At a glance
Position descriptions – often long and laden with jargon – can be difficult to decipher.
However, candidates can improve their chances of success when applying for new roles by learning to “read between the lines” of a PD to gain insights into the nature of a role and its scope.
Michael Edelstein CPA is the founder of Recruitment Expert. He says that in an ideal world, a PD is not a “cookie cutter” document, but unique to the company and role.
“Those that are specific, engaging and self-explanatory are best.”
Many are not, he acknowledges.
“Most job descriptions are dry and soulless,” he says, which often is a missed opportunity for employers keen to gain an edge in a competitive labour market.
For candidates, Edelstein offers his advice on how to decode a PD.
Do your homework
Performing a close read of the PD is essential to establish if you’re suitable for the role and if it’s right for you.
“It might be something you can do with your eyes closed, but not of interest because you’re looking for a new challenge,” says Edelstein.
A close read of the PD also “helps you tailor your application, so you come across as the most desirable candidate for the role – particularly these days, where most large organisations use AI to filter through applications, and algorithms commonly match the buzzwords in the job descriptions with those on your CV.”
It’s also critical to ensure you don’t miss vital information. Edelstein says he often asks candidates to include a specific word in their cover letter.
“It’s a simple filtering mechanism for me, as 99 per cent of people don’t follow that basic instruction.”
Decode a position description
First, identify basic information in a PD, such as the title, hierarchy and structure of the role, as well as requirements such as education, work experience and key skills.
Next, look for clues about a company’s culture. Does the PD include references to flexibility? Is hybrid work an option? Are there opportunities for training or perks on offer such as extra leave, bonuses or wellness programs?
A well-written PD should outline what success in the role looks like. It needs to contain objective key performance indicators and expectations, as well identify the differences between poor, good and great performance, says Edelstein.
“More importantly, it links up the tasks with how they contribute to the company objectives as well as future career growth and competencies – i.e., how will this role help the company achieve their goals – and what exciting prospects are there for the candidate that’s doing an amazing job.”
The tone and scope of PDs can vary significantly, says Edelstein. For one, he says, “it depends if the description was written by HR, the person currently doing the role or the manager.”
Edelstein says that, while most organisations in the current economic climate are “dynamic and constantly evolving”, PDs rarely keep up with the pace of change.
Unfortunately, he says, “the majority of job descriptions are out of date and no longer relevant”.
Consequently, candidates should “read the job description from beginning to end” and be prepared to gather their own information and insights.
“Research what the role and day-to-day entail online, put in a call to the company and speak to the hiring manager or connect to someone doing that or a similar role on LinkedIn and ask them a few questions – you’ll be surprised how many people are willing to help,” Edelstein says.
Jargon is a common feature of position descriptions. Don’t be intimidated by unfamiliar language, advises Edelstein – instead, look up any term or phrase you don’t understand.
“Look at a couple of other ads in the industry to see how those buzzwords are used and in what context, and then go back to the original job that’s of interest and reread that line or paragraph with your newfound knowledge to gain better insight.”
The next steps
Artificial intelligence is an increasingly common tool used in the recruitment process.
“Ensure that you use the key buzzwords in the job description throughout your application – both CV and cover letter,” says Edelstein.
“Prepare a cover letter that addresses how your experience matches up with the job description, particularly your achievements in areas where you’ve exceeded expectations.”
When it comes to preparing for the interview, a PD is a valuable resource. Interviewers typically base questions on the core skills and requirements described in the PD.
“You can shine by addressing how your skills and experience are an ideal match for what they’re looking for, and you should have some prepared examples of where you displayed the key attributes they’re looking for,” Edelstein says.
The job interview is also “an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you’ve done your research, understand the business and the role and perhaps even share some ideas or insights into the market, which always impresses interviewers”.
Most people forget that an interview is a two-way process. It’s your chance to “ask clarifying questions to ensure you’re making the right decision in case you’re offered the role,” he says.