Reading Between the Lines of a Job Ad

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First-time home-buyers may be easily impressed by advertising lingo like “easy-care yard,” but the more seasoned shopper knows that’s code for “small and filled with stones and cacti.” “Great starter house”? That means you should expect to spend a lot of time fixing it up.

So it goes with job ads. Especially early in our careers, we’re often eager and excited to read ads for roles that sound great. Blinded by optimism and opportunity, the average job seeker scans the title, location, qualifications, requirements, and next steps — and then fires off a resume with little additional thought.

Don’t do that! Instead, learn to read job ads with the skepticism of the seasoned home-buyer discussed above. As U.S. News & World Report contributor Hannah Morgan puts it, you have to “dissect” the job post. That means doing a fair amount of reading between the lines to uncover hidden insights and information.

My advice? Read the ad with optimism — but only the first time. If, after the initial read, you are convinced this could be a great role for you, read the ad again. This time, play devil’s advocate. Look for hidden negatives and downsides. Dissect every line to decode what the company really wants and whether you really have it.

Another trick is to turn the job description into a word cloud using a tool like Wordle. This will help you see the most important keywords in the ad. Then, turn your resume into a word cloud as well. Compare the two clouds: If they aren’t similar, that’s a red flag. If a lot of the prominent words are similar, great! Just tweak your resume to include more of the company’s keywords. You’re not lying about your qualifications — you’re just emphasizing how your accomplishments match the job’s requirements.

Yes, recruiting is a numbers game, and you have to send out more resumes to get more responses, but your time is valuable. You must craft each letter and each resume with care and tailor your documents to each job or you are wasting your time. As I’ve said before: Job search with a laser, not a flashlight.

Companies have vacancies to fill. They have the power to hire, but they need you more than you need them. Be skeptical and selective when it comes to applying for roles.

Ferris Kaplan is founder of Best Of You Resumes.

Ferris Kaplan has been a marketing executive at large for-profit and nonprofit companies. He has a master's in journalism from the University of Southern California and teaches marketing at colleges. Kaplan founded Best Of You Resumes.