How many times have you seen a job posting that made you wonder what planet the employer was living on? You know, an ad that features an impossible mix of skills and experience like, say, a requirement for 10 years of iOS development work?
Navigating such postings is frustrating, at best. And at a time when employers lament the lack of available tech talent, why are they writing such job descriptions to begin with? There can be a variety of reasons—some good, some bad, some ugly.
“I think the real issue is that many companies don’t realize that, more times than not, they are not going to be able to replace someone who left with a person who has an identical skill set,” says Trevor Simm, President of staffing firm OpalStaff in Millersville, Md. “Many companies lose sight of the fact that their employees, especially those with tenure, have evolved a great deal since their hire date, and have gained knowledge of technologies that are specific to that employer and their environment.”
The best response to these postings varies. Unfortunately, the correct approach often depends on what’s going on at the company… Something you can only guess at.
Reason No. 1: The Company’s Needs are Evolving
Often, a blue-sky job description is a sign of flux. For example, says Jennifer Goldin, a Senior Recruiter for technology at financial services company Moody’s, the employer may be moving to a new platform, system or programming language while keeping in place certain legacy systems.
In such cases,“managers are telling me, ‘I need someone who can do our new process or new system, but he or she needs to be equally comfortable working on our legacy systems,’” she says. “So we’re looking for profiles that are everything but the kitchen sink.”
From her point of view, one solution is to hire a senior person who has the edge-type skills–knowledge of the technology the company has migrated to—and then find a junior resource who can take care of the legacy system. In terms of finding everything in one package, “We just can’t get all of that in one person.”
What you can do: If that’s the situation, talk specifics. Goldin appreciates it when candidates will talk about exact projects they’ve worked on. “If it correlates to a certain system we’re using, how did you use that system? How did you implement it? What challenges did you find?” she says, “Our managers here would be very interested to talk about how you overcame those challenges, especially if you’re dealing with a job description that asks for everything.”
If you can pique the employer’s interest about your actual experience rather than simply sharing a laundry list of things you’ve done in the past, your path could be a lot easier.
Reason No. 2: The Hiring Manager Wants a Short List of Applicants
Some managers throw in every experience or skill they can think of into their job description because they believe doing so will weed out less-qualified candidates, Simm says.If a candidate thinks they don’t match the description, goes the reasoning, they won’t apply for the opening.
What you can do: Be selective in the opportunities you pursue, and make sure your resume and qualifications are tailored specifically to each job, Simm advises. If you’ll need to gain additional skills to do the job, present a plan on how you’d do that.
Reason No. 3: The Company Doesn’t Know What It Wants
That often happens in usability, where demand for experts is growing even though companies don’t always know what constitutes an expert in the first place. Indeed, the approach of some employers so frustrated Bennett Lauber, Chief Experience Officer for UX consulting firm the Usability People, that he admonishes them not to look for “a flying unicorn that can sing, write code, and do UX.”
In such cases, Lauber says, employers don’t realize that creating a user experience involves a number of disciplines and skills practiced by a team, not a single individual. “If they obviously don’t understand the job in their job posting, they obviously don’t understand the job,” he observes.
What you can do: If you confront this situation, Lauber’s advice is to run the other way. A company without a clear vision for a project is setting itself–and the candidate–up to fail, he says. It’s creating unrealistic or vague expectations that you’ll make yourself crazy trying to fulfill. Alternatively, you can try to determine if it’s possible to educate the bosses about what’s truly needed to make the project successful, but it’s essential to make that assessment before you get too far along in pursuing the job.
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