A Career Pivoter's

Guide to decoding a job description

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Things you will learn:

How to properly read a job description

How to discover the true skills a hiring manager is looking for

How to decode the transferable skills you already have

How to get a feel for their company culture

One of the best ways to make a successful pivot is to understand how the skills you already have transfer to the new roles and industries you’re interested in. To better understand what a hiring manager is really looking for, you need to read job postings the right way.

If done correctly, you can use a job posting to identify exactly what the true skill requirements of the job are. Not only will this help you determine if the job is a good fit for you, but you’ll be able to leverage your detective work to create a custom cover letter and resume that will be much more likely to catch the eye of a hiring manager or recruiter than if you just hit that “one click” apply button with a generic application attached (as tempting as that may be).

That’s right—you can identify and position the transferable skills you’ve built throughout your career so that your resume stands out, no matter what the role is.

There’s a lot of fluff in job postings that can make it challenging to decode the true skill requirements. Follow these steps and you’ll navigate through all of that fluff and walk away with what you need to rock your job search.

Step 1

Do your due diligence

It’s totally okay to skim through job postings to get a quick gauge of whether or not you’re interested in a role, but once a role does attract your interest, it’s time to get thorough.

Here’s how to get the most out of a job posting:

1. The Once Over

If a job posting catches your eye, give it a quick once over. There might be an immediate and obvious reason you’re not interested in applying. Maybe the salary is too low or you only want to take on a remote role. If the job looks good, you’ll proceed to the next step. 

Tip: Don’t pay too much credence to the title here. If the role responsibilities look interesting to you, give it a chance.

2. Slow Down

Now it’s time for a more thorough read into what the role will entail and what basic skill and experience requirements the company is looking for. This read through should focus on seeing if the job appeals to you and if you truly want to invest time and energy in applying for it. 

Tip: Your time is valuable and you don’t want to waste it applying for a job that you’re not quite ready for yet. When reading through the description again, try to picture yourself in the job. How does the idea of tackling the described responsibilities feel?

3. Dive Deep

Now that you know you want to apply for the job, you need to focus on how you can make your application stand out above the crowd. It’s time to really take your time and read the job description carefully. It can help to print out the job description. That way, as you read through it, you can take note of any skills requirements.

You should also spend some time researching the company as well to get a better idea of what they do, what their values are, and what they’ve recently accomplished.

Tip: Head on over the Glassdoor to check out the company’s reviews. You may find that a former or current employee has reviewed the exact role (or a similar one) that you’re looking at. Any added context on what to expect out of a job is so valuable during the application process. 

Step 2

Find the true skills they’re looking for

We really recommend busting out a highlighter here, even if it’s a digital one. As you read through the job post (slowly!), highlight any skills or experience requirements you come across.

The job posting may have a “skills” or “requirements” section that makes this task easier, but you should still read through the whole job posting carefully in search of skill requirements. When they describe your day-to-day responsibilities, chances are, you’ll find a few more requirements sprinkled in. While you may come across bulleted lists of skills, you also need to be prepared to decode the skills they’re looking for. Don’t worry, we’re going to break down how to do that in the next step.

Pay extra special attention to any skills listed at the top of the job posting, as they are usually the most important ones to meet.

After highlighting all of the skills throughout the job description, you can cross out the ones you don’t need to focus on. There are certain generic requirements that most companies expect from their employees. While they may add that they’re looking for a team player and someone who is detail oriented to cover their bases, you need to look past those more generic requirements to find the truth of what they’re looking for.

The job posting may have a “skills” or “requirements” section that makes this task easier, but you should still read through the whole job posting carefully in search of skill requirements. When they describe your day-to-day responsibilities, chances are, you’ll find a few more requirements sprinkled in. While you may come across bulleted lists of skills, you also need to be prepared to decode the skills they’re looking for. Don’t worry, we’re going to break down how to do that in the next step.

Tip:

Pay close attention to the job responsibilities section! While no one will expect you to have years of experience for every responsibility you’ll need to tackle in this new role, you should feel confident that you’re ready to take on a solid chunk of those responsibilities head on.  

