What to Look for in a Job Description

What to Look for in a Job Description

Egyptian hieroglyphics. Dating profiles. The works of Shakespeare. All of these things are easier to read and decipher than the vague job postings often created by busy hiring managers. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture. Landing a job and embarking on a new career can be difficult to do when you can’t seem to make heads or tails of the job description. That’s why we’ve created this guide for job-seekers. Read on to find out what to look for in a job description — plus, some red flags to watch out for.

What to Look for in a Job Description

You probably know that tailoring your resume to the job posting is key to scoring an interview. But let’s be real: Updating your resume takes a significant amount of time and energy. To make the best use of your time, you need to be selective about which jobs you apply for.

Wondering whether a job is worth submitting a resume for? Here are a few simple things to look for in the job posting that indicate the answer is “yes.”

Qualifications that mirror your own.

Job postings typically list two sets of qualifications (aka, requirements): minimum qualifications and preferred qualifications. Unfortunately, some hiring managers like to treat their job postings as a giant wish list of skills they want in a new employee. If you encounter a job posting with unrealistic requirements — say, a job that requires a junior web developer to have advanced knowledge of five different programming languages — it could be that the company is hiring internally and is simply trying to keep up appearances.

Try not to get discouraged if you don’t meet all of the qualifications. Instead, you should follow this general rule of thumb: Apply for the job if you meet at least 80 percent of the required qualifications.


A good benefits package.

As a recent college graduate, it’s easy to be lured into a job with a high starting salary. But if that’s all that the company is offering you, think twice before you apply.

Income isn’t everything — in fact, it makes up about 70 percent of your compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The remaining 30 percent comes from the benefits your company provides you.

Ideally, the job posting should mention a benefits package that includes medical insurance and a 401(k) match. Vacation days and sick days are also important, as well as disability and life insurance. However, if you get a job offer, you’ll want to get more details about your benefits package and the company’s culture. After all, vacation days are no use to employees if they’re too busy to use them.

Opportunities for advancement.

As you’re reading through a job description, it’s important to consider your career path. Where do you want to be in five years? What job title do you want to have?

Of course, it can be difficult to tell whether a company provides opportunities for advancement based on the job description alone. That being said, some hiring managers will include phrases such as “room for growth” and “growth opportunities” in their listings.

If the job description doesn’t include these phrases, it may still be worth applying for. If or when you get the interview, consider asking how the position might evolve or whether there is room for advancement.

Clues about the company’s culture.

Company culture — aka, the set of social norms and values that are shared throughout the company — is another important consideration when applying for a new job. When you vibe with the company culture, you’re more likely to enjoy the work you do and be happier in the long-term.

While companies will often leave clues about their culture on their website and social media channels, you can also pick up cultural clues through the job description. For instance, if the company uses words like “embrace drive and change,” it could signal that the company values innovation and growth. Similarly, companies that insert some playful personality into their job descriptions could mean that they’re a fun place to work, which could be a big selling point.

Job-Posting Red Flags to Watch Out for

The last thing any job-seeker wants to do is to spend their precious time filling out job applications that aren’t a good fit for them. Here are a few job description red flags that you should watch out for.


Phrases that hint at a terrible company culture.

It’s not too difficult to spot a toxic workplace — usually, the clues are right within the job description. For example, phrases such as “fast-paced environment” often suggest a high level of stress and a terrible work-life balance. Postings that call for someone with a “positive, can-do attitude” are usually customer-facing jobs that require the employee to deal with unreasonable people on a regular basis.

Postings that require a fee to apply.

In general, you should avoid job listings that require you to pay a fee to apply. Legitimate employers rarely charge a fee to fill out a job application because it could discourage qualified employees from applying.

Postings that ask for sensitive information.

On a similar note, job postings that ask for sensitive information, such as your social security number and/or your birthday, are also big, red flags. These are almost always job scams. A legitimate employer would only ask for this kind of information after you have officially received and accepted a job offer.

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