Why read a Job Description?

What is a Job Description?

A job description typically outlines the necessary skills, training and education needed by a potential employee. It will spell out duties and responsibilities of the job. Once a job description is prepared, it can serve a basis for interviewing candidates, orienting a new employee and finally in the evaluation of job performance. Using job descriptions is part of good management.

Job descriptions and Company Culture

A multinational corporation, for example, may have job descriptions that are far more formal and detailed in their contents than those used by a small local business. Companies in different industries tend to approach the issue of job descriptions differently as well (manufacturers, for example, are more likely to institute job definitions for various positions than are services related companies). And, finally, some business owners and management teams simply institute and nourish different company cultures that may have dramatically different conceptions of job descriptions and their utility. For example, companies that operate in a flexible working environment in which employee roles are fluid and expectations change may find the quest to define various job parameters to be a daunting one.

Larger organizations will often, out of either real or imagined necessity, institute more formalized job description/monitoring procedures. Still, in many companies with detailed plans in this area, “job descriptions are usually thought of as something for the lower-level people in an organization.

Higher-ups have ‘mission statements’ which sound good but are hard to measure. So we have all these people doing things which we may or may not have agreed to do. It doesn’t take very long before a great deal of the organization’s work has very little to do with the main objectives of the business.

Recent research shows that job descriptions can help business enterprises maintain their focus at all job levels, including top management and ownership positions. Owners of family establishments or very small business enterprises, meanwhile, may simply decide that formal job descriptions are unnecessary. Ultimately, each small business owner needs to consider the unique aspects of his or her own business situation when deciding how to define and monitor the responsibilities of each work position.

Some of the key advantages as to why it’s important for candidates to read the job description;

  1. How many of the requirements/qualifications do you meet?

In a competitive job market, employers typically have their choice of job candidates, so unless you meet at least half of the requirements described, don’t waste your time by applying for the job.

Pay particular attention to the education requirement. While the education requirement listed may seem unrealistically high, education is very easy to check – and to verify – so it is often used as key criteria. The other requirements are usually (but not always) listed in descending order of importance. So if you meet the bottom three requirements, but not the top two, you might better spend your time applying for a different job.

  1. Beyond the job title, does this look like a job that you would be happy doing?

Maybe the job title is “administrative assistant” (a job you want), but the job requires someone who to do some accounts payables tasks and financial reporting, which you can do (but hate).

Carefully read the description of what the person in the job will be expected to do, often called “Duties” or “Responsibilities.” Often, like the job’s requirements, the duties/responsibilities are listed in descending order of relevance and importance to the job. Note the things in the list that you don’t enjoy doing or don’t do well – how high are they on the list?

  1. Does the description contain any questions for you to answer?

Asking a question in the job description that requires an answer in your response is an employer’s favorite way to tell if you have carefully read the description. It is also a quick test of how good an employee you might be. Typically, fewer than ten percent of job seekers answer the question, which immediately eliminates ninety percent of them from consideration.

For example, a young tech company, Back Up My Info (BUMI), asks applicants to submit a joke in addition to their resume and cover letter. It helps them separate the people who pay attention from the people who don’t, and it gives them very good insight into the job applicant, depending on the joke the applicant submits. Dirty joke tellers are and those who don’t include any joke at all are both eliminated, so consider carefully when you respond to the request an employer embeds in the job description.

Answering the question indicates that you can read and understand what is in the description and also that you can follow directions. An ability to follow directions is an important “skill” to demonstrate because it is what nearly every job requires.

So before applying for a job next time carefully read the job description and make sure you understand it.