Your guide to deciphering a job ad

Being able to accurately interpret a job advertisement is an important skill every job seeker needs to have. When you understand what an employer is looking for, you’re better positioned to assess whether you’d be a good fit for the job, and if the job meets your own personal preferences and career plan. You’ll also be able to recognise how to tailor your cover letter and CV to the job ad and increase your chance of an interview.

Even though employers and recruiters may structure their job ads slightly differently, there are usually key elements that are always present. We’ve broken them down for you, so it’ll be even easier to apply this knowledge to your job search and application process.

How to decipher a job ad

Job Description Summary

This is the introduction of the job ad and usually contains the job title and basic description, including the location of the role. It can also include a company profile, describing the culture of the organisation.

What to consider:

  • Is the location suitable for ease of travel?
  • Do the hours meet your requirements (full-time, part-time, contract, etc.)?
  • Are you familiar with the company? If not, do some research to learn more about their history, values and the industry.

Duties and Responsibilities

The employer or recruiter will briefly describe the main tasks the candidate will be required to perform. It’s designed to give a clearer picture of the employee’s day-to-day routine and will often begin with a heading such as “Key responsibilities include…”

What to consider:

  • Does this sound like a position that will fit into your career plan?
  • Would you be interested in performing these duties on a daily basis?
  • Have you performed similar duties in the past?
  • Can you illustrate in your cover letter or CV a time when you’ve excelled in any one of these tasks?

Experience, Qualifications and Proficiencies

This section will usually detail in point form the skills and experience you will need in order to qualify for the job.

It will highlight the employer’s requirements, such as previous work experience, education or certifications, the need for a driver’s licence, computer software and hardware proficiency, management skills and more.

What to consider:

  • Are you qualified for this position? While it’s important that you meet the mandatory requirements before applying for a job, don’t be discouraged if you don’t meet every requirement in the ‘preferred skills/experience’ section. Even though this is an employer’s ideal wish list, it’s likely that very few candidates will possess all of the skills and experience. Focus on the requirements where you know you excel.
  • When tailoring your CV to meet these requirements, make sure you include volunteer work, study and other relatable experience. In your cover letter, talk about how certain attitudes and personality traits you possess can help you gain competency in the areas you might not have had any previous experience.

Application Instructions

Finally, you’ll be given instructions on how to apply for the job and the date that applications close. You may also be given details on what form of contact to expect back from the employer.

What to consider:

  • Following these instructions inaccurately is often the number one reasons employers dismiss a potential candidate. Make sure you apply for the job exactly as per the instructions, and include all supplementary material requested.

Don’t forget, these job ad elements can be written in various forms and orders, so it’s up to you to read between the lines and estimate your suitability. With every job that you apply for, visualise how you would sell your skills to the employer in an interview and be confident about what you can bring to the role.