job hunting

In Search Of The Purple Squirrel – How To Decipher A Job Advertisement

iStockphoto.com |  Paul Carpenter

iStockphoto.com | Paul Carpenter

You are searching for a job and that means reading job posting after job posting; they all start to look and sound the same. Where do the listings come from in the first place, and how do you interpret and prioritize their contents?

To start with, there is no way to determine who wrote the job listing. The job description you’re seeing on Indeed.com likely originated with a template from human resources, who gave it to the hiring manager, who delegated it to a department or personal assistant, who cut and pasted several parts from a previous listing for another position.

You may find that Fortune 500-level companies are more likely to have professionally written job listings that are mandated from above. Still, there are more than enough job listings with murky backgrounds to justify a degree of skepticism. After all, job listings are an imperfect science and will sometimes contain too much, too little, and/or contradictory information.

Despite these failings, however, job descriptions are a vital component of the recruitment process. When read closely, a job description will tell you what requirements, from a recruiter’s or hiring manager’s perspective, are non-negotiable, and contain clues about the position’s day-to-day responsibilities.

Knowing how to decipher the internal language of the recruitment process will only strengthen your candidacy. So, let’s take a look at the anatomy of a typical job posting.

THE JOB TITLE

Let’s take a look at title of Human Resources Coordinator. This indicates that the job is in the Human Resources department, and Coordinator indicates that it is an entry-level administrative position. Easy, right?

Not necessarily. Job postings titles can be deceiving because the actual meaning may vary wildly from one employer to another. The same job may have different titles at different places. One company may link job titles to compensation, while another may pride itself on having no titles at all. The variations are endless.

Job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn include categorizations that are intended to clarify where a specific role may sit level-wise in an organization. These include “Entry Level,” “Associate,” “Mid-Senior Level,” that will often be incongruent with the job title used by the poster, adding another level of confusion. How do you interpret a job title with “Manager” that is categorized as “Associate?” (this is prevalent in sales roles, where someone can be an Account Manager, but doesn’t actually manage anything or anyone other than their own activities).

THE SUMMARY

The summary usually provides glowing general description of the company and a general description of the job. The summary is valuable to read as it provides perspective on how the company markets itself and the role. It’s a great overview but it tends to draw little connection to your technical qualifications for the position. For example:

“The Amazing X Company, a world-class provider of amazing stuff, seeks a Human Resources Coordinator to join its growing team. We’re looking for talent with outstanding communication skills, great customer service perspective, and strong problem-solving and decision-making abilities to support the entire HR process.”

This description is generic, on purpose. It’s trying to present the general profile of the idea candidate from a behavioral side, but doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty technical details. Take it as a guideline to calibrate whether your personality and general background is a match for what they’re looking for.

JOB RESPONSIBILITIES

Here is where you are going to start to discover the clues that will help you understand the position and the skills needed to be considered a viable candidate. This area the day-to-day responsibilities of the role. Some sample job responsibilities for a Human Resources Coordinator include:

  • Coordinating pre-employment activities

  • Preparing, maintaining, and ensuring accurate records and files

  • Conducting audits on personnel files and I-9 forms

  • Ensuring compliance with federal and state employment laws

…and so forth.

If you possess direct experience in any of these areas it will help your overall application. Generally speaking, if an employer finds a candidate who ticks all the experience boxes in terms of day-to-day functions, they’re going to give that individual a deeper look. Interpret this as the employer providing you with guidance on what qualifications and past experiences you should highlight in your cover letter and on your resume.

 

REQUIRED SKILLS

This is the meat of the job. Anything you see under “required skills” is considered an essential component of the right candidate and to have a fighting chance for the job you’ll need to have it. Let’s dissect some sample requirements:

  • Bachelor degree preferred

The use of the word “preferred” indicates that the degree is not a core requirement for the position. However, preference will be given to those with a college degree so if you’re applying without a diploma, the rest of your application better be stellar, and you should possess enough skills and experiences to compensate.

  • Minimum of 2 years of experience in Human Resources

“2 years” likely wasn’t chosen at random. They’re looking at candidates that possess a minimum of two years’ experience. The understanding is that this is the minimum amount of time required to build the knowledge foundation to be successful.

  • Direct exposure to employee relations and payroll practices

Pay special attention – this is the most important entry in this entire job posting. This is the experience that will matter most on your resume.

