When I work with my job-seeking clients, one of the first skills I teach them is how to read and analyze a position
description.  This is a critical skill that all job seekers must learn.  Once you get the hang of it you will realize it is fun – like solving a riddle.  Think about it this way:  does your resume convey everything there is to know about you and your experience?  Of course not!!  The position description serves the same purpose:  it provides the starting point for a very important conversation.

There are many benefits to learning how to read a position description.  You will:

  • Only apply to those positions you are actually qualified for – saving time and effort
  • Save your reputation with recruiters by not applying to things you aren’t qualified for
  • Be able to better tailor your cover letter and resume
  • Discover what made your predecessor successful (or not!)
  • Be well-prepared for an interview
  • Be able to better guessimate the compensation range for the position

So with all those benefits, I know you are ready to take the first step.


After a quick scan and interest, print out the position description.  This is not a time to worry about trees – most descriptions will be 2-3 pages and the investment you make here is well worth it.  Once you have a job – feel free to make a donation to your favorite environmentally-friendly group.  I have found that I can read more easily on paper versus the computer screen.


I mean actually READ it.  Not skimming.  Not scanning.  Not reacting.  Read the document for COMPREHENSION.
Pay particular attention to the verbs being used in the general responsibilities section.  The verbs not only give you a clue to actual tasks, but also to the level of responsibility of the position.  For example:  there’s a big difference between “Manage multiple communications projects…” and “Deliver web-based content by target deadlines.”


Get out your favorite color highlighter and find the 5 or 6 phrases or sentences that seem to be central to the position.  Use a different color to highlight industry jargon, certifications, or buzz words. You should use these exact key words in your cover letter and resume.  For example:  if the position description says “Must be proficient in Microsoft Office” write “Microsoft Office” – if it says “Word, Excel, and PowerPoint,” write the same.  This will ensure that when a recruiter runs “Google-like” searches in an applicant database, your resume will come to the top.


In the above example, I would want to know WHO I am managing, HOW many projects, and WHAT type of communications they are referring to.  Back in high school, I remember learning the 5 W’s – who, what, where,
and why.  And let’s go ahead and add the how too.  You should have questions for all of the key bullets on the description.  Writing these questions down will have many benefits for the interview process, particularly with the hiring manager.   First, having this completed will show that you took the time to read and understand the role.  Opening the interview with, “I read the position description and I have some questions I really would like to ask you…” allows the interview to become less Q&A style and more like a conversation – which is better for everyone.

In a follow-up blog, I will show you how to look at each of the key sections of a position description and how to use that information to land your next job!

Angela Harris has a 15 year career in human resources, with several years in management consulting and quality. She current works at ASQ, the American Society for Quality, where she works on the development of ISO standards.  In addition to working at ASQ, Angela owns a consulting practice (ASHconsulting), is a Wisconsin Forward Award Examiner, sits on the SHRM Task Force for Metrics & Measures, is on the Board of Directors for the Wheaton Franciscan Foundation for St. Francis & Franklin, and was Executive Director of Milwaukee JobCamps.  She received her M.S. in Human Resources from Marquette University.

Feel free to connect with Resume Survis Lady:

Twitter:  resumesurvisldy



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