How to interpret job advertisements

Us Finns have some extraordinary qualities that come handy particularly in the surroundings we live in. Snow and silence (together or separately) for example can be quite tough for many other nationalities to handle – we have no problem with either. We are also punctual; if an appointment is scheduled to start at 11:15, it tends to do exactly that. There is no concept of mañana, e.g. ‘some time in the future’, in Finnish. And so on. We do, however, also have some qualities that do not play to our advantage. One of them is that we tend to take instructions too literally. As soon as EU sets a new Directive on anything, you can bet Finland is the first country jumping to implement it, at whatever cost. Regardless of whether there is any benefit. After all, there is the Directive. During the last couple of years, having met hundreds of job applicants in one-on-one coaching sessions, I have had to admit that the same mindset is also visible in how surprisingly many job seekers read and evaluate job advertisements.

It is understandably frustrating, when a professional seeking employment comes across an ad clearly promoting their dream job – only to find that they cannot apply because the requirements listed for the candidates are at least to some extent above and beyond what they have.

Let me take this opportunity to share a few tips on how to interpret job advertisements. These are by no means Directives, but aimed to help you evaluate whether you should send an application to that interesting vacancy that caught your attention.

  1. Role description. The level of detail provided in a job advertisement about the role in question varies tremendously between different employers. Some are way too detailed – some too brief to attract candidates. Employers try to stand apart from the rest by applying their own style also in job advertisements. Obviously also the scope of the role determines the need of elaboration. I would recommend to pay attention to what is said – and equally well, what is not mentioned. This is often times a good source of questions to ask when you call to get more details.
  2. Work experience. If there is a specific requirement on the length of work experience required, take it as indicative. ‘Minimum five years of equivalent work experience’ does not mean you should not apply because you have three and half years. If the requirement is minimum 10 years and you have three, opt out.
  3. Education. There are jobs where a very specific degree or qualification is required, end of story. Then either you have that qualification, or you do not need to apply. However in many cases it is stated vaguely, such as ‘university degree’, or my personal favorite ‘university degree or equivalent’. That leaves a lot of room for imagination. In public sector jobs, the indicated education level is mandatory and there is rarely room for negotiation around it. In private sector, however, the level or field of education is often not a critical, carved-in-stone type of requirement. The more working years you have under your belt, the more likely it is that your competencies and experience overrule.
  4. Personality / characteristics. If the employer is looking for a social, service-oriented person, with excellent interpersonal skills, and you know you are more of an introvert type, it still does not automatically mean you should not apply if the role appeals to you. It just means you need to be prepared to put more effort on the social aspects of the role, as those are typically not as natural ways of working to you as they are to more socially inclined individual. You yourself know best what you are capable of. If you do not feel the personality traits indicated match yours, ask yourself would you still enjoy working in that role. If yes, apply.
  5. Contact person. Every job advertisement should always have contact details where interested candidates can ask further details on the role or the selection criteria. Unfortunately they are still not always provided. I personally would not apply for a vacancy where there is no contact information listed, but that is just me. If the details are there, with a specified time when to call, try to time your call as instructed. That is not always possible, or the line may be busy. Then you can of course try to reach the person at another time. One polite way to do it would be for example to send an sms to the person and ask what would be an appropriate time for you to call.
  6. Target groups. This may not be top of mind when reading a job advertisement, but this is important so I wanted to take it up here as well. Job advertisements are just another form of company communication or marketing material that the employer publishes. In addition to job seekers, the employer knows that also their competitors as well as current and potential future customers read the job advertisements. In many cases, this has a significant impact on what is, or is not, said in the role description – or why certain role requirements are defined the way they are. Job ads can be used to boost company image in certain field of expertise, for example. Or aim to direct competitor attention to certain type of resourcing – perhaps away from something else going on. The more the reason for you as a candidate to ask clarifying questions, and not take the provided text at face value.

There. My five…okay, well, six cents on how to interpret job advertisements. Feel free to agree or challenge these points. The requirements in an ad may well paint the picture of an ideal candidate for the role. If the ideal one does not apply this time, the closest ones to that stand a good chance. And high motivation, even passion towards the type of role in question, will always make a difference.

Go for it!

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