careers

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.

8 Job Search Strategies for Returning to Work After An Extended Gap

iStockphoto.com |  Dilen_ua

iStockphoto.com | Dilen_ua

Life happens. And this often means taking several years out of the workforce at the prime of our career to have and raise children, care for infirm relatives, or take care of other personal matters. Returning to work after a gap in employment is difficult, and there are hurdles to overcome. These include unfortunate perceptions by employers that your skills may be rusty or out-of-date.

The good news is that many professionals – including those who have been out of the work force for a significant period of time – rejoin the professional working world every day. While you can’t just walk into your old office, flip the light switch on, and pick up where you left off, by anticipating the most common obstacles and objections you can facilitate your way back into the workforce.

Tip #1: Don’t make excuses for the time spent outside the work force. Perhaps you were the stay-at-home parent and were responsible for home schooling the kids. Or your parents needed to move in with you and you needed some time to get them settled. Own the situation, and don’t make apologies. In an interview, explain briefly how you spent your time, then move on to how you can help an employer achieve their best.

Tip #2: Perform a clear assessment of what you want to do and where you want to go. The transition will likely be smoother if you intend to go back into the same line of work as you were performing before. Making a career switch to a new discipline is, in itself, tricky and risky, and doing so after being out of the work force can be even more so and may involve finding an entry-level role to do so.

Tip #3: Update Your Resume, and Fill the Gap. If you left your profession to be a full-time parent, account for your time with the job title of “Full Time Parent” – no need to elaborate further. Also, you may be surprised how many activities you’ve been performing that are considered work, and you should detail these on your resume. Examples include volunteering on your child’s PTA, holding a board-level role with a nonprofit, an officer role on your homeowner’s association, service as coaching for your kid’s team, or running a side business to generate extra income. These all demonstrate professional and leadership skills.

Tip #4: Modernize Your Resume. Styles change with time, and resumes are no exception. Modernizing your resume can mean everything from the font to formatting, structure, and tone. In the recruitment world, the most recent trend is toward punch, bold accomplishments-driven resumes that feature your accomplishments in short, easy-to-scan bullet points. You’ll want to ensure that your resume meets the current expectations of recruiters and hiring managers. Do your research, and make sure that it’s as “Applicant Tracking System” friendly as possible – learn more here.

Tip #5: Modernize your Skill Set. There are many low-cost resources that can help you get up to speed on the current technical skills and software of your trade. Take advantage of free or cheap online resources such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, edX. And don’t forget about your alma mater – many colleges offer low-cost or free courses to their alumni. It also never hurts to modernize your skills in Microsoft Office – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; it’s still a global standard.

Tip #6: Research, Network, Repeat. How do you learn what is in demand in the current job market, or what new skills will help you make the leap back in the workforce? Job postings use a secret language that, when deciphered, reveal the type of individuals and skill sets employers desire most. Spend time browsing the job boards to see what tools and skills are sought by employers. Call on people in your professional network to get their perspective about new trends in your field, or to learn about potential job openings or other professional career opportunities. For the most part, people are happy to help.

Tip #7: Calibrate your Salary Expectations. When are interviewing, it’s important to know the current average compensation range for your geographic area in your chosen discipline – salary site Paysa.com is an outstanding tool for this. Prepare yourself for employers who may ask you to take a step back in your career relative to where you were before you left the workforce. When assessing offers, only you can decide what is right for you.

Tip #8: Invest in a modern wardrobe. Although that suit from 2004 may still fit, it’s recommended that you get professional attire in line with current trends. It’ll subtly reinforce to employers that you’re current with today’s business environment. And don’t forget a new pair of “interview only” shoes.

Bonus Tip: Many companies embrace the idea of seeking those who have been absent from the workforce in the form of “Returnships.” A relatively new concept, these are structured like a traditional internship, in which you relearn the business while working toward a full-time role. A recent search on job board Indeed turned up more than 100 Returnship job listings.

