Reading a job description is an underrated skill. Recruiters give 5 ways you can use it to become a smarter candidate.

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Reading a job ad is usually the first step in finding a new role — but how can you use the information effectively to help your chances of landing the gig?

According to data compiled by the UK website Job Description Library, more than half of candidates are rejected during the first interview stage, usually due to poor understanding of the role. 

Carol Cochran, VP of people and culture at FlexJobs says the art of reading a job description is "a skill that is a little more lacking." 

Job ads show an employer’s wishlist, she added: "If I had a magic wand and could create a person for this job, here’s what they would look like." 

We spoke to Cochran and other career experts on how to use a job ad more effectively through the application process:

1. Refer to the description throughout the application process

Renata Dionello, chief people officer at ZipRecruiter, said "most candidates will read the job description as at the very beginning of the process."

Not everyone though, she added, will re-read the job description again just before doing an interview.

It may feel simplistic, but she advises literally using a highlighter to "highlight the bits which are giving you clues," as to what the role may involve.

Referring back to the job description throughout the application process is key because "a well-written job description may give you some nuggets," Dionello added, emphasizing that it is also an opportunity to think about what kind of conversations will come up during the interview.

2. Draw up a list of your achievements that correlate to the requirements

Select key words in job descriptions and mention skills that correlate to those particular areas in your resume, cover letter, and interview.

Cochran doesn’t recommend "keyword stuffing" in applications, however, or using generic language from job descriptions.

For example, a job description might mention partnerships with clients or other companies. Dionello said being able to say, "’Oh, it looks like you’re doing partnerships with these kinds of companies. I’m wondering if this is your strategy, I’ve done partnerships like this before, this is how I think about those kinds of partnerships.’ I mean, you’re so many steps ahead of the competition, if you can talk that way."

3. Tailor at least a few questions around the job description

Cochran told Insider that it’s "delightful" to hear candidates ask "interesting and thought-provoking questions" in interviews. 

Dionello said asking questions about the job description is "one of the things we should be teaching everybody," because many candidates only ask generic questions. 

Asking for more information about specific points in the job description is a "stronger move" Dionello said, because "it shows that you’re really interested in the job," to the hiring manager. 

She added: "You might get a piece of information that’s more specific, that would be helpful to you and decide if that’s where you want to work, or that might set you up well for your next interview, where you can talk about something in a much more specific way that shows that you really understand what job you’re applying for."

4. Follow up details about people and company values

Elisa Nardi, an executive mentor, and coach, said that not doing further research is detrimental to your goals because the competition probably is.

"If you imagine a hundred people are applying for the same job, twenty of those people might do an incredible amount of research and they might go and find out what the company values are, they might go and do a bit of research about who the hiring manager is, they might look them up on social media, they might look at what they’re tweeting about in regards to work if they are doing that kind of stuff," she said.

Candidates need to "unpack the job description," Nardi added, emphasizing that role specific words, phrases, and jargon could be an indicator of what the role requires through deeper research. 

5. Evaluate whether the role description excites you

Nardi stresses the importance of finding "the roles that speak to your heart" and doing a "deep-dive research" into those companies rather than "trying to do that across a mass of different jobs that you’re not even sure you’re that bothered about." 

With workers increasingly looking for roles that speak to their values, it’s important to know whether a job is really going to motivate you.

"You just have to know what it is that you’re looking for, and what’s motivating for you, and what’s going to put you in a situation where you can intentionally do your best work and really thrive," said Cochran. "Whatever that motivation is, that’s what you’re looking for there."

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Sawdah Bhaimiya August 24, 2021 at 11:42AM

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