The Secret to Decoding a Job Description

decoding a job description - cartoonI don’t like to brag, but in the past year alone, I’ve submitted my resume to more than 500 employers, all of whom had one thing in common: they all shredded my resume after deciding that my stellar qualifications would make other employees look bad.  I have, in the process, unlocked the key to what head-hunters are really asking for in their job descriptions.

The first step to getting an interview is knowing the critical skills employers are seeking. This is crucial so you can position your skills properly, by which I mean totally make things up. Don’t worry that you have no eJava, Javascript, or C++ programming experience when applying for that programmer position at Microsoft. That’s beside the point. Your job is to get in the door.

Recruiters don’t actually want to make it easy for you to understand what the position requires. They insert into every job description a long list of trendy but vague buzz words designed specifically to obscure what the work really entails. This is done to enhance the interview experience, providing prospects with the opportunity to explain how they can perform a job that no one at the company actually understands.

Now, thanks to me, you no longer have to play their devious game. With this simple job description decoder guide, you can peel back the flaky crust of ambiguous nouns and adjectives to bite into the chewy center of what they’re really looking for.

When the job description says: “Must have excellent communication skills” …

When decoded, what it really means is: You must be able to communicate only by means of TLA’s (Three-Letter Acronyms) and condense complex strategic marketing plans into email burps no longer than the 140-character count limit of Twitter.

When the job description says: “Must possess an innate ability to work independently” … 

It really means: We haven’t got the foggiest idea what we’re doing, so you’ll need to figure things out on your own. Here’s the manual.  Once you decipher it, would you mind explaining it to us?

When the job description says: “Must be comfortable with ambiguity and change” … 

It really means: We generally like to blow up our business model and start over from scratch bi-monthly…  And we expect you to go with the flow. You don’t have a problem with having a new boss and completely new job responsibilities every six weeks, do you?

When the job description says: “Must be able to juggle multiple priorities under tight deadlines and thrive in a fast-paced, dynamic environment” …

It really means: We want all of our employees to lead balanced, fulfilling lives… just as soon as they retire. Until then, if you require more than five hours of sleep a night or insist on having a balanced life, this job may not be for you. Oh, and don’t even think about starting a family. Where is your dedication? We are committed to ensuring that all our employees have work-work balance. ADHD patients are encouraged to apply.

decoding a job description -org chartWhen the job description says: “Must enjoy working in a highly cross-functional organization” …

It really means: Do you really need to know which department you work for? We’re from HR, and even we aren’t sure who we report to. Just pick a cubicle. Someone will eventually be around to introduce you to your new manager, who most likely is not the same person who extended you the job offer last Tuesday. They were transferred to our Simi Valley office on Thursday.

When the job description says: “Must demonstrate a strong bias for action” … 

It really means: This position is unusual in that it requires you to show up and actually produce demonstrable results. But don’t worry if you are not able to get the job done in the ridiculously short window we’ve allocated. By the time you almost finish, the company will have had another re-org, you’ll have another new manager, and your project will be shelved for the latest shiny object senior management has decided to chase.

When the job description says: “Must demonstrate you possess a proven ability to do (fill in the blank)” …

It really means: If you tell us that you actually can do the job, we’re going to be suspicious. After all, a committee of fifteen mid-level managers wrote the job description, and they’re pretty much sure it’s impossible for any single human being to do more than 30% of what’s listed. You know and we know that there is no way you can possibly do all requirements enumerated in this four-page job description.

But if you lie with confidence about your qualifications, can conclusively prove that you have no immediate family within 500 miles, and are willing to give up anything resembling a normal life in pursuit of the two percent chance that the signing bonus stock options might actually be worth something someday, you may be just the kind of person we’re looking for. Good luck.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

Tim Fletcher - head shot[Author’s note: This week’s post was a collaboration with fellow writer and longtime member of the Tim club, Tim Fletcher, who actually came up with the concept for this week’s post based on his experience working in the high tech field.]

Tim Jones - Profile at Safeco - TinyPS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2015

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  • Published On Oct. 20, 2015 by TEJ
  • 4 Comments


    1. 10/23/15

      No wonder our economies are in trouble.
      No one knows who, what, where, when and why to do anything. And if we do take initiative and get something made and sold, we are never accountable for our own actions and therefore no one will believe us nor follow our lead of actual production and efficiency.


    2. 10/23/15

      “Just pick a cubicle.”

      Excellent advice, widely applicable.


    3. 10/24/15

      Since there is no place on your website to pay the $29.95 as required by the email notification given that I’m a loyal reader, you clearly need a geek/nerd accountant in your organization. I hereby apply. My curriculum vitae is at http://www.sexycpas.com.


    4. 10/31/15

      Sometime HR is out of sync with the manager trying to fill a position. A few years ago a women applied for the position of Research Investigator within the State of Washington. Her application was rejected by the Department of Personnel because she had a Ph.D. in Psychology, whereas the job description specified a Ph.D. in “the Social Sciences”.

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