Deciphering a Job Ad

Published: Tues., Jan. 20

The Office of Graduate Studies offers a number of resources to help you with your job search. Explore the Graduate Career and Professional Development website, and check out these articles and opportunity:

General guidelines for writing a CV or résumé
Search non-academic job lists
Request a Career & Professional Development Consultation

You scan a recent job ad. Because you meet some of the qualifications, you decide to apply.

Your next steps can make or break the application. Surprisingly, the last thing you’ll want to do is sit down and start working on your application materials. There’s a lot you can learn from reading the job description first!

Minimum Qualifications

Start by paying careful attention to the minimum requirements (sometimes called qualifications). In most cases, your application must meet the minimum requirements before it will be read more closely. If a job listing requires a minimum of seven years experience and you only have two, chances are good you’re only wasting your time by applying.

However, a company may be more flexible on requirements like minimum years of experience if you can show that you have many of the skills they’re looking for and can demonstrate that you’ll learn quickly on the job. Just remember that the hiring manager’s wiggle room will vary from industry to industry.

Showing You’re Qualified

Sara McCord of The Muse recommends breaking down each requirement or qualification listed. For example, if they’re looking for someone with experience in public relations and you haven’t done PR work before, sort out the categories that make up that experience: “writing press releases, pitching media, and representing a brand. Think of ‘writing experience’ as the ability to write concisely, persuasively, and with proper grammar.” With the job divided into smaller components, you’ll likely find that you have the experience they’re looking for.

Find Keywords

The ad will give you the key terms to include in your letter and résumé (or CV). Print a hard copy of the ad and grab a highlighter. Pay attention to adjectives and descriptions in the qualifications, skills and abilities, and responsibilities sections. Attend to the first few items in each list—these are usually the most important and where you’ll want to focus most of your energy.

Track your Qualifications

Copy each of the highlighted keywords onto a spreadsheet or another document and, next to each item, explain how it describes you. If the post has a minimum requirement of five years experience in higher education, for example, list your work as a research or teaching assistant and count them toward those five years. Show that you have skills like research, writing, or public speaking by explicitly saying how you have them. “I am good at public speaking” just tells your reader that you have that skill; a much stronger application provides evidence: “Taught introductory psychology lecture; instructed 150 students three times a week” shows the reader where and how you’ve spoken publicly. Teaching evaluations can back up that you are a strong public speaker, too.

Use the spreadsheet with keywords and your qualifications to draft your application materials. Remember not to paraphrase their words when you write your application materials. This isn’t the time to write with nuance, so don’t agonize over finding a synonym for “multitasks well”!

While the process of decoding a job posting takes a little more effort, it’s certainly worthwhile—you’ll be able to craft application materials that'll help yours rise to the top of the pile.


University of Victoria. "Tool Kit: Résumés, Interviews, Networking and More."
McCord, Sara. "3 Steps to Applying for a Job When You Don't Meet the Requirements."
Perlmutter, David D. "Career Lingo: 'Required versus 'Preferred'."
Purdue OWL. "How do I read job advertisements carefully."
Williams, Martin. "How to decode job adverts: top tips."