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Cracking the Job Description Code: What Should You Apply To?

job description

Many job seekers fall into the same trap while applying for a job: sending a resume to a position they are unqualified for.

Often, this is a hail-mary play – blast the resume off to this and a million other jobs and hope one of them will get you called back. This practice is in part why you hear staggering statistics about the amount of people applying to each job listing.

But for the job seeker who is more tactful in their approach and carefully reviews a job before they hit ‘apply’, it can be a challenge to decipher what the employer is really looking for. It turns out, job descriptions drop subtle clues about the urgency to hire, and what kind of candidate they are interested in hiring.

In once scenario, the company is trying to hire a ‘purple squirrel‘. In the recruitment world, this oddly named job candidate is someone who checks off dozens of ‘must have’ boxes, and there is probably only one of these people in the world. For example; “we need someone who can speak English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, has an extensive Rolodex of contacts in Madrid, and can bring in $30mm in sales while coding her own emails and juggle chainsaws blindfolded.”

You’ve probably seen job descriptions like this too – you scroll endlessly through Must Have Qualifications, Prefer to Have Qualifications, and Nice to Have Qualifications before you even see the ‘apply’ button. Descriptions like these often indicate that the company is willing to take their time in filling the role and is looking for the closest manifestation to this non-existent person.

Then you have the job postings with fewer bullet points and requirements, a short and punchy description, and it usually fits the classic example of that particular role. In these scenarios, the company has a need for an immediate hire and will quickly reply to the people who best match or closely match the qualifications.

So of all these qualifications and nice to haves and must haves etc, etc, etc – which jobs should you apply to if you want to get called back?

Realistically, not every job you apply for will be a 100% match for requirements, experiences, and skills. In fact, if you are a perfect match, you probably shouldn’t apply to it. According to Coach Kelly Studer, your next job should only be 70% aligned with where you currently are. Otherwise, you are swapping one job for another and hoping you aren’t bored after 3 weeks. A job that only has 70% alignment offers you room to grow, learn, and feel challenged.

When it comes to finding the right jobs to send your resume to, here’s how to apply that logic.

  • Must Haves

When you hit the requirements section of the job description, the must haves come first. It should come as no surprise that if you are having trouble ticking these boxes – you won’t be a strong candidate for the role.

The must haves list often has the most bullet points and requirements which are ordered in priority – most important at the top, least important at the bottom.

Your experiences should mirror this level of importance, but don’t get scared off. If bullet point #1 requires 10 years experience consulting in the healthcare industry, don’t feel bad applying if you are just shy of that – especially if you have a particularly strong background. But if you are falling considerably short, don’t bother – 70% probably won’t cut it here.

  • Preferred

The name ‘preferred’ says it all: having these experiences is fantastic, but they aren’t going to make you a shoe-in for the role (or take you out of the race).

The ‘preferred’ list can be hazy or undecided: “MBA or other Advanced Degree”, “Agency experience or startup experience”. You’ll also find more granular skills or experiences such as “experience running paid social media campaigns on Twitter” or “basic SEO knowledge.”

If you check some of these boxes, you will be looked upon favorably. But don’t feel the need to move along if you can’t match each of these requirements.

  • Nice to Haves

Don’t have it? Don’t worry – apply away! Nice to haves are icing on the cake and usually involve a list of software knowledge, proficiency in additional languages, international experiences, etc.

So just because you aren’t proficient in HTML/CSS, or are not familiar with using Adobe Creative Cloud, don’t sweat it. These skills can usually be picked up on the job. If HR asks during a phone interview, tell them that while you haven’t actively used Adobe/don’t have HTML/CSS experience, you would be eager to learn and will start exploring this evening.

Also read: The Art of Timing Your Job Application

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