It doesn’t matter how right you are for a job if you can’t get your brilliance across. Freelance journalist Martin Williams has foraged a few top tips for The Guardian on decoding job ads, and how to make sure you match yourself to it when you apply…
Lisa LaRue is a career coach at CareerWorx
Before you look at job adverts, it’s vital to have a good awareness of your skills, knowledge and experience, so that you can match yourself to roles that suits.
As a general rule, if you can tick 80% of the boxes, in terms of what the employer is asking for, then it might be worth applying. But sometimes you need to read between the lines, as some of the adverts can seem very vague at first.
Some people take the approach of sending off as many applications as possible. But there are strategies and techniques you can use to work smarter, rather than harder.
Print out the job advert and go through with a highlighter, picking out the key words and phrases. Then, make sure those keywords appear in your CV and cover letter wherever applicable.
Corinne Mills is managing director of Personal Career Management
There is no casual information in a job advert. People tend to get distracted by the job title and skim the rest. But every word they put in has been carefully crafted for a reason so you need to look very closely.
The way they talk about the job and the adjectives they use, will tell you a lot. For instance, if it says it’s fast-paced, then they are telling you exactly what kind of person you need to be: high-energy and good at working under pressure.
If it asks for a particular skill, you not only need to have it, you have to be able to prove you’ve got it. Some skills may be more important than others in terms of weighting and you can sometimes make a case for why, despite not having something, you’re still a good candidate. However, don’t ignore any gaps hoping they won’t notice: they will. You must specify how you meet everything they are asking for if you want to get shortlisted.
Salary is usually a good indicator of whether the role is the right seniority for you. If it’s considerably more than what you’re on now, then this is probably a big step up. If you go for it, you will need to prove that you can do a great job at that level, rather than hoping that they will just see your potential. It’s usually more realistic to inch yourself forward in stepping stone roles rather than look for great career leaps and bounds.
Bev White is managing director of HR consulting at Penna
Look at how the entire advert is constructed to understand the job level. Who does the role report to, how big is the company, how complex is the role, is it international or single country?
You should also think about how the company is describing their culture and their values, and what imagery are they using. Is this the kind of company that will fit with your values?
What language is being used to describe the role? For instance, if the advert talks about an “aggressive pursuit of sales growth”, that gives a clue on how you will be measured and the culture of the organisation. If the language bland and non-descriptive, then it might suggest the organisation is just fishing for CVs by a contingency recruitment firm, rather than looking to fill a specific job behind the advert.
If you can’t demonstrate all of the skills required on the advert because you haven’t had the role yet to do so, take the opportunity to say why you have the potential. Mention anything which demonstrates this, even if it’s something outside of work.
Dan Hawes is the head of marketing and co-founder of The Graduate Recruitment Bureau
The job title is just the top line: you should really get down to what the advert is talking about. But you need to take adverts with a pinch of salt – remember that they’re trying to sell the job, so are only going to talk about the good bits.
Look for the qualifications they’re asking for. Within that you can find clues about the sort of skills that they’re looking for. As long as you can give evidence of each skill or attribute they’re looking for, you’re in with a shot.
Ideally, try to talk to someone who has done the job. If you can’t do that, LinkedIn can be helpful to see what responsibilities and skills people in the job have.
It’s very dangerous to just apply to everything, because that’s a waste of time for everyone. To increase your chances of success, apply for jobswhere you can see that you have exactly what they’re looking for.
If you’re looking for a graduate job, they are not always flagged up as such. Instead, the training and experience which is required – as well as the salary and responsibilities of the job – will be a huge indicator of the level. Also, think about where the advert was: if it was advertising at your university, it’s probably an entry-level role. But if it’s advertised in a national newspaper, it may not be.