Study the Job Description Before Applying

Magnified ResumeGone are the days of the single resume set in stone, blasted to every job ad that seemed to match your talents. Today the resume is a living document, constantly updated with newly acquired skills and experiences.

It’s an open secret that resumes are reverse engineered to fit a particular job description. It’s not unethical to highlight the most appropriate traits and skills that match with what the employer is seeking. Yes, it’s unethical to say you have skills you don’t possess, but competition being what it is, you need to look for an edge. And an important place to look for one is in the job description.

Job descriptions aren’t written by machines. They’re written by people and often reveal a specific need for soft skills or people skills. Looking closer, you’ll discover clues that can help make your resume stand out. For example, if the job description demands evening and weekend work, you’d include the fact that you provided round the clock support during an upgrade.

Many job descriptions are as generic as the resumes they get in response. Phrases like detail oriented, meticulous, takes ownership in a job description are as generic as resume buzzwords like developed, implemented, deployed. Still, that job description may hold clues about the employee who vacated the position and the manager who’s looking to improve upon it.

For example, consider this job description:

… is looking for experienced Business Development Managers. We are a fast growing company, will reach 100 employees capacity soon. Looking for an enthusiastic, energetic and honest BDM who will share our vision and help us to go to the next big step.

Wouldn’t honest be assumed? Could it be the person who vacated the position was less than honest?

Of course in responding, you don’t list honest as one of your best traits. Not only is it disingenuous, but honesty is assumed in applicants. Instead, use an example of what you’ve done that could be considered an honest act. Something like: Developed a method for HR to maintain their own documents that was inaccessible to those in IT.

Here’s another one. This was buried in a 950 word job description:

Composure: Is cool under pressure; does not become defensive or irritated when times are tough; is considered mature; can be counted on to hold things together during tough times; can handle stress; is not knocked off balance by the unexpected; doesn’t show frustration when resisted or blocked; is a settling influence in a crisis.

You might skip over that, thinking it’s not as important as implementing SharePoint. But it’s in the job description for a reason. Try to elegantly combine the SharePoint implementation and the rough patches that you coolly overcame.

And another:

Excellent communication skills. Willing to put ideas out in the open without fear of being wrong, and to stand up for ideas you believe in. Open debate and discussion is strongly encouraged on the team.

Strong analytic and design capabilities. Ability to think about and decompose a problem into simpler parts. Demonstrated preference for simple, cohesive, decoupled, and practical solutions.

Again, they’re stressing skills that have nothing to do with IT. Clearly they’re looking for a courageous, imaginative, intellectually secure person. How do you demonstrate you’re the one? If they want out-of-the-box thinking, give it to them. Include a paragraph demonstrating those skills in your cover letter.

There’s no science to this, and I’ve only discussed soft skills. There are many ways to imaginatively weave your unique skills into your resume, but first you must understand what the hiring manager is looking for. So don’t skip over what may at first appear to be fluff.

First pubished January 29, 2010.


6 Responses to “Study the Job Description Before Applying”

January 31, 2011 at 7:30 am, Hailey Zureich said:

Thank you for this AMAZING article!!


July 21, 2011 at 8:50 am, Walt M said:

While it is good to have a resume to keep track of one’s many job titles and positions nearly all companies today except for the small private owner shops never take a resume anymore. Even job fairs hand out cards which contain the company’s web site which directs you to fill an on line resume in the format they not you expect to see. Most are chronological requiring dates and need explanations why there may be gaps in dates. Many companies also now outsource their HR (Human Resource) Department which use a computer to scan the multitude of applications (which been filled out on-line) seeking key words. Because of today’s economy many companies also shoot for the moon in their job requirements. They feel if they can find someone with a lot of experience willing to work long hours, weekends, and holidays for meager wages is a real plus even though the job as it currently exists does not require it. Finding someone with these qualifications will allow the company to further downsize existing employees requiring the person with the broader experience to also pick up these duties.

Next companies may advertise one thing and wind up hiring someone that does not meet the job requirement. I will give an example that happened to me. I applied for a job as a Quality Engineer for a water purification company. I have 30 years of electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Project and Product Management, System Testing, and some Quality Engineering. By the Way I was 58 years old at the time. I interviewed for the job and was told that they needed someone more qualified in Quality Engineering even though I knew many of the ISO standards. I was talking to my brother’s family and the girlfriend of his wife’s brother was getting laid off as an assembler in a factory. The girlfriend went an applied with no knowledge of the Quality Engineers job but got the job with them saying they will train her to do the job. She is almost 30 years old and quite attractive. So it appears age and looks have more to do with landing a job than skills.

I am also upset that many companies say they can’t find “qualified” workers. They lobby the government to allow more foreign H1B’s and L1A’s into the country. You mean to tell me that with a 9% plus unemployment rate there aren’t qualified USA individuals out there?

Lastly I have been to various job workshops (professional and church groups), state employment agencies, and various job boards. All which provide their flavor of advice on how to find a job. Each has a different out take how one should approach finding a job. What it really boils down to is how well you can advertise yourself.


July 21, 2011 at 9:25 am, Beth Feldman said:

How disheartening. What a world. Life is so unfair. You would be a tremendous asset to so many companies. Yes, it does boil down to how well you advertise/market yourself. Even having a good connection these days is far from a guarantee….
Appreciate your real life post.


July 21, 2011 at 8:56 am, Bob Peterson said:

Good article. You provided useful information for someone looking for a job, (such as myself). It also reinforced some techniques that I’ve learned about preparing my resume. You hit the nail on the head. Many times I have skimmed the job description and jumped to the skills section. I may have missed opportunities.


July 21, 2011 at 9:18 am, Beth Feldman said:

Wonderful article! I wish more job descriptions emphasized the soft skills.
Thanks for the advice.


July 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm, Dave said:

Great article, but I’m not sure that I agree with the statement below. All of the skills below are very important for anyone that considers themsevles to be an IT Professional.

“Excellent communication skills. Willing to put ideas out in the open without fear of being wrong, and to stand up for ideas you believe in. Open debate and discussion is strongly encouraged on the team.

Strong analytic and design capabilities. Ability to think about and decompose a problem into simpler parts. Demonstrated preference for simple, cohesive, decoupled, and practical solutions.”

“Again, they’re stressing skills that have nothing to do with IT.”


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