Decoding a real job description

Here’s an example of a job posting from CapitalOne where they clearly mark what their basic qualifications are and what their preferred qualifications are.
What they mean by “basic” qualifications is that this is the minimum level of experience required to be considered for the role. The “preferred” qualifications are ones that will really make you stand out as a strong candidate.

Let’s take a closer look at the last preferred qualification. Why is familiarity with tech sector preferred but not required? Because they don’t expect candidates to have experience with the tech industry. If you’ve worked with a tech tools or tech companies in the past, they’ll have more confidence you can pick theirs up quickly. But because they’ll most likely need to train someone in how to work with tech products and people, they aren’t making this a make or break requirement. 

Step 3

Decode the skills you’ve chosen to focus on

Now that you have a list of what you believe are the top skills the employer is looking for, you need to sit down and figure out which skills you have and how you can clearly illustrate that you have them in a cover letter and resume. 

Here’s a few examples of skills you’ll find in a job description and how to decode them.

What it says on the job description

8+ years’ experience in enterprise client-facing roles, in either Consultative, Customer Success, Delivery, Sales, or Product roles

What they want to see

Real-life experience managing complex relationships

Why they want to see it

A demonstrated track record of success in a similar role

Ask yourself...

What relationships have I managed at work? How were those relationships important to the success of the business? What impact did the relationships I brokered have?

What it says on the job description

Project management skills, and the ability to perform as a team player and leader

What they want to see

Organizational/operational skills. Ability to work naturally with peers to achieve your goals

Why they want to see it

Prior experience self-managing a project from beginning to end

Ask yourself...

What projects have I managed, no matter how small they may seem? What was the quantifiable result of that project?

Source: Katie Starer, Zeit Member, Product Operations

Now that you have an idea of how to decode skills, it’s time for you to give it a go. While you’re reading through an application, fill out this chart to help you think more critically about their desired skills before you start crafting your cover letter and resume. 
Use this template to get you started.

Need some extra help?

Schedule a free 15 min. coaching call with one of our coaches

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Step 4

Keep an Eye out For Culture Clues

Job searching is very similar to dating, you need to want them as much as they want you. Once you know you’re interested in a specific role, you need to consider how you feel about the company as a whole. 

It can be hard to get a full understanding of a company’s culture just by reading a job description, but you can take what you learn from the job description, reviews of the company, and any interviews you go through to get a bigger picture. 
First things first. When reviewing a job posting, you may need to read between the lines to find out what their values are. 

Take a closer look at what type of employees they’re looking for. This is where soft skills come into play. What are soft skills? Soft skills are the personal traits that affect how you work, both on your own and as part of a team. A company that points out the soft skills they’re looking for in a job posting is a company that cares about finding the right fit for their specific culture. 

Let’s look at an example of what a soft skill can tell you about company culture.

What They Say

You must be able to work in a highly collaborative environment and leverage your teammates’ strengths.

The Soft Skills They’re Looking For

Teamwork, communication, flexibility, adaptable, resourceful, open-mindedness 

What They Mean

They value employees who can work well with others and are firm believers that teamwork is the key to their company’s success. You’ll fit in better if you’re willing to listen, learn, and adapt. They don’t want someone who thinks it’s my way or the highway. 

Sometimes a company’s values are outlined clearly in a job description, on their website, or in recent social media posts. Of course, you shouldn’t just take a company at their word regarding their culture. Again, Glassdoor reviews really come in handy here. Key Values is also a great resource for learning more about a company’s culture priorities. 

Step 5

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

You are not alone! While many people feel like they are the only ones feeling lost or dejected, it is common.

We know searching for a new job can be overwhelming, especially when you want to make a pivot. That’s why we created Zeit, to reimagine the pivot process to help people identify and navigate their career pivots with the support of a community. There’s no need to do your pivot alone.

📅  Schedule some time with us to for some free guidance and to hear more about Zeit.

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