When mining job posting sites as part of your job search, you may have some preconceived notions about job descriptions that can negatively affect your likelihood of success in being selected for an interview.
Sue Fransen Way, PhD, a career counselor at Capella University, dispels three myths related to job descriptions and the hiring process.
Myth: Mentioning as many keywords as possible from the job description is a good way to get picked for an interview.
Maybe, but this misconception is largely based on the assumption that all resumes are being digitally mined for keywords by an applicant tracking system (ATS), or resume bot.
The truth is, not all companies use an ATS. Sure, Fortune 500 companies likely do, but mid- to small-sized companies may not rely on this service. And even if a company has an ATS screening their applications, a human typically makes the final decision about who gets an interview.
While you should definitely mention the keywords that apply to you, don’t just pad your cover letter and resume with them. Take the time to SHOW and not just TELL how you demonstrate those capabilities. Talking about your accomplishments will impress the recruiter more than a list of job duties. Accomplishments show the results you’ve been able to make happen in your work.
For example, instead of citing your “good communication skills,” tell a one-sentence accomplishment story in your resume about how you shortened project time and saved money by initiating weekly status and change control meetings with project stakeholders. To demonstrate that you are a “team player,” talk about the time that you reduced costs by taking on a co-worker’s caseload for three months during an emergency medical leave.
Whatever stories you choose to include, be sure they are authentic to your experience.
Not sure how to effectively talk about your achievements? Read Smart Job Search Secrets: Identify Your Accomplishments.
Myth: I must meet every requirement in the job description in order get the job, so I shouldn’t waste my time applying for a position unless I meet them all.
This myth simply is not true. Yes, you should be sure that the job is a good fit for your skills and experience, but you don’t have to meet the requirements to a T. The language used in job descriptions is more of a guideline than a prescription.
Depending on the industry you’re in, job description language you can reframe may include:
- Job title and functions. The job description used in the post may use a different title than what your current employer calls the same function. Knowing the various terms and titles that apply to your position can help you identify the right job postings to look at as you browse the listings.
- Years of experience. In general, when a company is looking for 1-3 years of experience, they mean it’s an entry-level job. If you’re a new graduate with less than a year of experience, go for it. For job descriptions calling for 5-10 years of experience, they’re looking for someone with mid-level experience. In many industries, the exact years don’t matter as much as your ability to perform the job functions with some skill and expertise. (However, some industries, like government positions, are non-negotiable on years of experience.) Lastly, you almost never see jobs that are looking for 15-20 years of experience anymore, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply if that describes you. The golden rule here is: Don’t lead with the number of years’ experience you have. Talk about the specific skills and experience you have that help the employer now.
- Degrees or certificates. Depending on the position, you can sometimes get around having the degree or certificate listed in the job description. If it mentions “related degree/experience,” definitely go for it if you meet most of the other requirements but don’t have that particular degree. Some jobs must meet federal or licensing requirements, but other jobs have more wiggle room.
The thing to keep in mind here is that if you don’t exactly meet the requirements as listed in the job description, but you do feel that your experience and skills are a good match for the job, you should go ahead and apply.
Myth: The job description is exactly what the job is.
It would be nice if this were the case, but there are several reasons that a job description may not accurately describe the position.
Some job descriptions are hastily put together and are not always accurate. Imagine Joe in your department just quit and needs to be replaced ASAP. Except there isn’t a job description in place for Joe’s job. The recruiter or hiring manager might find a job description that’s close and tweak it as best as they can. Often it won’t go through proofing or revisions because there simply isn’t time—their number one goal is to quickly attract candidates and fill the position.
Even if it’s not an urgent situation, sometimes job descriptions are not completely thought out or as good as they can be simply because the person writing it doesn’t fully understand the position. Sometimes companies use old job descriptions that desperately need to be updated, but they just haven’t had the time to do it yet. Other times, the job is so new that the description is constantly evolving.
Whatever the reason, the job description you’re looking at may or may not accurately and fully describe the job. For that reason, don’t get too hung up on meeting every requirement or thinking about if you can perform a certain function. Instead, look at the job description as a whole.
If your experience and skills seem like a good fit—and you’re excited by the opportunity—why not go for it?
Get help with your resume and cover letter. Capella students and graduates enjoy free access to the Capella University Career Center.