Deconstructing Job Ads

If you’re a candidate and you are looking for a job, it can be difficult to deconstruct a job ad, especially if it’s a laundry list of technical tools. A lot of hiring managers use a form of shorthand to identify their needs. Here are some common themes that might be their shorthand:

What the ad says What it means How to get around it
2-3 years experience I don’t want to train you to do the job I need done. OR I don’t want to pay more. Show some alternative specific-to-the-job relevant experience
25-30 years experience I want a peer (I don’t know how to get around this)
Laundry list of tools I don’t know what I want, so I’ll ask for everything Explain in a cover letter how your tools experience is relevant to the position.
Experience required and you only have certification or a certificate or college course They don’t want to train you. Explain how your attitude, other experience, and/or maturity makes up for your lack of specific experience in a cover letter.

For example, a colleague with tons of project management just took a CSM (Certified Scrum Master) course. She’s no dummy. She’s used these ideas before. Timeboxes are not a new project management idea. Finishing small chunks works are not a new idea. (I wrote my inch-pebble article in 1999, and my iterative planning article in 1997. I’d been practicing these ideas long before. I bet my colleague has, too.)

The real problem is that too many hiring managers do not want to do any on-the-job training for people who may well have the right preferences, qualities, and non-technical skills. This is so short-sighted of them, I can’t begin to say how wrong-headed it is.

In I Like My IT Budget Tight and My Developers Stupid, Lisa Vaas has a great quote:

“The first technical person I hired last summer was somebody with very little experience, but I saw raw talent. I hired him to basically learn on the job. I haven’t provided training, but he’s dramatically increased his skill set since being hired, just by working.”

You will need to do some explaining. No lying, please! But you will need to explain how you and your attitude are right for their job.

Do you have more examples? I am happy to add them to the table above and to the eventual ebook.

7 Replies to “Deconstructing Job Ads”

  1. “Explain in a cover letter how your tools experience is relevant to the position.”

    I have never seen a word processor or editor or markup system that I couldn’t master, or at least use well enough to write technical documentation (except for TECO) and I have personally helped develop VAX DOCUMENT at DEC and the Document Examiner and Concordia editing environment at Symbolics. I didn’t invent them, but this is top drawer stuff.

    I’m an articulate guy, but I could never answer when the screener said, “So, I don’t see any Microsoft Word experience.”

    1. Tom, you could say something like this, “Oh, I thought that was assumed because this was *technical* documentation.”
      I assume you’ve used some version of Word or Pages or some other contemporary WYSIWYG word processor?

      I’ve used TECO! I can’t believe it! Of course, I can’t remember it, anymore 🙂

  2. I’ve used a myriad of word processors, including Word, of course, and whatever little engine is powering this text as I type. In my pre-retirement phase, I limited my MicroSoft usage to situations in which I was being paid.

    The situation described in my comment above was a little artificial, in that I hadn’t used any MicroSoft application since the solid, reliable, long-lost Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

  3. In 1995, I came across an ad that required at least 5 years of Java experience. Well, Oak was coined in 1992.

    A friend of mine was invite for a technical interview for a position that required 2-3 years experience with C. The interviewer read the questions out loud from the book ”teach yourself C in 24 hours”. He checked my friend’s answers in the same book.

    Finally, once I was interviewed for a job that required experience with Microsoft Visual C++. The technical interview consisted of one task: write a C++ program to print all the file names under given directory. When I handed the executable, the interviewer checked it on three directories and told me that they wished to hire me: I turned out to be the single candidate to produce a working program.

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