More and more applicants can not find their way around the jungle of job advertisements. You can not do anything with the grandiose-sounding job titles, the task descriptions paint a picture of everything and nothing and the desired qualifications always sound like the egg-laying woolly milk pig. Why you shouldn’t weigh every word on the gold scales and what really matters when reading job advertisements:
“Can I apply with a 2.0 degree if I have above average completed studies?” “What does it say about this job if I am resilient and should be assertive?”, “Who are they looking for – and does it even make sense that I apply for it? “are questions that many job changers ask me in coaching. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the minds of applicants, which not only makes it difficult to decide for or against an application for this position but is also reflected in their documents.
In this article I would like to dispel the madness of having to interpret every word of a job advertisement, but rather give you, the applicant, the impulse to read job advertisements from a different, more relaxed perspective and thus from the skeptical danger-seeker to the curious opportunity-finder to become.
Step 1: From danger seeker to opportunity finder
I rarely experience real enthusiasm for an advertised position in coaching with job seekers. I increasingly get the impression that the majority of applicants, as unsettled danger seekers, are more on the hunt for the hook on an advertisement and are subconsciously looking for a good reason not to apply for it instead of consciously thinking about it as an opportunity finder to find out whether this position at an employer really fits personal values and goals as well as individual strengths and experiences.
When I look at the many tips on the Internet on the subject of “reading job advertisements correctly”, I am not surprised by this attitude. Most of the advice is limited to the interpretation of single words and caution applicants:
You should be “resilient”? – Then the heart attack is inevitable!
You should distinguish yourself through “high engagement”? – Then overtime is the order of the day!
There should be a “good work-life balance”? – Then you can start later in the morning, but instead have to toil on the weekend!
I find it astonishing what is interpreted in today’s typical phrases of job advertisements and the superficiality with which applicants are warned to be extremely careful. Do you still know the show “Nepper, Schlepper, Bauernfänger” with Eduard Zimmermann? It seems to me as if applicants have to be protected from the opaque job advertisements of the insidious HR managers and their malicious deceptions. An image that is absolutely not conducive to an application process on an equal footing, and which turns applicants into fearful skeptics instead of arousing curiosity about change.
My experience is clear: your attitude as an applicant determines whether the job change will work out in the end. And not only when you are sitting across from a potential new employer, but rather already while viewing and evaluating job advertisements. If you search meticulously for reasons why it probably does not fit, and you have no chance with your résumé anyway, then your view of what suits you and is really important in the future will be blocked. Also: who would want to hire a skeptical coward who puts every word on the gold scales?
Step 2: Accept empty words instead of interpreting them
Able to work in a team – strong communication – resilient – above-average success – initiative – dynamic environment – demanding task – entrepreneurial thinking – hands-on mentality – good appearance – analytical skills – several years of professional experience – affinity with numbers – honest personality – organizational talent – negotiating skills – a structured way of working – enthusiasm – creative freedom – responsible position – flat hierarchies – freedom – new challenges -…
You are familiar with these and other terms that you will read in almost every job advertisement today. Unspecifically softened empty phrases that can be found in advertisements to put the job in the best light, to address as many applicants as possible and not have to commit to being an employer. In many companies, the “number of applications per job advertisement” rate counts as a success indicator for good HR work. A big mistake from my point of view, because quality instead of quantity is likely to be the better goal when approaching and selecting applicants in times of digitization and the conditions in our job market today.
Do you really think that an HR manager thinks about whether it is important that a new employee is particularly resilient in a certain position or is somehow able to work in a team? And isn’t it a matter of course that as an employee you have integrity and can work in a structured manner? That a position promises you new challenges and that you are enthusiastic about it should come as little surprise.
Just last week I saw two current job advertisements from a large corporation for different positions and levels with 95% identical text for tasks and requirements – one position is the boss of the other. Crazy, right?
As an applicant, do not waste any more energy in the blind interpretation of such meaningless empty phrases in the future. You cannot know what exactly is meant by “resilient” or what specifically defines a “good appearance” from the point of view of your new employer. Forget the many “beware of the trap!” Tips that try to convince you to be able to conclude the quality of a job or even the attractiveness of an employer from a precise analysis of individual words in a job advertisement.
My extra tip on the topic of empty phrases: Better to think about the specific talents and personal strengths behind such empty phrases for you: What exactly makes you a team player, and what is your role in one team? What distinguishes your communication skills in particular? Are you good at writing texts, giving presentations, or talking to customers on the phone? This is the only way to turn empty words into the clarity that you should use for your application. Just because job advertisements are full of empty words doesn’t mean that this also applies to your application documents.
