Decoding Job Descriptions

Chances are you’re going to read a lot of job descriptions over the course of your job search. Getting familiar with the formula and language that employers use when writing these descriptions will help you speed up the process, spot the gems, and recognize what’s irrelevant.

Job postings typically contain the following:

  • information about the company and benefits
  • details on the desired competencies of applicants
  • a description of the skills needed for the role
  • directions on how to apply

From this information, you’ll need to discern what the employer wants and whether you have those attributes.

Skills Versus Competencies

In the world of job descriptions, skills and competencies are two different concepts. Most job descriptions will list a combination of skills required for the job and competencies that the employer desires from the selected candidate.

Knowing how to distinguish between skills and competencies will help you decipher posts more easily—and more effectively align your resume to each employer’s needs.

Skills = learned abilities required for the job
Competencies = attributes and behaviors that will make you successful at the job

In other words: Skills are characteristics of the job, whereas competencies are characteristics of the person doing that job.

Example: Here’s a sample job description that includes both skills and competencies.

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, you will be part of a proactive, multidisciplinary team. Candidates must have excellent communication skills, sensitivity to diverse populations, and the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team environment (Competencies). Requires critical thinking, complex problem solving, and the ability to work with minimal supervision (Competencies).

The Speech-Language Pathologist is responsible for

  • evaluating a patient’s abilities and designing appropriate intervention plans to address swallowing, speech, language, and cognitive disorders (Skill);
  • treating patients with therapeutic procedures, modalities, and/or equipment to improve speech/swallow/cognitive function (Skill);
  • managing work processes efficiently by completing tasks and assignments in a timely manner; and
  • consistently completing post-intervention activities—including documentation, communication, and accurate billing.

Four Rules for Reading a Job Description

1. Read carefully. Take the time to read each description thoroughly: Doing so will ensure that you don’t overlook an opportunity and will save you time in the long run. Note any specific technologies, certifications, or requirements (e.g., travel, relocation, etc.) that the employer requires or prefers, so you can quickly spot any disqualifiers.

However, don’t disqualify an otherwise great role if the experience and/or salary listed falls slightly outside your range. A job description with lots of requirements may really be a wish list in disguise, and the reality is, you may not need all the skills that the company is requesting.

2. Ignore fluff. Learn to ignore generic terminology (e.g., words and phrases like passion, commitment, team player, and work independently); these are a given and don’t tell you much about the specific job in question.

3. Follow directions. How does the employer want to hear from you or receive your resume? Be sure you follow any specific instructions provided, including file formats.

4. Spot fakes. It’s a sad reality: Scammers are not uncommon on job listings. Use common sense and look for red flags, such as

  • posts that ask you to pay a fee or pay for training;
  • posts with too-good-to-be-true salaries and/or “no experience required”; and
  • posts that ask for personal information (Social Security Number, birth date, etc.).

Pro Tip! Do your homework to find unwritten details about the job you want.

  • Review LinkedIn and Glassdoor reviews as well as postings for similar positions on the ASHA Career Portal.
  • Read through financial statements for any nonprofits by looking at their audit statement or IRS Form 990.
  • Reach out to past and current employees in your network.

Want more tips for a successful job search? Check out Getting the Job on the ASHA Career Portal.