Reading Between the Lines in a Short Job Description

by Mark Schacter on April 16, 2013 in Candidate Job Search, Candidate Selection

Reading Between the LinesJava developer; network engineer; oracle DBA – impressive buzz words that convey the technical aspects of a job, but nothing more than this can certainly leave much to the imagination. According to, a job specification is a statement of employee characteristics and qualifications that are required for satisfactory performance of defined duties and tasks comprising a specific job or function. An effective job spec should convey not only the technical aspects of the position, but provide an overview of the performance and expectations required from the contractor. But what if the job spec isn’t more than just a few buzz words? How can a candidate learn to read between the lines in a short job description to determine if it’s the right position?

It’s common in the IT contracting world to post for positions based almost exclusively on the technical skill desired, as detailed job specifications require an upfront investment of time and money from the hiring manager. While many job descriptions offer an adequate overview of the assignment, savvy candidates will do their homework to further decipher the likelihood of a fit. When it’s a short list of skills, here are a few things a candidate can do to further qualify the opportunity:

  1. Visit the company’s corporate website. If the job spec lists only a few requisite skills, it’s going to be up to the contractor to do some homework. Visit the company’s web page to determine if they have particular industry verticals, and who their customers are. Aligning business experience with technical expertise is a promising way to ensure a closer skill match.
  2. Use social media channels. Using LinkedIn to get a better picture of the company and its staff is a great way to fill in some of the gaps in a short job spec. Research the company profile, determine what groups their employees belong to, and see if there are any thought leadership pieces, blogs, or white papers published by their consultants. This type of information can help ascertain the company’s professional reputation, personality, and corporate culture.
  3. Talk to other people. Before pursuing a position summarized by a select, few words, try to talk to other people who work or have worked for that company. Again, LinkedIn is a great way to connect to these resources, and many will likely be open an honest with their experiences. While the job spec may say Java Architect, the candidate could end up overlapping skills or in a position that’s not completely related to the advertised skill. Communicating with others who have similar experiences will pull more of the pieces together.
  4. Talk to your sales team. Often, when interviewing for an assignment, the candidate works almost exclusively with his or her recruiter. While knowledgeable and effective, this individual isn’t in front of clients day in and out, and might not be able to provide as comprehensive an overview as an Account Executive can. The sales team knows the inside story with their clients, and can attest to the environment dynamics, management styles, and political climates that exist within their key accounts – they’re excellent at judging who will fit and who won’t.

The IT contractor is a sought after resource, especially in today’s unpredictable market. With so much to offer clients, contractors need to make sure that their time is invested into a position that is a professional match in all aspects. With the short job specification, putting in the effort to research and flesh out the opportunity up front will greatly increase the odds of a successful match all the way around.