Step 3: Experience job advertisements as a whole
When I write that you should look at job advertisements from a different perspective, I do not mean that you have to do a handstand in front of your screen or put on your rose-colored glasses. It’s about the (mental) distance that you take while reading, so as not to put every word on the gold scales, but to assess by and large whether it might be right for you and whether it is worth doing further research and finally to send an application:
- How does the ad affect you, how is it designed and written, how strongly do you feel addressed personally?
- What goes through your head when you think of this employer and can you imagine working there? Do you feel like finding out more about the company?
- How is the structure in the company, where is the position located, who do you report to, and how big is the team? – And can you work well in such a structure?
- If you read the task description, do you have an idea of what you will do in the future? Is it more about conceptually strategic tasks or more about operationally administrative activities? Are you more at your desk, in project meetings, or traveling? – And what do you like better?
- Are you looking for a broad-based generalist or a specialist in their field? – And how do you see yourself?
- Has the position been newly created and will it be your job to fill it with life or will you take on an existing position with established structures and processes? – And what do you need to be able to work well right from the start?
- Does the position offer you a future with development prospects or is it more of an ejection seat as soon as you do not perform sufficiently or generate sales? – How much security or adventure is important to you in your job?
While many of you may claim that feelings have no place in your job, this step is primarily about how you feel when reading the ad. What does your gut say about what you see in front of you and what you have learned about the position and the employer? Try to name the feeling specifically and ask yourself what exactly triggered this feeling in the job advertisement.
In coaching, I often see job changers who are fleetingly looking for a job but have no idea what they are specifically looking for. So you can’t get a (good) feeling while reading. As already mentioned, you can only evaluate each job advertisement individually if you are aware of your own personal evaluation criteria. If you lack clarity here, then you should stop your search at this point and work on precisely this clarity first.
Step 4: Relaxed view of requirements
In my experience, many applicants sort out job advertisements that are attractive to them too quickly because they believe they cannot meet the requirements of the position. Because they don’t have exactly the degree in their pocket that is mentioned there. Because instead of the required five years of professional experience, they can only officially take four years. Because they do not have the industry knowledge that is “ideally” desired in the tender. Because they believe that there is bound to be another applicant somewhere in the world who better fits these requirements.
The own feeling of not being good enough for a position, especially in combination with the attitude as a danger seeker, leads to certain murder arguments, preferring to throw an advertisement that seems exciting at first glance into the trash.
There are different opinions on the web as to how well a candidate should match the required profile in the advertisement for an application to be meaningful. There is often talk of a 60 to 70 percent fit, but I believe that even this is a rule of thumb that is far too superficial today. Who says that with your studies as a biologist and a few years of relevant work experience you are not as well suited for a position and do a great job there as the business economist who is wanted in the job advertisement (out of habit)? Who knows whether an employee from outside the industry cannot bring much more valuable impulses to a team than is the case with a candidate with 10 years of branded industry experience?
I recommend applicants to look at the requirements in the job advertisement to get an idea of the entry-level, the relevance of the tasks within the organization, the interfaces to other internal areas or service providers or customers as well as the assumed salary level do. If you dare to perform the tasks described and if the position and the employer meet your ideas of a good next professional step, then you should apply – regardless of the purely quantitative agreement with a required catalog of requirements. But one thing is clear: the less you meet the requirements mentioned, the more clarity and edge your application needs. How else should your new employer recognize that you are a good person for this position?
Step 5: Learning by reading
The first job advertisement rarely leads to a new dream job. Many clients who come to me for application coaching have sent 100 or more applications without success and probably read several thousand job postings for them.
Reading job postings correctly also means learning by reading. Print out five job advertisements for a specific position that you have in mind. Put all the ads next to each other and compare them. Pay attention to such aspects as I listed in step 3 as an example. You will very quickly see major differences, especially in the description of the tasks and the orientation of the position within the company, even if they all have the same job title.
Try to train your gaze on job postings in the course of your application process, the targeting of the positions, and what you are looking for. Remind yourself regularly of what is important to you when making your selection and for your next job and also consciously adapt your search if you get into detours over time.
You will never be certain what exactly is behind a job advertisement and how attractive the job with this employer actually is. Even three job interviews and a trial day will not reveal the whole truth that you as a new employee will experience after your first day at work. Accept a certain amount of uncertainty, but actively create the clarity you need for your decision in the application process.
The more targeted and thus faster and more precise as well as the more relaxed you look for and read job advertisements in the future, the higher the probability of not only separating the wheat from the chaff more efficiently, but also discovering such positions and employers as an opportunity seeker that really suit you and significantly increase your chances of being invited to an interview and, at the end of the day, a new employment contract.