Handling an Impossible Job Description

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We’ve all seen them: job descriptions that ask candidates to possess dozens of wildly different skills. The employer doesn’t just seem to want a mobile developer experienced in building apps for iOS and Google Android; they also want someone who can handle investor relations, make a great cup of coffee, and update the corporate blog daily.

It’s easy to look at such job postings and despair, unless you’ve spent the past three decades learning dozens of different platforms and programming languages, accompanied by regular classes in everything from accounting to management.

So why do employers persist in posting everything-but-the-kitchen-sink job descriptions? As salaries for tech pros continue to rise, companies (and recruiting firms) are often seized by the idea that, if they’re paying an enormous amount of money for a candidate, that candidate better possess an equally enormous range of skills.

Pursuing candidates who are supremely qualified can more than justify the cost of hiring, but sometimes the HR staffer writing the job description goes just the tiniest bit overboard. An ideal job description isn’t a lengthy laundry list of abilities; the hiring manager (and whoever’s writing the posting) need to take the time to craft an accurate picture of the role—even when their time is at a premium.

Dealing with Uncertainty

If the posting seems nonsensical—asking for an iOS developer with 20 years of experience building apps, even if the iPhone’s only been around for half that time—or if the required skills seem oddly divergent (“database administrator… who knows how to feed kittens!”), there’s a good chance that the employer isn’t quite sure what they want in the position.

Listing a lot of skills may also represent the employer’s attempt to cast as wide a net as possible—which can easily backfire, as confused tech pros read the description and don’t know if they’re right for the job.

So how, as a tech pro, do you handle a job description that seems to push against the boundaries of reality? First, take a deep breath. You don’t have all the requested skills. Nobody has all the requested skills. And depending on the circumstances, that’s probably okay.

Next, concentrate on what the job posting really wants. If the majority of requested skills focus on Web development, the company is in the market for a Web developer; you can probably ignore the parts that seem more tangential to that job. Tailor your résumé and application materials so they focus on those “core” elements.

If you know someone at the company, consider reaching out to ask them what the position really entails, and if your skills are a match. If you don’t know anyone, a successful application will involve a little more guesswork—but if you seem to have the bulk of what the job description wants, chances are good you’ll land the interview.

Image Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock.com

Comments

2 Responses to “Handling an Impossible Job Description”

January 28, 2016 at 6:35 am, V.Lombardi said:

Of course, HR people tend to be very unfamiliar with technical skills, and, management can also be that way, in addition to being overly ambitious in the skills desired. But, the main reason there are so many impossible ads is that it gives the employer full latitude on who to hire, since any candidate can be rejected based on the job description. Understanding this situation requires knowledge of how the HR, operations, and legal departments interact.

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January 28, 2016 at 10:40 am, Markus said:

@V.Lombardi, You seem to imply that companies may have to defend why they don’t hire someone. Is that true? Can people turned down for a job be that powerful? I was turned down for a job recently, and very curious as to why exactly, but the reply was quite generic and not very helpful. Could they be covering themselves legally by not providing details? Is there a reason they simply weren’t very helpful (while seeming quite approachable actually)?

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