Career Advice, Jobs

How to Read a Job Description

A Guide to Deciphering Job Descriptions and Finding Your Dream Job

You’ve read a million and one job descriptions in your job search, so we’re willing to bet you’re frustrated. (Reading job descriptions can be akin to reading Shakespeare: they can be very tough to get through, and depending on your tastes and job needs, a lot of work for very little return.) And yet, it doesn’t have to be so difficult, readers.

That’s why we’re created this guide. It will guide you—pun intended—through the best ways to read a job description, so you can hit the highlights, not miss anything important, and move on to the important part: snagging your dream job. Read on.


Guide Overview
  1. What Is a Job Description?
  2. How to Find the Important Information
  3. How to Spot a Fake Job Posting
  4. How to Know if You Should Apply
  5. Learn More!

What Is a Job Description?

What a job description is seems pretty straight forward, we know. But for clarity's sake, let us all take a moment to define a job description as: a written statement explaining an open position. A good job description will delve into the duties to be performed by the employee, its purpose, and the scope of the work to be completed.

Some job descriptions include the person to whom the employee would report—i.e., his or her boss—and the working conditions of the job and the broader company.

That's a lot of information to convey in a few graphs—which is just one reason why reading a job description is more of an art than a third-grade-reading-level skill.

How to Find the Important Information

As we mentioned above, a job description can be overwhelming and overly detailed. So, when you read a posting, be sure to read it carefully for these key takeaways:

  • Check for keywords. You know by now to use keywords on your resume. A job description is the place to find the right keywords to use, as well as give you an idea of what the employer will look for in the right candidate.
  • How does the employer want you to respond? Make sure you've found out the company's preferred method of communication. Don't plan to email a resume if the organization wants you to apply through its online job portal.
  • Don't get too caught up in jargon. Words and phrases such as passion, commitment, team player, responsibility, dynamic interpersonal skills, ability to work independently, detail oriented, and analytical skills are oftentimes just buzzwords that recruiters and managers use in every job description.

How to Spot a Fake Job Posting

With so many people unemployed, there are more scammers out there than ever. Online job boards can be used by people posing as hiring companies, so it’s very important to be aware and cautious when you’re looking for a job. You can follow these tips to avoid fake job postings and keep your time, money, and identity safe.

Avoid postings that sound too good to be true—and remember that a job that offers a $100,000 salary requires commensurate skills and experience. Job posts that state no skills or experience required—especially they are paired with a large salary—are very likely to be scams. The same can be said of jobs that promise perfect hours, salary, and benefits. If it truly were a perfect job, they would not need to advertise.

Avoid job postings that ask you to pay a fee—because legitimate recruiters are paid by employers, not by potential job candidates. If a job posting requires you to pay a fee in order to submit a resume or move on to an interview, it is very likely a scam. A requirement to pay for training materials or web training seminars should also raise a red flag. A legitimate company will not require you to pay for your own training.

And postings that ask for your personal information—such as your birth date, social security number, or mother’s maiden name—are also likely scams. This is info you shouldn't have to give out until you've received a job offer—if you give them at all.

How to Know if You Should Apply

Now that you've read the job description and gleaned key takeaways, it's time to decide whether you should apply. So now, it's time to read the description again.

First, think of the job description like a series of questions. When a job posting says that 10 years of experience is required, it's really asking you "do you have that much experience?" Do a gut check: do you meet the requirements, one way or another? In order to apply, you don't have to have 10 years of experience that exactly matches the job description, but you should have comparable experience to get an interview.

Then, take a look at the salary range—if the job description includes one. Is the pay worth a leaving your current company or making a career change? Before applying, decide what amount you’re willing to sacrifice for a career you’re happier with—or what amount will encourage you to leave your current position. Of course, don't let a posted salary deter you from applying; many companies are willing to negotiate.

Next, scan the job description to see if it indicates whether there will be room for you to grow at the company. Knowing where the position does or will fit within the organization will help you decide if there’s room to grow. If room for growth isn’t explained in the job description, using the job title is the best place to start. Go to the company's website; look for the “About Us” page to see where your job title fits in.

But more than knowing whether you meet the job qualifications—or if the position will pay enough or give you room to grow—you should ask yourself if you still want this job. You can ask yourself questions such as will this position fulfill my passions and will I fit into the company culture to determine whether you really want the job.

Learn More!