How to Read Between the Lines of a Job Description

How to Read Between the Lines of a Job Description
Updated on 13 July 2015

Guest post from Jennifer Parris, Career Writer for FlexJobs

On the surface, a job description might seem fairly straightforward. It lists the job title, a smattering of responsibilities, and contact info by which you can apply for the position. But upon a second reading, you’re sure to find many layers to the posting, full of nuances and hidden messages that a seasoned job seeker might be able to pick up. If you’ve ever read a posting and wondered, “What are they really asking for?” here are some tips on how to read between the lines of a job description—and submit a job application that will get you the position.

Pay attention to the placement.

By their very nature, job descriptions are fairly short and succinct. Without having pages to list every single job duty, company background, and so on, hiring managers will write what’s most important at the top of the job description. It’s there that they’ll give you—in either a sentence or two—an overarching idea of what they want from their potential employee. As a job seeker, it’s important for you to repeat that information (in your own words, of course) in your cover letter. Not only does it show that you read through the job description, but that you can do the work as well.

Respect the responsibilities.

A typical job description might have upwards of ten or more job duties listed. Generally, the top five are the most critical ones and those that can make or break your job application. Make sure you actually can perform these duties, particularly if some of them are listed as “requirements” or “qualifications.” If you don’t, your job application will be rejected by the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or the actual person who is reading your resume.

Learn the lingo.

Team player. Strong organizational skills. Leadership qualities. There are some terms that go hand in hand with a job description. But what do they really mean—and do you really need to possess these skills and traits? A team player means that you’ll be working with others, and you’ll need to do so without any drama or complaining. Strong organizational skills is code for having a very busy workload and having to be able to manage it all well without dropping the ball—or making your prospective boss look bad. If you’re expected to have leadership qualities, you’ll need to command the respect of your colleagues and lead and inspire them, which will require you to think outside of the box at times and be adaptable.

Share the love.

In an effort to avoid being inundated with job applications, some companies will refrain from posting the company’s name in the job description. If the company’s name is listed, though, you should make a concerted effort to offer up some praise about the organization in your cover letter. If you’re not very familiar with the company, do some research first, and then include a couple of sentences in your job application that depict how much you want to work for that specific organization. For example, you might write something like, “I admire your organization’s policy on workplace flexibility.” After all, a boss is more apt to hire someone who specifically wants to work for his company as opposed to someone simply looking for any old job.

Find out the compensation.

It’s the question of any job seeker: how much does this job pay? Unfortunately, very few job postings will name a dollar amount. That doesn’t mean you can’t find out how much the company is willing to cough up for the position, though. By using sites such as, you can find out comparable salaries for the job you’re after, and you can use this info to determine if it’s worth applying for the position or not.

When you’re deep in the throes of your job search, it’s easy to quickly scan a job description so that you can submit your application ASAP. But taking the time to thoroughly read through the posting can help you submit quality job applications that will get you hired for a position that you truly want—and deserve.


Jennifer Parris, FlexJobsAbout the Author

Jennifer Parris is a Career Writer for FlexJobs, an award-winning service that helps job-seekers find professional opportunities that offer work flexibility, such as telecommuting, freelance, part-time, or alternative schedules. To learn more about Jennifer, visit or tweet @flexjobs.

Grammarly is a must-have
writing app
that makes sure everything you type
is clear, effective, and mistake-free.
Get Grammarly It's free
Trending Posts