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How to decipher a job description to improve your chances of getting hired

Get a better understanding of what exactly an employer is looking for, and use those insights to put some extra shine on your job application.

The company description

Why it’s important: It helps you learn more about the company culture and how well it syncs with your personality.

A company describes itself as it wants to be seen, and from that, you can get clues as to what the company values, what you should research, and what kinds of questions to ask in the interview.

For example, if a company describes itself as a rapidly growing athletic brand for busy millennials, you can infer that the company sees itself as energetic, youthful, and poised for success. If that matches your personality, then describe yourself similarly.

Before the interview, investigate the financial health of the sporting goods industry, design trends, millennial buying habits, and competitors. Use what you learn to write up some interview questions that demonstrate you’ve done your homework.

“Doing some research about the business, the particular position, or learning about the company’s customer base, challenges, interests, direction, etc., are all very good practices because it allows the applicant to understand the business better from the perspective of the company,” says Stephanie Troiano, executive recruiter of The Hire Talent, a pre-employment assessment company in Brea, California. “I’ve found that companies really appreciate when candidates take their time to do research and then can ask good, thoughtful questions about their business.”

The first few bullet points

Why they’re important: They usually map out the bulk of your duties.

Hiring managers frequently frontload job descriptions with the most crucial responsibilities of the job. “Generally, the top three bullets on a job description represent 80% or more of what a candidate will be expected to do for a job,” says April Klimkiewicz, a career counselor at Bliss Evolution in Fort Lauderdale.

“Often, when job descriptions are being written, employers jot down—in order—the first duties that come to mind for the position,” she says. “As you get further down the list, typically, these bullets have come to the mind of the employer later, representing a smaller percentage of the job duties and requirements.”

To stand out to potential employers, make sure  your resume elaborates on your skills that mirror the duties mentioned in the top bullet points; you can simply list your skills that align with the job description’s lower-level bullet points.

Required experience/skills

Why they’re important: They tell you what to highlight on your resume and cover letter.

As with required duties, job descriptions will list the most valuable skills and experiences at the top of the list. Your resume and cover letter should follow suit. Why? Because most employers will try to hire the person who will need the least amount of training.

“I advise clients to use accomplishments on their resume to address each of the required experiences, and to put this information first,” says Jessica Hernandez, a professional resume writer at Great Resumes Fast. For each major accomplishment, she suggests creating bullet points that describe the challenge presented to you, the actions you took, and the results of your strategic efforts.

For example, if the job description says you need experience in staffing, you might mention that you researched and implemented the launch of a new applicant tracking system that helped accelerate hiring times by 25%.

A thorough reading of a job description will give you the necessary tools to present yourself as a strong candidate. “When a job seeker customizes their resume to each position they apply to using this strategy,” Hernandez says, “they’re much more likely to receive a response from their application.”

Jon Simmons, Monster contributor

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