Understanding the job posting

Decoding the Job Posting

by Dana Zaruba

Reading a job posting is very much like reading a recipe.

Most people know that you should read the whole recipe first and gather your ingredients and equipment before you start cooking. It’s exactly the same with a job posting and as with many recipes, many people want to be shown how to make something rather than just read about it. In making a job application, employers want you to show them how you’d be a good employee, not just tell them you will. This is the key to creating a successful application. Proof, demonstration, real examples of how, when and where you did what you say you did.

Employers often include a large list of needs and wants (ingredients) for a potential employee but they often hire people who may only have the minimum job requirements if they feel the person will learn and be a good fit with the team. Here are some ideas on how to approach the “recipe” of a job posting that will help you effectively prepare cover letters and resumes. 

Read the job description and follow directions

We often skim over a recipe when we’re cooking and miss crucial steps and even essential ingredients and then need to reread recipes several times to really get an idea of how to proceed. It’s exactly the same with job postings, except that you only get one chance to make that first impression. Be sure to take your time, read a job posting multiple times and be absolutely sure of what the employer is looking for before you start preparing your plan of action in applying for the position. Follow the employer’s directions exactly on how to apply and include whatever information they request.

Posting dates and expiry dates

Apply for a position as soon as you see it. Employers often review resumes as soon as they come in, or go through older resumes they have on file. Once employers find a suitable number of candidates to interview, they may stop reviewing resumes, even if the posting hasn’t yet expired. Again, apply as soon as the job is posted to have the very best chance. Sign up on employment sites to have new job postings sent directly to your email inbox.

We’re looking for someone who…

All things being equal, an employer will hire someone who is the best “fit” unless they abide by a diversity mandate that requires they hire candidates that meet certain requirements. They will describe their work environment and what personality types, attributes and attitudes they welcome in their environment. Show them how you fit with specific examples of what makes you “fun-loving, energetic and creative”, instead of just telling them you are.

Job description / job duties / your responsibilities

These are the tasks you will have to do on the job and often list the most important job duties in the top three spots on the list. Read through them carefully and highlight the actions words used to describe each job duty and then make a list of the experiences you have that match what the new employer needs.


This section requests what minimum qualifications an employer needs from a candidate. Certainly, some qualifications may be set, such as, perhaps, certain educational certifications. However, many people are flexible and do hire people who may not have quite what they list.  If they’re asking for three years, and you have only two, apply anyway. Check phrases or words like “must-have” or “preferred”, “asset”, to see whether there may be some flexibility.

Demonstrated experience

Think in terms of showing proof of the skills you’ve used in the past by giving specific examples of when and where you used certain skills. Instead of saying, “Yes, I have customer service skills”, try saying  “During my time at ABC Company, I handled over 80 customers a day with a 100% client satisfaction rating.” 

Must be a team player and also work independently

Employers want to know that you will contribute to and support the team in its mission and values while at the same time be able to follow through with tasks that are assigned to you, or for which you must take initiative. Again, show how you contribute as a team member and give examples of working independently.

Final thoughts

Every employer hopes to attract reliable, competent, friendly and professional staff. If the candidate doesn’t quite have all of the necessary skills or experience, the employer may be willing to hire a person because they believe that the candidate will fit in well and easily learn what is needed to accomplish the job successfully. By carefully reading a job posting, you will know which ingredients an employer insists on having, what might be negotiable and what other ingredients you can offer that will make up the ideal recipe for a wonderful new employee. You may even be able to throw in a bit of spice!

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