How to Read Job Descriptions, Examples, Secrets & Strategies for All Job Seekers from Interns to Executives
I have been on both sides of the high tech job market for a long time, details on About Us, as an employee and an executive recruiter with a lot of stories and insights on jobs to share with job seekers and other professionals on MichelleYouBiz.com. Last time, I told you the story about John Doe, a job seeker, and analyzed the five reasons why he can’t get an interview in this hot job market as a software engineer at a tech company in the US.
Today, I'm sharing with you my unique definition of job description, why it’s important to read the job description and how to read a JD. You'll learn from examples how I discovered the secrets hidden inside a job description that would be very useful for your job applications, how I created different strategies to help job seeker to apply for two jobs with the same job title. Follow us for more strategies and insights on jobs and free career advice for you.
📜 Table of Contents
The Most Important Thing to do Before Applying for Any Job
When I was recruiting for big tech companies and startups in the US and China as their independent international headhunter, I kept asking the job seekers who were applying for the jobs I posted online here at MichelleYouBiz.com. “Please read the job description and follow the instructions on How to Apply for a Job first, then email your resume with requested info to me”. I was literally telling job applicants that the first and most important thing to do before they apply for any job is to read the job description carefully.
I even put it in the FAQ page with more details for my recruiting services, "Please read the JD carefully and customize your resume accordingly (recommended)". Not surprisingly, many job applicants ignored the instruction. They didn't really understand how important the job descriptions were for the jobs they were applying for, and didn't know how to read a job description.
It was also one of the reasons why John Doe, the job seeker in my previous post about job applications, couldn’t get a job interview for the tech job he applied for. Even though his working experience as a software engineer might qualify him for the job, the job seeker, John Doe, didn’t really understand how important the job description was for the job he was applying for and how to read the job description carefully before he clicked the submit button to apply for a job online.
How do I define job description and how to read a JD?
The job market is a two-way street, sort of like when you’re trying to find an ideal date for a long term relationship, everybody is looking for a perfect fit or a good enough match. While job seekers are anxiously looking for their dream jobs, the employers are also working very hard to find the top candidates from the job market or even somewhere else. Sometimes, they sneak around to another company’s back door to poach talent from one of their competitors.
In order to find the best candidates possible in the job market, employers need to sell themselves first. A hiring company needs to know how to prepare a well crafted job description to present their job as a great job opportunity to attract as many qualified job seekers as possible, so that they can pick and choose the top candidate for their vacant job position.
According to Wikipedia's definition, a job description or JD is a written narrative that describes the general tasks, or other related duties, and responsibilities of a position. Having been on both sides of the job market for a long time, I define a job description in a different way. The following is my unique definition of job description:
A job description is an employer’s resume to look for an ideal talent from the job market to fill up an empty job position at the hiring company, as well as a carefully crafted job hunt map for job seekers with clear guidelines and hidden hints to find their door of the golden job opportunity by following their instructions on the map.
How to read a job description:
Read the whole job posting from top to bottom as a completed job description, find out who posted it, study it word by word to understand it thoroughly and find the secrets and hints hidden between words.
Why is it important for employers to know how to write a good job description?
Usually in a job description, employers will tell you who they are, what they are doing, how successful they are so far, their future goals, what a great job opportunity they can offer for you, the benefits for you to work for them, their expectations from you, and of course, the detailed job duties, job responsibilities, job requirements and etc. When we are in the job market looking for a job, you and me as job seekers have different ways to write a resume. Similarly, each hiring company has their own process and style in terms of writing a job description.
It is vital for a hiring company to know how to write a job description and have a carefully crafted job description to ensure that they will receive job applications that closely match their needs for the job position itself and for the company as a whole. Do you remember how much time and effort you have spent on writing your own resume? Must be a lot, right? It’s the same thing for the hiring company. They often spend quite some time and manpower to figure out the best way to write the job description and get a JD done and well polished.
The employer or its HR needs to use a job description as a job hunt map to guide job seekers and attract qualified job candidates to their door. The better written job description will bring them higher quality candidates, and eventually for them to find the best job applicant to fill up the vacant job position and help the company grow faster.
Why is it important for job seekers to know how to read a job description?
Now, let’s think about the job application from the point of a hiring company. If you were the hiring manager who may have spent hours on the job description, what would you think about a job applicant who didn’t read your job description carefully, or not following your instructions on the job description. Would you believe that this job applicant would understand the job position well enough? Would you expect the job applicant to present you with a customized resume for the job with skills and experiences that are more relevant to the job position you were hiring?
The job description is the map carefully drew by the hiring company for job seekers who are hunting for jobs in the job market. Just like in a treasure hunt, you can’t find the gold without carefully studying the map and following the instructions, for job seekers, the first and most important thing to do before applying for any job is to carefully read and study the job description from top to bottom, follow the instructions on the job hunt map to land the your golden job opportunity.
Who wrote the job description?
At a medium to large size of company:
Usually HR staff or internal recruiters are responsible for writing the job description or using some readily available information to compose one, particularly for existing job positions. For a newly created job position, there will be a lot more work to write a good job description and more people in the hierarchy of the hiring company get involved. Anyway, the immediate supervisor for the job will provide very critical inputs and the latest changes to job responsibilities or new job requirements if any to be added to the job description for the job.
In the US, particularly in California, the hiring company’s HR staff or a compliance officer will make sure that a job description is compliant with all the applicable labor laws and regulations. Often time, the higher level the job position is, the more the hiring manager gets involved in writing the job description. If you saw a hiring manager at a medium to large company was actively recruiting on LinkedIn like I did, very likely, he/she was the person who wrote the job description or may have been heavily involved in the job description writing process. You would get a lot of information about your future boss from the hiring manager's LinkedIn profile.
