Job Descriptions: Read Between The Lines!

It’s funny how varied job descriptions can be. Some are what's known in recruiting circles as a "purple squirrel" a ridiculously extensive list of qualifications that very few people can realistically possess. Really? Fluent in three languages, 15+ years of industry experience, huge network, and expertise in Business Development, Marketing, and Financial Planning? Who is this magical person? Related: 3 Job Search Game Changers Others are much shorter, provide a classic breakdown of the role (maybe with a few bullet points) and leave you to fill in the blanks. As a general rule, these shorter job descriptions are a "tell" that a company has an immediate need for a hire, and will quickly respond to great candidates. This means that you should prioritize these types of listings if you're in a time crunch to get hired. The opposite is also true: "purple squirrel" job descriptions are long-shots, and could be a sign that a company is fine with letting things drag out, or simply doesn't have a clear enough understanding of the position that needs to be filled. Either way, to consistently nab attention for either, you need to start breaking job descriptions down into three areas: Must Haves, Preferred, and Good To Have.

Must Haves

The first few things listed in the requirements section of a job description are the Must Haves, the essentials. Are you easily matching up with what's needed most? If not, no surprise- you're not a strong candidate for this one. Yes, there's some leeway. For example, if they're asking for ten years of experience and you have seven, but with additional experience in areas which add dimension to your career, you can make a run at it. However, less than 70% of the core requirements? Pass.


Really nice to have, but not strictly required to do the job. This is where job descriptions get vague. "Ph.D. or other advanced degree." "Experience in startups would be great." Have something listed here? Great! Be sure to call attention to it in your application. But nothing's essential here, and shouldn't deter you from applying IF you're strong in the Must Haves AND can highlight something else which would be considered a value add.

Good To Have

These usually list elements that can be picked up on the job. For example, many technical and software skills fall into this category. Great if you got it, ignore if you don't. One other point to consider: listen to your instincts. If you start getting a clear sense that a job's a stretch, an employer probably will too. You need at least 70% of what an employer's looking for, and feel excited to grow into that additional 30%. Hiring is not like Whack-a-Mole. Don't worry about the number of applications you blast out there. Focusing on precise match-up, quality over quantity, will get you better results every time.

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About the author

Anish Majumdar, CEO of is a nationally recognized executive resume writer, LinkedIn expert, and interview coach. Surveyed clients report a 40-60% reduction in placement times through working with him, and typically secure offers at least $10-40K higher. Schedule a free LIVE Resume Critique with Anish, or connect with him on LinkedIn. Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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