One of the most important parts of the job application process is understanding how to read a job posting. It seems simple enough on the surface, but job postings can be tricky! Some job seekers misread the posting and end up highlighting all the wrong skills in their resumes and cover letters -- which means they don't get called in for an interview. Others get so intimidated by all the "requirements" that they never bother to apply. This really boils down to a misunderstanding of what qualifications are most important in a posting -- how can you read between the lines to figure out what a hiring manager really wants? Here are six steps for breaking it down:
1. Read beyond the title. Many jobs will use similar titles for totally different jobs -- producer, for instance, can mean just about anything! Read closely to make sure the description sounds like something you'd be interested in doing, in a department that makes sense for your career trajectory.
2. Assess the general responsibilities and requirements. Without digging into the nitty gritty of specific skills, do you understand the job on a macro level? Can you picture the day-to-day of the role? Could you explain the basic functions of the job and why you're interested in applying to your best friend? If there are a bunch of acronyms you don't understand or you can't envision how the department fits into the company's business model, that could be a red flag that it's not right for you. But if it mostly makes sense, read on.
3. Analyze the qualifications. You don't need to meet every single one of the qualifications listed to apply -- most of the time, companies will list more than are actually necessary in order to weed out super unqualified candidates. However, you should be able to meet around half of them (more if they only list 3-5, less if they list 10+). Some requirements will matter more than others -- generally, the most important ones will be listed near the top of the posting, so make sure those skills are covered in your resume and cover letter. Specific technical skills and software proficiency are more important for some jobs than others (i.e. you'll 100% need to know Avid for an editing job that requires Avid proficiency, but for a creative director job, Avid might be more of a "nice-to-have"). Look at the job posting to see what skills and keywords come up most often, as those are the most critical to the job.
4. Consider the seniority level. Contrary to popular belief, the number of years of experience is actually the least important qualification in a job posting. If you have four years of experience and the posting calls for 5-7, apply! You may have done enough in your four years to merit the job. The listing of years of experience is meant to indicate the level of the position -- entry-level, low-level, mid-level, senior, or executive -- so think about your own experience in those terms instead of in dates. If you have 10 years of experience and apply for a job that only asks for four, be aware that the salary might be lower than you'd like it to be. If you're applying for something that requires far fewer years of experience than you have, you'll need to decide if you would feel challenged enough in that role.
5. Measure your interest. You may understand the job and be capable of doing it, but do you want to? There are often clues to the true nature of the position in the job posting. "Thick-skinned," for instance, is code for "The boss is a jerk who will yell at you." A job posting that lists a ton of different responsibilities -- like a posting for a marketing associate who is responsible for monitoring the front desk, ordering office supplies, planning events, submitting payroll, writing a blog, monitoring social media accounts, designing flyers, creating pitch decks, sourcing new clients, and "other tasks as needed" -- is likely the company's way of rolling multiple jobs into one for the same low pay and long hours. Even if the posting doesn't include these red flags, consider the responsibilities alongside your own preferred work tasks. If you hated making data-driven decisions at your last job, you probably don't want to spend a significant chunk of time making data-driven decisions at your next job, even if you're good at it.
6. Prove you read the posting. You'll need to communicate to the hiring manager that you read the posting with this level of intensity. The way to do this is to mirror the posting in your resume. Read the job posting and your resume as a call and response -- add the question "Can you" to the beginning of each listed responsibility and write your resume bullets as though the words, "Yes, I can, and the proof is that at my last job, I..." appear before each one. This will show the hiring manager that you didn't just shoot off your resume to hundreds of job postings hoping one stuck, but rather that you're invested in this specific role.
Remember: Applying for a job is not a commitment that you'll take it if it's offered, so you don't need to get caught up in analyzing the posting endlessly to make sure it's truly the perfect dream job. If the posting is vague, or the interviewer presents a different picture of the job than the one you understood from the posting, or the company gives you a weird vibe during the hiring process, or you get a better offer elsewhere, it's okay to walk away! Take it one step at a time: Read the job posting thoroughly, submit your best application, and take it from there!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan