How to analyze job postings
Analyzing the contents of job posts on Linkedin, job sites or in newspapers can improve your chances as well as allow you to avoid unsuited vacancies.
When you look for job openings online, or even through newspapers, you may be quickly overwhelmed by a plethora of similar-sounding job titles, dense requirements and many different ways of stating what they are looking for and what you will be doing. Being able to make sense and structure the contents of a job posting will allow you to make a sound decision on whether or not you should apply for this job, and what questions you must ask to make sure the job is a good fit for you.
The first thing that should attract your attention is the job title, and you can learn a lot from the job title itself but also by researching the title further. It will often come with a qualifier for job maturity attached, which tells you how high up in the hierarchy the job position is. Job maturity can go from Junior to Medior to Senior, and in some cases it will have “Principal” as a final end point. If it does not list any seniority, it means “Medior” which is the average.
Note that Senior does not mean that you have to be at least middle aged to get the job, nor does a Junior need to be young. They only reflect the maturity of the position in the company hierarchy. Obviously a Senior Project Manager has more experience and is better paid than a Junior Project Manager. But a Junior Project Manager may in turn be more experienced and receive higher pay than a Senior Customer Support Agent.
Job title will also tell your roughly in which department you can be expected to work. A Marketing Specialist, Human Resources Generalist, Presales Consultant and Inside Sales Specialist all pretty much wear their department name on their ID badges. Even without knowing the full corporate structure, you can estimate the vacancy’s rough “value” by looking at the department. Marketing is usually active, with relatively high attrition, which means that you want to research how often this company’s been hiring marketing people in the last few years. Human Resources is a stable but supportive department, meaning vacancies are few and highly competitive. Legal and Finance departments usually have slow turnover and high (ethical) requirements, meaning that the company is very selective when hiring, and the job openings are fiercely competed on.
If the title includes words like “Manager”, “Executive” or “Directive” you are looking at a leadership function, where you would be responsible for a team or even a full department. You would be expected to be well informed on the department’s work but also be a people-person as well as having the capability for strategic thinking. Often when a manager is hired, this means that a company is looking to solve a problem in a department, or that they are implementing a new strategy and want a fresh perspective for their change.
The “C-level” represents the top management of a company, usually at local (country) level. Examples of these functions are the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) who runs the company, CFO (Chief Financial Officer) who handles financial strategy, CIO (Chief Intelligence Officer) who manages corporate information, and CTO (Chief Technology Officer) who handles the company’s technology both for internal use and as portfolio. These sort of positions are rarely advertised, highly competitive, and the choice to apply for them or not is a very tough one. It requires seniority, strategic thinking and a political mindset above management.
President, Vice President, Executive Vice President – all of these similar titles denote high-ranking international management jobs, which are usually sourced from management and C-level management from the respective countries. The Ferrari among job titles, bearing one of these either marks you as a strategic mover and shaker, or a high-titled nobody (Assistant Executive Vice President sounds very important, but are you really?).
About the company
Companies will introduce themselves, explaining what they do, what countries they are active in, and some of their corporate philosophy. Just like a person writing a cover letter for a job application, companies will try to oversell themselves a little, so they will focus on their strong points and make themselves look shiny and desirable.
What the company’s size and operating area can tell you
First off, the facts are important here. A local or national company (which does not operate in other countries) will have a clearly defined scope, and you can quickly determine what kind of future opportunities for growth you will have. With a small family business, for example, you can already tell you wouldn’t have much of a chance at being more than the boss’ right-hand person, unless you marry into the family or something.
An international company (multinational) will be less personal, and will have a lot of standardized processes across countries in order to manage and streamline the flow of information, approvals and legal requirements. It will be harder to gauge your future growth potential, but if you are willing to relocate you could have international job openings within reach through internal job applications. Since most support functions (Finance, Legal, HR) will be standardized and connected hierarchically from country to country, it also means that those departments are much easier to move up internationally in than Sales or Project Management.
Emotion versus logic, hierarchy versus participation
Companies that focus hard on their social inclusion and corporate responsibility in their descriptions they are likely newer companies, often evolved from startups, who are targeting specifically millennials. They generally offer close contact with supervisors, relatively flat hierarchies with room for flexible work hours and programs for a greener or better world which you can participate in to make a change in the world or pad your resume. This means in your application you should focus on your social skills, contribution to society and wanting to be part of something green and great. Focus on your experiences, and how they shaped you, not just flatly education and achievement.
When a company focuses hard on achievements, size, revenue and the exclusivity of their products, they are likely older, more traditional companies. It is also possible that they are very high-flying, exclusive companies targeting specific (wealthy) sectors of society. Law firms and well-known consultancy agencies also fall into this category. They are often more impersonal, focused on achievement and target metrics, and offer a more strict but manageable hierarchy where your expected growth can be mapped out and your expectations are clear. Sometimes this also means much better pay than average, although you should be wary, because big corporations can also skirt employment laws and expect more than legally obliged by your contract, especially in the lower echelons of the organization.
This is where the company tells you what you are expected to do. Sometimes they include a portion called “responsibilities” which will outline exactly what your job will entail. There can also be a “your profile” or “who are you?” titled paragraph (often with more modern companies) which explains the kind of personality they are looking for. The final element is “requirements” or “qualifications” which will state what kind of education, seniority and achievements they are looking for.
The requirements section is often the most oversold part. This section is a gatekeeper, there to weed out people who are by definition unqualified by stating some minimum requirements before applying. Unless you see things like “7 years of relevant experience” or “a completed Master’s degree in X” you probably don’t want to jump to conclusions whether you qualify or not, because the “responsibilities” and “who are you” sections are much more important.
When looking at the responsibilities, you should be able to deliver on that, but remember that there will be a trial period where you are expected to learn and pick up things you don’t yet know how to do. Search the internet for what the job entails, and what the job requirements are, and also look at other advertisements for the same job by other companies. Does this section match what you found? If not, what does this tell you?
If HR usually involves recruiting, and this does not, perhaps the company has split that function off into a specific Recruiter function. If you have a financial controller function that lacks any specific software package as requirement, maybe they are switching packages or have unique home-brew software which you are required to learn as part of your onboarding. If it’s a management job but it does not list a team you are managing, maybe the team will be newly formed and you are expected to hire them. Find out how the job posting you want to apply to differs from the average, and start asking questions why that could be. These are valuable questions to ask during the interview, and they will show you are paying attention and thinking ahead.
Sometimes, requirements are there but you can safely ignore them and dare the plunge. These are:
- X years of experience in this role or equivalent, especially for a Junior function
- A degree in Y, you can probably substitute any equivalent degree, unless it’s a specialized education (legal, medicine)
- Anything listed as being preferred or a pre, it will give you bonus points but is not strictly required
- Location requirements, unless you are not willing to relocate – if they want you, they will allow you to move closer anyway
Comparing job listings
A relatively simple way to compare job openings is to open a spreadsheet and paste the job title, requirements and responsibilities per row. Each column represents information from one company. The first column should hold information from the company you are applying to. Color-code the cells with information in the other columns with Green if they are the same, yellow if they are similar, and red if they are different or non existent. You also use red to color-code information that is present in ALL the other job posting but not yours. If only some job posts have it, but yours does not, color it yellow.
This way you can get a quick feel if the job posting you are looking for is typical for its kind or not, and where it deviates from the norm should be where you look into searching online, or asking questions during an interview or in your application letter.
Some things that are listed in job applications, especially those that are distributed through recruiters and agencies, should set off alarm bells. These are signs the job is going to be financially unsound, too heavy in workload, or you are going to be miserable.
- Full Stack anything. It means you are going to do a lot more work than what is listed in the job ad
- A fancy title but the responsibilities include answering the phone and making coffee
- Flexible Mindset usually means a lot of overtime and working weekends
- When you are to be in possession of a car, check if they pay for fuel and repairs
- Being paid per production unit, anything other than per hour or per month – you will earn a lot less than you think
- If the posting has a lot of spelling or copy-paste errors, such as requirements from another job – rush jobs or incompetence
- Expected to be representative or follow a dress code – confirm whether the company compensates for this
Of special note: if the job seems to suggest employment, yet it calls for “entrepreneurial ability” or “experience working as a freelancer” you want to really check what kind of contract you will receive. Depending on country, being an employee means taxes are paid, you receive healthcare and a pension. Freelancers have to pay all of that themselves. So if the pay seems good, but you turn out to be self-employed, you actually have to pay a lot of extra things which might give you a less-than-living wage in the end.
Checking the cost of living
Few job advertisements actually offer information on the wage they expect to pay; this you will have to research anyway using sites such as Glassdoor and Payscale. It will be important to check the cost of living in the company’s area to the average salary, or the salary they offer. If you want to live close to the office, and it’s very expensive, you want to make sure that you can afford it on that salary. It also gives you a much better way of defending a demand for a particular salary on your part.
Also check the location of the company for public transport, options for lunch and other stores nearby. If you’re expected to work late often, you may need to eat lunch or dinner nearby, or do your groceries right after work. It pays to know what your day would look like, and if you find this unacceptable, you can either skip the ad or be prepared to ask for a higher wage or flexible hours to compensate.
Fact-checking the Advertisements
A final tip specifically for job openings advertised off a company’s website (recruitment agency, Indeed) or through a staffing agency is to go to the company website and check if they have the job opening listed there. Make sure to see if the requirements are the same, or that the poster or agency simplified the job opening to get more applicants. Additionally, if the compensation looks different, a malicious recruitment agency might be looking to staff you to that company and skim quite a bit off the top.
Job posts on Linkedin or Xing are usually done by the company itself, and often link through to their website, so the risk is much lower there.
The Application Process
Sometimes job posters describe what you can expect of the application process, but usually this is not explained. In such cases, assume that you will need to follow up in a week or so to ask about the progress of the application. If they answer you, call you, or they ask more questions but after that don’t reply – follow up a day after thanking them for their interest and asking whether or not they need anything more from you.
If they expect you to apply through a fill-in form, expect this to be an application in bulk. You will likely hear nothing unless you are considered for a position, and then you usually will receive a phone interview, and maybe you need to do some online aptitude tests. You see this a lot in jobs that are starter functions, such as callcenter or data entry work, or when the turnover in a job is so high that they needed to automate the process. Either way, a fully automated process usually indicates a step-stone function, expect to be looking for new jobs while you work.
If you have any other tips on analyzing a job posting, please feel free to respond in the comments!