At a startup company:
Most of the time, the hiring manager or the immediate supervisor for the job position will draft the job description. It’s hard for HR or recruiters to know how to write a good job description for jobs at a startup, let alone a tech startup, because it's difficult for them to keep up with the fast changing business, evolving technology, and dynamic requirements for a new job at a fast growing company. At a small startup, the founder of the hiring company or the CEO most likely will be the hiring manager when the job is a middle to senior level position.
How to write a job description for high level job positions or executive jobs at a startup company is more complicated and the process varies for different hiring companies. I mentioned it a little bit in another post and will talk about more details in the future when I get a chance.
If you saw a CEO of a startup company posted a job online, you could be pretty sure that the CEO was the mastermind behind the job description. Their HR staff or a recruiter may have helped the CEO to polish the job description before the final release like I did. I always added my personal touch to the job descriptions for the jobs I recruited for when I was hiring for my clients in the US or China as their independent headhunter.
How to find the secrets behind the JD for all job seekers from interns to executives?
You may have been wondering why should you care about who wrote the job description when you apply for a job? Does it matter to you?
In my opinion, it is good to know who was the brain behind the job description even if you’re applying for an intern job. The higher level the job position, the more it matters. It will matter a lot more for you to know who wrote the job description for the job you’re applying for when you’re a seasoned professional, especially if you’re looking for an executive job position at a startup or a big company.
Because if the hiring manager is the primary writer of the job description, from the job description and their LinkedIn profile like I mentioned earlier, you may be able to find a lot of information about your most important interviewer if you get a job interview, and your future boss if you get the job. Just by studying the job description and doing a little bit more homework, you may also discover the hidden information about the job you’re applying for and the hiring manager’s personal preference of job candidates.
If you had studied a little bit of the science every professional should learn as I mentioned in one of my posts, or read some of the books I recommended there, you would know that our choice of words in writing and speech reveals more information about our personality than most people would imagine. I have been running my translation business for more than a decade and working as a Chinese translator and interpreter from time to time for various businesses, especially for law firms. I must be very careful about how I choose my words during translation or interpretation, because I have seen that the subtle difference between the choice of words could make a huge difference in a contested legal case. You may argue that there are not much difference between the contents provided by these words, but they may be expressing different emotions and disclose our personalities to someone who is paying attention.
More secrets behind a job description
I thought I knew the secrets of sunflowers before I planted some last year in my garden. I was inspired by another plant and became curious about my sunflowers. After digging around the internet, I was surprised by the amazing secrets of sunflowers I found, read my post about the secrets of amazing sunflowers.
Now, back to job descriptions, if you look deeper into a job description including everything on the job posting or job ads, you may discover more secrets behind a job description and find more information hidden between the words, such as the hiring manager’s personal preference of job candidates for this particular job position. If a job description was written by the hiring manager for the job you’re applying for, you may be able to discover his/her personality that was revealed unintentionally by the choice of words and the writing style.
For example, I recently encountered two job descriptions for similar jobs in marketing at two medium to large sized tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. After reading each job description from top to bottom, I could tell that these two jobs with the same job title and very similar job responsibilities and job requirements, may have very different cultures in their working environments.
From their writing styles, the way they organized their job postings and words they have chosen to describe similar things, I could see clearly that tech company A’s job description most likely was written by the hiring manager who is a very artistic marketing expert. On the contrary, there were a lot of clues for me to imagine that tech company B’s job description was provided by the hiring manager, and then added to the company’s boilerplate for the job posting by their HR. The hiring manager may be a manager in engineering whose focus is technologies.
Strategies to use the job description to apply for any job
We can create corresponding strategies for our job applications based on the secrets we discovered and the hidden information we found in a job description. For example, based on my preliminary analysis about the jobs by reading their job descriptions and paying attention to the details, I would create a job application strategy as follows.
As a job seeker, if I were an artistic professional in marketing, I would prefer tech company A and working for a boss who sounded more like an artist than a technologist. I would highlight my portfolio to my future boss who would appreciate my art talents and my achievements in presenting marketing materials in my unique artistic way.
On the other hand, if I were a marketing specialist who was more technical and the art was not my strong suit, tech company B would be a better fit for me. I would show my strength in the marketing tools that my future boss cares about a lot.
If I wanted to apply for both jobs, I would prepare two different resumes and customize them accordingly based on the secrets I found in the job descriptions about the two similar jobs and the two different future bosses at two different tech companies.
From the information I later acquired, even though I still didn’t know for sure who wrote the job descriptions, but my initial assessment on the two job positions and the two hiring managers’ personal preferences of job candidates was right on, and my job application strategy would work very well and make a job seeker stand out of the crowd of job applicants.
You may get much more from a job description
Reading and studying a job description carefully, you would be surprised by how much more information you may find about the job position, the hiring manager, the team, the company culture, or see some potential red flags and other information. You would know better about how to follow the guidelines in the job description that may be provided directly by the hiring manager for you to customize your resume, and write a good cover letter that will present you as a better candidate who fits the job well. I’ll talk more about it next time.
It takes a lot of skills to find the secrets between the words in a job description. To improve your own ability to do that, read my post -The science every professional should learn for career advancement and personal happiness.
If you'd like to share your experience and let me know your thoughts on this topic, leave us a comment below. The comment area is open for anyone for now and may be closed after a period of time in the future.
I hope that this post is helpful for you and you have learned something new. Enjoy reading more posts below and have a wonderful day!