“[I]t is unwise to waste [time] chasing positions that won’t work out.”– Brad Scardino
You’ve found it. Someone posted your dream job online, and you know this is the one. You’ve gone over the job description twice, and you know you are qualified because you have done everything asked for in the post. In fact, not only have you done it all, you are the ideal candidate. Dare you say the unicorn. You apply within the first 30 minutes [because, of course, you have those job alerts coming straight to your inbox]; with the amazing resume, you paid some expert $50 to write [please don’t ever do that btw] with a perfectly tailored cover letter. Then…nothing ever happens. You never hear from the company. Not even a rejection.
What happened? Why didn’t they even tell you why you were not selected. Well, there can be a great many reasons as to why. There is a lot more to job posts and job descriptions than one might realize.
In this article, I peel back the curtain of the recruiting and hiring world a bit to help you understand what factors are at play. My goal is to provide you a different lens with which to view job descriptions.
One thing that you will have to do is, to be honest with yourself. Do not think you are a good fit for some position because you WANT to be a good fit for it. Or even because you could do it if you put your mind to it. Instead, be critical of yourself and do your best to measure your experience against the job description from the company’s point of view. After all, they are the ones you have to convince you are a right for the role, not yourself. In the end, it will be up to you to use the analytical side of your brain to determine whether a job is a good fit.
When looking at a job description, you are trying to find out the company’s motivations. Here are a few key things you should consider:
Why has this job been posted?
Is this position going to support a strategic initiative for the company? Did someone go on a maternal/paternal or some other form of long-term leave? Do they need help to meet a deadline? Is it contract, contract to hire, or full-time?
Research news articles and trade magazines to see what is going on in the company. Talk with friends who may have a connection there. Look at the company website and see what other jobs they have posted in the same business unit.
Is this a real job?
This question is perhaps the most important question a recruiter tries to determine when working with a client. It may surprise you to know that a company WILL waste its own time. Meaning, the company may not truly intend to hire for this position for one reason or another. Sometimes companies are just gauging interest, or they are legally required to post the job. This situation may happen even when they have already identified and selected a candidate. It could be that a manager just needs to appear to be searching for good candidates. Maybe there is a desire to hire someone, but they don’t have the budget for that particular position.
If you find this job posted on some obscure website or only the company page, it is unlikely to be a critical need. However, if you see it on the company page, LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, and a recruiter has contacted you about it, then it’s a safe assumption that it’s a “real” job with a strong need to hire. Similar to how a company will qualify you as a candidate, you should be qualifying the position as well. To be clear, most job posts are real. It’s just that you don’t want to waste your time pursuing a ghost.
What are they really looking for?
It could be that HR is writing a job description for a position where they have no clue what is needed. They could have just pulled a generic description from the company website or somewhere else on the interwebs. Sometimes the manager isn’t even sure themselves what they need until they begin interviewing candidates.
On top of considering the job description’s explicit needs, it is important to read between the lines and think about what they want. If the qualifications state someone must have some soft skill, think about why they call it out. If the company is larger and there are others in this role, use LinkedIn to find a little more out about who they have already hired for that role.
When do they want to have the position filled?
It’s entirely possible no candidate may be looked at until the company has received some arbitrary minimum number of candidates. Or maybe only the unicorn candidate will do. On the other hand, sometimes companies know of hiring needs in the future [as in several months from when the job is posted], known as “future opportunity” positions, and want candidates to apply simply to make the future outreach easier.
See how long the job has been open compared to similar positions at the company and in the industry. Look at how long they typically keep a job open until they fill it.
To determine the answers will require some investigating. By looking at the company’s website, social media, job boards, and doing a basic Google search, you will be surprised at how much information you can collect. It won’t take you long, maybe 10-15 minutes, to do a cursory look to see if you should investigate further. It could be appropriate and possible to get in contact with the HR department in some situations before you apply and ask them directly.
It may be that you can’t, and in fact, many times won’t find out the answers to all of these questions. However, what you find out in pursuit of the information will provide you a great deal of insight. Furthermore, the more intelligence you gather, the better positioned you will be in knowing the answer to the ultimate question you should ask yourself when you see that perfect job:
Should I apply?
You may have heard that it is best just to apply, regardless of how qualified you are [or aren’t], because “the worst they could say is no” or “you never know what could happen.” Is it possible that you could be completely unqualified, but they want you anyways? Sure. Anything is possible. The thing is, it is not probable. It’s possible for me to be a professional model, but I’m still waiting on that call back from GQ, though.