  • ADP experience is a strong plus

Just like “preferred,” “strong a plus” means it’s not a requirement, but candidates who have used ADP in the past will be in a better starting position; if you haven’t used ADP, but do have experience in another HR software system, you’re in decent shape.

  • Strong computer skills with high proficiency in MS Office

It would seem like this is a waste of space in today’s age, but it’s not. The employer included this in the job description because it’s nonnegotiable. Then there’s the soft skills:

  • Excellent written, verbal, and interpersonal communication skills

  • Outstanding organization and time management skills

  • Attention to detail

  • Practice and maintain an environment of confidentiality

The employer is likely going to evaluate these traits in greater depth during the interview. They’re hard to quantify (although a resume riddled with errors could work against you in the area of written communication skills). Just understand, if you are to get the job, you’re going to be expected to live up to these standards.

Many employers also include a section for “Preferred Skills.” This is usually the hiring manager’s wish list of additional skilled and experiences. They’re looking for, in recruiter parlance, the “Purple Squirrel.” This is the candidate that probably doesn’t exist but would check off all of a hiring manager’s boxes in terms of attacking any other work they have lying around – related or unrelated to the core duties of the job. But make no mistake – the candidate who has ALL of the required skills and ALL of the preferred skills will probably be in the best position to receive an offer.*

*Note: I say probably because there are mitigating factors, such as candidate salary requirements, age discrimination, or any countless other dynamics at play.

Here’s some final thoughts on deciphering and approaching job postings:

Tip #1: You have some latitude when duration of experience is specified. Let’s say the listing says “3-5 years experience making widgets”. You should have a minimum of 3 years, but you shouldn’t rule yourself out if you have more than five years. You can apply with 2 years’ experience, and nothing is stopping you, but it’s an uphill climb.

Tip #2:  From the recruiter’s perspective, there is a distinct difference between a Required Skill and a Preferred Skill. But think about it this way - if you’re have 100% of the Required Skills and 50% of the Preferred Skills, you’re in pretty good shape.

 

And that brings us to the important life lesson about purple squirrels. Have you ever actually seen a purple squirrel? No you have not, and you never will. Purple squirrels do not exist, and job candidates who possess all of the Required and Preferred skills tend to pop up with quite a bit less frequency than a hiring manager hopes. Apply to the job.

Lastly, remember that your resume is a marketing brochure and the recruiters/hiring managers are your customers. You are trying to convince them to invest in something – you. Mapping the qualifications on your resume with the Required and Preferred Skills on a job listing will greatly increase your chances of clearing the first hurdle.


 Philip Roufail contributed to this article.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

6 Simple Insider Job Hunting Tips

iStockphoto.com |  francescoch

iStockphoto.com | francescoch

Have you ever noticed that one of the most difficult jobs you will ever encounter is finding a job? Even a quick and successful job search requires diligence, patience, and perseverance. You need to tend to so many matters – such as your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, interview skills – and so on.

That said, the little things matter, too. These may be the difference between an employer selecting you for the job and going with another candidate. Here are a few insider tips to keep you rolling. 

  1. There is no single “best day” to apply, but Friday is far from the worst. It’s true that on Friday afternoons people look ahead to the weekend, but they are also unwinding from the work week, and the right resume that crosses the right desk at the right moment may get a glance. A relaxed recruiter will be happy to have an actionable resume to send the manager before the weekend. Conversely, on Mondays, recruiters are often busy tackling the avalanche of new work that accrued over the weekend.

  2. Have a LinkedIn profile picture. If possible, a professional headshot taken by a skilled photographer. Recruiters use LinkedIn to find talent, and your profile picture is one of first things that show up on a search. A LinkedIn profile page that does not have a photo looks like a house where nobody lives – i.e., the lights are off, the driveway is empty, and the yard is unkempt. Don’t make the recruiter wonder if you are home! While at it, make sure to use a profile picture that conveys a professional image. Yes, you look great hanging upside down holding a beer funnel on a Hawaiian beach, but you may want to keep that one in your private Instagram account. Dress for your photo like you would for a job interview. And smile like you will be the best co-worker in the history of co-workers. In a pinch, businesses that offer passport photo services may be able to provide you with a digital copy of your headshot that is appropriate for a LinkedIn profile.

  3.  Never stop training. Job skills change over the years and it is in your best interests to change with them. Companies once spent a great deal of time and effort developing their employees. These days, workers are expected to seek out and continue their education on their own time, and their own dime. Keep in mind that stagnant skills may turn a company off to your candidacy. If you’re in technology, learn Python or other emerging computer languages. Nothing against COBOL, but if that’s the only programming language you know, you may lose out to candidates with expertise in the latest, in-demand technologies. Continue to invest in your skills and future, and once you do, advertise your new mojo everywhere you can – LinkedIn, resume, cover letter, and so forth.

