Break Down a Job Description



Updated September 25, 2023
Ask Me This Instead

You’re reading an excerpt of Ask Me This Instead: Flip the Interview to Land Your Dream Job, a book by Kendra Haberkorn. This powerful work is written by a veteran recruiter for job-seekers who want to find their dream job—not just the next job. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, worksheets and a question database, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

The truth behind most job descriptions is that they are lightly edited, kind of plagiarized, branded marketing documents with a lot of words that often don’t say that much. Once hiring managers know they have an opening, they think of the most common label that exists that represents the position they have in mind and put it into a search engine. This results in a bunch of job descriptions from other companies. With all these examples, they begin to skim them and pull out the “best parts,” copying them into a document before massaging them into a more coherent and relevant version to post (or simply doing a “find and replace” for the other company and substituting their own). Oh, and they try to make it sound fun and compelling (you’ll learn, you’ll make a difference, we’re changing the world, and free beer on Fridays!). They do their best to make this job, this work, this grind, sound appealing or at least more appealing than the grind that you know or that other companies might be offering.

It’s almost impossible to encapsulate the experience of a job in a short list of bullets, even if you start from scratch. Because of that, most job descriptions are also too long—both in the list of responsibilities you’ll have and the qualifications you’re supposed to bring. And yet, when we’re searching for a job we tend to believe them. It’s magical thinking. One way to ground yourself in this reality is to stop everything you are doing right now and look at your company’s careers page. Do the job descriptions sound like they represent the work and environment that you experience every day?

Although job descriptions might try to make it seem otherwise, there are few truly original jobs. You might have had this realization while searching and comparing titles. Because the job description as a “tool” is so broken, you have to look beyond, dig deeper, and discover what is actually going on for this position and within this company. To do this, you need to break down a couple job descriptions.

Activity: Break Down a Job Description

Once you have found several postings that you’re drawn to, pick two to break down. This will help on multiple fronts. First, it’ll help you more quickly and critically evaluate job descriptions. It will also help you tailor your application materials and will kickstart your reflection on your experience in anticipation of interviews. Remember, you may not be able to check off every line of the job description, and that’s OK!

Find the activity in this Google Doc!

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