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Online Writing Lab

Reading and Understanding Job Descriptions

Before completing a job application, it is important to read and fully understand the specific job description. While some employers post job descriptions online, others may print hard copies. Each job description includes the following components: a brief summary of the job duties/responsibilities, preferred qualifications, and information about the company.

Summary of job duties: The job duties section entails both the broad spectrum of job responsibilities as well as specific duties related to the job. An applicant can expect the “job” to include any and all of the duties mentioned - generically and more specifically. Typical responsibilities included often relate to universal job phrases such as organizing, administrative duties, or providing excellent customer service. Other, more specific responsibilities might also be included.  Obviously, some job descriptions are more specific than others. For example, for a supervisor role, a specific responsibility may be complete all interviewing and hiring practices for new employees.

About the company: Most job descriptions will include a portion containing information about the company. This section will explain a variety of information pertaining to the company, including the mission statement, values, and organizational goals. Companies frequently explain their business philosophy and value system as well as their approach to customer service. Reading and fully comprehending the nuances about the company will enable you – the applicant – to discern if the company is a good match for you, regardless of specific position.

Important Note: In addition to reading the companies’ website and other materials, it is also important to research the company. If you have questions about their philosophy or mission statement, take the time to research. Being educated about the company at-large benefits the applicant in a number of ways, from appearing dedicated and conscientious to creating clarity in personal and professional goals. Some ideas for places and ways to research a company are as follows:

Qualifications: Employers will explain the qualifications that are both required and preferred. If the position requires a specialized educational degree, such as a bachelor’s degree, employers will always detail this requirement. Similarly, employers will mention qualifications that are preferred but not necessarily required, such as the ability to speak Spanish or 10 years of experience in the field. It is important to note the required qualifications, but not be deterred from applying because of a possible lack of preferred qualifications. If you meet the required qualifications and possess the skills, abilities or traits mentioned in the job description, forge ahead with confidence and apply for the position. While the required skills are often non-negotiable, there is some degree of flexibility with the preferred qualifications.

Note:  If you have qualifications that are similar to those listed under the preferred qualifications, be sure to note these in your application materials.