want an entry-level employee or someone with just a few years of experience. They also make it clear they want to hire someone who has worked for an executive at a large, prominent organization instead of a small business with fewer employees.
In other words, they want someone to come in with experience and hit the ground running. Chances are this hire will be someone who currently works directly with a C-level executive for another Fortune 500 organization.
Job Ads Are Filled with Important Keywords—Find Them
The use of specific industry terminology or jargon can give you an idea of the level of expertise or experience that the employer is looking for. And words such as “required,” “preferred,” or “highly desired” can indicate the level of importance placed on a particular skill or qualification.
“There is a reason a company uses the words required versus preferred,” says Laukka. “The employer has thought this through and spent time deciding which one to put in the description, so read that closely.”
Job postings are filled with clues. Every sentence, keyword, and requirement is a message to the job seeker: This is what we are looking for in our ideal candidate.
While employers don’t expect job seekers to have every requirement, they will look to find the job seeker who matches most of the requirements.
So how do you showcase that you have those skills to an employer?
You include examples of those skills, experiences, and requirements in your resume and cover letter. Better yet, when you have those examples, back them up with proof of success. Use the same language used in the job posting. Speak to their needs.
Job Ad Buzzwords and What They Could Mean
Sure, employers can get carried away by the job posting—overusing buzzwords like world-class and rock star.
- “We’re seeking the right person who wants to lead our world-class sales team.”
- “Are you the rock star creative lead that will take us to the next level?”
But remember, these job postings are marketing tools. Employers are doing what they can to attract candidates who match their needs, fill an open role, make an impact, and fit in with the team. They want candidates who are excited about being a part of their organization.
So, they include buzzwords in job postings to attract like-minded people.
Are you a classical music fan, more mellow and laid back? Then perhaps you don’t want to apply to a company seeking a rock star—which, Laukka says, could mean “outgoing, confident, assertive,” among other interpretations, she said.
Every sentence, every line, and every skill in a job posting—including soft skills (strong interpersonal skills, strong communication)— is listed because employers want someone who fits that mold.
Laukka also calls them code words. Here is a look at some:
- Specific requirements: Some words are explicit—meaning they won’t settle for anything less. Those words: Required, highly desired, preferred.
- Degree requests: If the description reads Bachelor of Science in Marketing, Communications, Business, OR equivalent/related mix of education and experience, then it’s a good indication that the employer is willing to consider candidates who may not have the exact degree but have relevant experience that can be applied to the role. However, if the posting says a Bachelor of Science degree in Business is required, then a BS degree is required—simple as that.
- Dynamic work setting: This could mean the work environment is rapidly changing or even chaotic. So, if a slower-paced, quiet setting is ideal, this environment is likely not that. If you seek a bit of chaos that could change each day, then you may thrive.
- Self-starter: What are you going to do if there is no formalized training program or if managers are not available to provide detailed direction day in and day out? The company wants someone who can take the initiative and gets things done without relying on others.
By paying close attention to the language and terminology used in job descriptions such as these above, job seekers can better understand the qualifications and characteristics that employers are looking for and tailor their applications to stand out from the competition.
Software and Technical Skills in a Job Posting
Just about every job requires the ability to use some form of software. Most job descriptions will list key or important software skills in their job posting. Why? They want to find someone who has already used the same—or similar—programs.
For example, if you are a project manager with Workfront experience, and a company is seeking someone with Workfront expertise, that is something you must highlight on your resume. If you haven’t used Workfront, but have used Basecamp, mention that instead like this:
Proficient using Basecamp. Fast learner who quickly acquires new technical skills.
This way, you’ll show the employer you have project management experience and that you are a fast learner.
Better yet, take a free class on Workfront and add that to your resume.
If you’re a data analyst and the job requires database management and reporting skills, reference the programs you’ve used to generate reports. Bonus if it matches the programs the employer uses.
Selling the Employer Brand
In addition to the job itself, today’s employer wants to sell the organization. So, they highlight what is called the employer brand, defined by the Society of Human Resource Management as “encompassing an organization’s mission, values, culture, and personality.” Job postings will often highlight the organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility, and any recognition, such as “great place to work” awards.
Diversity and inclusion refer to the efforts of an organization to create a workplace that is inclusive of all individuals, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, or any other characteristic. These efforts may also include actively recruiting and promoting individuals from underrepresented groups and creating an environment where all employees feel valued and respected.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the commitment of a company to be socially and environmentally responsible. They may have initiatives such as reducing the company’s carbon footprint, supporting local communities, or promoting ethical business practices.
Ultimately, aligning your values with the company’s culture is important. If you’re looking for a workplace that values diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility, pay close attention to job ads that mention these terms. They indicate that the company is committed to creating a positive and inclusive environment, which can be a great place to work.
Benefits are also important to today’s job seekers. That’s why many job postings will list information on health benefits, retirement plan, and other perks, like this:
- 401(k) matching
- Dental insurance
- Flexible spending account
- Health insurance
- Paid time off
- Vision insurance
Additional benefits to look for: Unlimited PTO, catered lunches, team social events, on-site childcare, and pet insurance.
These are all ways for the employer to quickly showcase the pluses of working at this organization.
Don’t Forget the Soft Skills
It’s important to remember that qualifications and experience are not the only factors that employers consider when making hiring decisions. Employers covet soft skills such as interpersonal skills (can this person fit in with the team?), leadership skills (can this person grow within the organization?), and problem-solving skills. Soft skills are vital—and often highlighted in a job posting.
Any related examples that match the soft skills requested in a job posting will also help you stand out.
Find Your Next Job with Lensa
Job ads are a marketing tool that employers use to sell their open roles and organizations. Job seekers should pay close attention to the requirements and language listed in the job posting—they are there for a reason and provide clues and codes to attract the best candidates. That candidate could be you!
Apply these tips and strategies when reading through job postings. And let Lensa help! We have all the resources you need to find your next job.