Why is it bad advice to just apply to every job which you could or would do? I’m glad you asked. Your time is a precious resource for starters, and it is unwise to waste it chasing positions that won’t work out. It is best to spend more time per position you choose to pursue than to spend a little time on many positions. The more positions you apply to, the better IF you target the right ones.
Ultimately there are two approaches to job hunting; mass applies and precision. Meaning, shotgun your resume to any position for which you are even remotely qualified OR taking your time with each position and only applying for positions you want to do at a company you like. Each approach has its merits and place. If you are just looking for your next job, then the shotgun approach may indeed be the right approach for you. However, I wholeheartedly believe in focusing on the precision approach, which I recommend to my friends. It will take more time, but I have consistently found that the extra time spent is well worth it. The best place to be is having multiple companies interested in you, and that is where I am trying to help you get.
But I digress. Should you apply? I can’t tell you if you should apply to a certain position based on hard and fast rules. There are so many factors that I can’t cover all in this article. My intention has been simply to help you see the entire picture of what a job description is.
That said, below are some general guidelines I go by when considering if and how I would apply to a position or when advising candidates.
- Research the company and previous positions it has posted. As I mentioned before, you should search on LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, the company website, and their social media and do a Google search at a minimum before you even consider applying.
- Find the company’s motivation and find out about their culture to make sure you would actually fit in or even want to be there.
- Look at similar jobs all over the country and in different industries to familiarize yourself with trends.
Know the Objective [of the position]:
- The most relevant duties/skills to what the company needs will be listed at the top of the description. Typically the top three are going to be what is required of a candidate. If you don’t have at least one of the top three, even if you have the bottom 99, don’t waste your time.
- The length of the experience typically doesn’t matter so long as the skill mastery is there. The primary exception here is government agencies.
- If there are soft skills mentioned, they are very important. Many times these are what determine the hiring decision amongst similarly qualified candidates.
- Preferred typically means required unless no candidates with that skill are applying.
Fire for Effect:
- Tailor your resume to EVERY job application. I know and don’t care that it takes more time. Do it anyway.
- Resumes could be a whole article unto itself. But, for now, the simplest way to do this is to create a master resume with everything you have done at each company. Then, when applying for a job, you do two things:
- First, take out what isn’t relevant [except to prevent a gap in employment]
- Second, move what the company you are applying to is most interested in [per the job description or your intelligence gathering] to the first few bullet points under each position you have held
- Bonus: Because I know this is a hot question, don’t worry about keeping the resume to one or two pages. I find two to be the sweet spot, but there is a lot of “it depends” on the right length. The key is to follow the first two points above. So, if you can’t quite get it to two pages, don’t sweat it.
Accomplish Your Mission:
- Don’t stop applying to jobs just because you have not received an answer on the one you want the most.
- Apply to as many jobs as you can concurrently, so long as it makes sense based on the above advice.
- Engage with recruiters at the agency and corporate levels. They are a wealth of knowledge about companies, the industry, and trends. Recruiters can gather intel you would never be able to, AND they can communicate with managers on your behalf.
Some Interesting Facts About Job Descriptions
- There are federal guidelines that companies are legally obligated to comply with when posting a job. However, small companies do not [always] have to follow the same guidelines.
- They are used to classify what type of employee the position will be [exempt/non-exempt, occupational classification, full-time/part-time].
- If you cannot perform the functions of the job, the company has every right to let you go. Again, though, if you’re in a right-to-work state, they can let you go for any reason or no reason at all.
- They can be used for determining promotions. Were you able to do the tasks you were supposed to? If not, what makes you think you are justified in asking for a promotion [or raise]?
- If necessary, they justify why the company picked the candidate they did for the government.
- They are used to disqualify applicants. Oh, you only have four years and eleven months of the skill we asked for five years of experience? Well, that’s the reason we didn’t select you. It’s not because you used a whole bottle of Axe before you walked in here. Or that we saw you picking your nose in the waiting area. Or that we just don’t like you but can’t put our finger on why.
- That said, for federal positions especially, agencies actually will disqualify you for only having four years and 11 months of experience where they call for five years. So you won’t even get to the interview stage.
Note that these are not true 100% of the time but are often true.
Please comment and let me know what you think and if you found the information helpful.
Brad is a person who knows things and has done stuff. Words, words, words. Military experience. Yut Yut.