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.

Seven Signs it Might be Time to Look For a New Job

iStockphoto.com |  kaipong

iStockphoto.com | kaipong

Jobs are not meant to last forever. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American worker will have more than eleven jobs before age fifty, and that number is expected to grow. While some transitions are out of your control, eventually you could find yourself in the wrong job, at the wrong time.

Here are seven signs that it might be time to explore the job market for better prospects.

You and your manager are not aligned on your job requirements and career path. Everyone has a boss – even the CEO of a public company has to answer to a Board of Directors. Do not assume you and your supervisors share a common vision. Some potential red flags:

  • No clear engagement from management in career discussions.

  • Differing ideas about your role, career path, and long-term potential in the company.

  • Lack of periodic performance evaluations or feedback, or your positive achievements are not being officially acknowledged.

  • New management that has a “different way of doing things” and their “own” people. No matter how stellar your job performance, these kinds of shake-ups can fundamentally change the nature of your role. Be aware, these kinds of shakeups may also lead to new internal career opportunities.

You received a poor appraisal. It’s essential to ask yourself, “Why did this happen?” While a poor appraisal is a signal that management is unhappy with your job performance, it does not necessarily mean it is time to leave your job. Ask yourself:

  • What is the message management is trying to convey? Listen closely – if the overriding tone is that they really want to see you succeed, your leadership may be willing work with you to give you the tools to turn things around. If not, you’re in dangerous territory.

  • If your review stipulates areas in which you need to show improvement, are you capable of meeting these new expectations? If they are beyond your capabilities, it might be time to seek a better fit.

  • What strategies can you undertake to turn things around? Systemic issues can be impossible to change, whereas if you are presented with opportunities that are genuinely within your control, your long-term outlook at the company might be more promising.

  • Have you had a candid conversation with your manager about your appraisal? Painful as these discussions are, they’re essential. You may no longer be a good fit for your current role based upon shifting expectations or other factors. Best to know, so you can plan accordingly.

There’s limited opportunity for professional development. Personal growth should be part of your compensation package, providing you with challenging work that helps you hone valuable new skills that you will carry with you throughout your career. If you are bored and unchallenged, or the work is not as rewarding as you’d like, consider asking your manager to evolve your responsibilities in order to get those mental juices going. A dull role with no opportunity to expand your toolbox could signal a dead end.

You’re feeling undercompensated for your work. It’s human nature to underestimate or overestimate one’s value to a company, and even in a job that you may have outgrown it is easy to become too comfortable at the expense of progress. But before you assume you’re underpaid, do your homework. Salary survey sites with validated data, like Paysa, can tell you whether or not you are being fairly compensated for the work you do. Be prepared for what you learn – you may find out you’re earning an above-average salary for the market. Also, remember that your salary is only one piece of the overall compensation picture, and often benefits like 401(k) matches, bonuses, and generous paid time off can make up for a lower base salary. That said, if your total compensation appears to be substantially lower than the overall market, consider seeing what else is out there.

Your personal values no longer align with the corporate values and culture. This seems like an abstract concept until your company asks you to engage in uncomfortable or unethical behavior, and your job is on the line. Or maybe the company shifted from a family-centric culture to a 24/7, get-it-done-at-all-costs environment. Your reputation and sanity are two of your most valuable assets; protect them.

You’re engaged in self-sabotage. Maybe you’re unhappy at your job and you want to leave, but you can’t bring yourself to take action. Instead, you let your job performance slip – either consciously or unconsciously – secretly hoping you’ll be let go and you’ll be off the hook. No matter how justifiably unhappy you may be, it’s not a good idea to allow your job performance to slip for any reason. Stay motivated, stay engaged, and consider looking for a new environment where you’ll be happy to show up to work.

Sometimes you just need to move on. Even the best experiences have a natural life cycle. A certain level of self-awareness is essential. Only you know if your job still aligns with your best-case career scenario.

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.