Next time you receive a job description, set it on fire and throw it in the trash.

Figuratively speaking, of course. Most job descriptions are digital and I wouldn’t encourage printing paper and wasting it just to to fuel your anger against the “system.”

You may ask, “Why such disdain? It’s just a job description…”

Job descriptions are poor corollaries for the jobs themselves. Often times job descriptions are “people descriptions” and talk about where their preferred candidate should be from, the types of skills, the university degree you should have and so on.

They rarely talk about what your actual, measurable objectives are in the job. It rarely talks about what you’d actually be doing and why the job exists. That would useful information that could help attract me to the job and further help me make an educated decision.

Do you ever read a job description and then come away with a very vague understanding of what it would actually feel like to work at the company?

I do all the time.

Usually I find this comes down to a few things:

  1. Most hiring managers and HR managers don’t spend a good amount of time describing the tangible goals, day to day tasks and targets for the position.
  2. Many hiring managers use internal lingo without spilling out details, and assume that people understand the lingo (they don’t).
  3. Companies want to cast a wide net, so they make things vague.

Here is a typical job description. I just found this one on LinkedIn for a company called NGM. I’m not sure what this company does and it certainly doesn’t get me excited. But let’s say just say that I did know the company and I was interested.

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 10.28.02After reading this I would immediately want to ask a million questions. If I was interested in the company, my first step would be to try to land the interview. Then I would ask them all of these questions about the job:

  • How do employees “promote” client brand names?
  • How do you “acquire” customers? Is it mostly telephone, cold emails, events, etc.?
  • How many events are there per year?
  • Field marketing has different definitions depending on the company. How do you define it?
  • How do you measure success in this job? What is my performance review tied to? (numbers, customer service results, something else?)
  • How much offline vs. online promotion is required?
  • What does an average day look like in this position?
  • How many people are in the team?
  • What is the company culture like? Can you give 3 specific examples of this?
  • Why is this position open? Is it a new position? Did someone leave?
  • Can you give me some specific names of clients that I would be working with?
  • There is an opportunity for career advancement, great. How long does this take the average employee?

Here are a few things to remember about job descriptions and how to approach the situation when you come across a job description that is hard to read.

#1 Take it all with a grain of salt.

Do not get hung up on the details of the job. If you were nitpicking every line of the above job you could be negative and say “Oh, well, I don’t have experience working with cosmetic brands.” Or “I am not hugely into sports so don’t want to apply for this.” 

In reality, perhaps your job would only be focused on dealing with cosmetics clients, and not sports. And maybe you don’t actually need that experience — perhaps someone can train you.

This goes back to a point I made in my earlier post about staying radically open minded. Often times when we go to an interview we walk out with something very different than we expected.

When a company is vague about their description it can also mean that they are open to being influenced on their decisions. What do I mean by this? Basically they are fishing around and trying to understand what kind of jobs seekers are out there right now. Depending on what kind of people apply to their job, they could be willing to shape and mold their job description around you.

#2 Look elsewhere

When companies have incomplete or vague job descriptions it can be a real turn off. At the same time, I don’t think the opportunity you have in the job or their people are a reflection of the quality of a job description. In other words, I wouldn’t judge their business based on the job description.

You can take matters into your own hands and do some real research to more deeply understand their business:

  1. Do a thorough google search about their company — read all news, press releases, and stories about the company
  2. Visit their FB/twitter and other social media pages to see what people are saying about the company
  3. Check out Glassdoor
  4. Look at their current employees on LinkedIn. What kind of people are working there?
  5. Taking it one step further, if you can find someone who previously used to work at the company whose name is on LinkedIn, you can connect with them directly and ask for their opinion on the company. “John, we’ve never spoken before but I noticed you used to work at Company X. I’m seriously considering applying for a job there. I wasn’t able to find too much information about them online, so as a former employee I’d love to get your opinion on your experience working there. Any feedback would be valuable. Thanks, M”

#3 Apply anyways and ask smart questions

Employees that excel in their jobs are going to go above and beyond their job descriptions. They are not going to be limited by whats written on a piece of paper. It doesn’t matter if you are in a big company or a startup — it applies equally.

One thing an exceptional employee never says is, ‘That’s not in my job description.’ Exceptional employees work outside the boundaries of job descriptions.
-Travis Bradberry, Author Of Emotional Intelligence 

Get your foot in the door. Ultimately, if a company has a vague job description — which most do — the first step we can take is to ask smart questions.

Once you are in the lion’s den, you can then do a round of quick fire questions to the HR and hiring manager about the job.

What would be good questions to ask?

    • What is the history of this job and the specific business-need? In other words, why does the job exist in the first place?
    • What is the average day like on the job?
    • What specific, measurable targets do you have in the first 3 months of the job?
    • How does the company define “success” in the role?
    • What is the growth opportunity in this specific job over the next 1-3 years
    • What are 5 specific examples that represent the company culture?

I find that it’s usually difficult to get a real grasp of what a job is until you actually experience working in it. Sometimes companies do a good job and have lots of employee interviews online, videos about their culture, and a ‘slide deck’ like Netflix or Hubspot.

These are all good pieces of information that will help paint an overall picture of what it’s like to work there.

However, because there is so much variance in jobs (which can depending on who your manager is), I’ve found that nothing beats actually talking to people who have worked there.

Thus regardless of what questions you ask and how good or bad the job description is, I would always make it a priority to talk to as many people as you can who work at the company to get the clearest picture.

Happy hunting.

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