  4.  Understand how Automatic Tracking Systems work. The systemic use of Automatic Tracking Systems (ATSs) by recruiters and others who hire people for a living has impacted the people looking for jobs just as much as the those who administer them. These computers automatically rank resumes based upon on the particular requirements and wording of the open position, and recruiters usually start by reviewing the top-ranked resumes and stopping when they’ve accumulated enough candidates to share with a hiring manager. To maximize the chances your resume will get a high ranking, it must be revised on a job-by-job basis to better align with the specific requirements of the position. Yes, it is an essential and difficult extra layer of work. But when paired with old-school efforts to reach a hiring manager, it can help ensure you get a look. A lot.

  5.  Treat yourself well. It sounds so simple, but one of the very best things you can do to land that dream job is to treat yourself well. Do what you can to minimize your stress levels. Eat well. Walk outside. Put your phone on Airport mode for an hour a day. Allow yourself small indulgences. A happy candidate participating in a job interview has a greater chance of success than a sour candidate.

  6.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember the job seeker’s Golden Rule. If you don’t apply for the job, you will not get it!


Philip Roufail contributed to this article.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

Why Did I Waste My Time Interviewing When The Company Offered The Job To An Internal Candidate?

iStockphoto.com |  Bet_Noire

iStockphoto.com | Bet_Noire

You just walked out of an interview at a company where you really want to work. After feeling like you nailed it, you’re stunned – and not just a little upset – to learn you didn’t get the job. In fact, you heard that the person who did get the job was an internal candidate. Why did the company put you through an intensive interview process if they were always going to give the job to somebody who already works there?

Both parties involved in a job interview operate with a blind spot. A company can use every traditional tried and true method of recruiting, interviewing, and hiring staff, but still only learn a fraction of a person’s actual skills and fit before making him or her a co-worker. The outside candidate for a job knows even less; he or she has little to no visibility into the decision process that goes into corporate hiring decisions.

In most cases, there aren’t really any federal regulations stipulating any requirements in granting preference toward internal or external candidates during the employment process. Unless it’s mandated in some sort of labor agreement or government contract, companies have a lot of latitude in who they hire.

That said companies tend to have a hiring philosophy. That philosophy is most likely in a written corporate policy governing staff recruitment. There is no single approach, but many companies explicitly state that internal candidates will get preferential consideration during the hiring process, while many others state that the best candidate wins.

This can frustrate both internal and external job seekers, who aren’t playing by a single set of rules. Candidates wonder, “Why did you bother to interview me?” Here are several factors to keep in mind as to why the process can play out the way it does.

  • The process of recruiting and interviewing candidates costs both time and money. A company is not going to spend resources and dollars for practice. Even when company’s hiring philosophy favors internal candidates, the fact that the company interviewed external candidates signals that you had a legitimate chance at getting the position. Otherwise, only internal candidates would have been interviewed.

  • Many employers give internal candidates preference in the form of internally-posted job openings on the company intranet or similar platforms. Depending on the company’s guidelines, generally speaking a public job announcement shows that the company is looking to identify the best possible candidate, which sometimes means an internal candidate and sometimes and external one.

  • Recruitment policy at some companies can be governed by union contracts, which may specify internal and/or union members receive preferential treatment during the hiring process.

  • Even in cases in which preference is not given to internal candidates by default, you are still competing with employees that possess the advantage of already being a known quantity.

  • The hiring process is fluid and the candidate pool may change day to day due to unforeseen circumstances. Internal or external candidates can – and frequently do – accept offers then back out. A perceived lock for a position may have a rocky interview process that reveals they are not the best person for the job. A dark horse candidate, either internal or external, may emerge and end up with the offer.

 In the end, you shouldn’t allow the phantoms of internal candidates deter you from pursuing the job you want. How can you compete more effectively? In addition to polishing your interview skills, you can tip the scales in your favor via strategic networking. This way, you can increase your profile with hiring managers who still may have a need for you in the future.

And as frustrating as you may find the process, try to remember that companies that selected internal candidates for jobs are trying to provide additional opportunities for development and promotion to their employees. As an external candidate, take heart that this could potentially be a sign of an employee-centered culture.


Philip Roufail contributed to this article.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.