When applying to jobs, how often do you read the job descriptions line by line?
Many people skim through them, reading just enough to make sure they qualify for the position before applying. We get it. Reading each and every job description can feel like a waste of time.
But, job descriptions actually hold a great deal of information. If you know what to look for, you can find insights into the company's culture, your potential role, and even what to include in your resume to boost your chances of being called in for an interview.
Below, we'll show you how to read a job description and use it to optimize your resume. Then, we'll show you how to prepare for the next steps of the job-hunting process.
How to read a tech job description
The first step in reading a job description is discerning what's required from what's desired. Anything listed as a requirement is a must-have — especially when it comes to technical skills.
Still, not having certain skills isn't always a deal-breaker, especially if they're listed as "preferred" or as "a plus."
Also, remember that skill requirements are usually listed in order of priority. So, you may want to focus on job descriptions with your stronger skills listed towards the top of the qualifications section.
Insights into the role
Job descriptions can also give you some insight into what you can expect while working at the company. For example:
- Look for how the word "team" is used. In some positions, you fly solo most of the time — but if you see the word team incorporated into the lists of daily duties, you'll likely be working in a highly team-oriented atmosphere.
- Pay attention to the technologies they list. They'll often give you some insight into what you'll be doing on the job. If SQL is listed, you may be working with databases. If Swift is listed, you'll most likely be developing for Apple devices.
- Check to see who you'll be reporting to. Working on solutions is only part of the job. Your work has to be approved, and knowing how many people have to give you the thumbs up may help you get a good grasp on your workflow. For example, if you're reporting to a director, and the company is under 50 people, you can assume that there are likely only 1-3 stakeholders when it comes to your daily work.
Insights into the company culture
A job description is typically a wide-open window into the company's culture. It may even include things that you can't find on its website or in articles about the organization. Human resources or other managers who write job descriptions may include interesting details such as:
- Annual company retreats
- Volunteer work employees do in the community
- Happy hours with complimentary food and beverages
- Info about rec rooms with pool, ping pong, or other games
- A gym
- On-site cafeteria
- Food delivery services
As you read through the job description, keep an eye out for requirements like “thrive in a fast-paced environment” or “must be able to juggle multiple projects at once.” Phrases like this might indicate a growth mindset at the company, and if you prefer work environments that are a little less hectic, you might want to consider another role.
Insights into the interview process
One of the key insights into the interview process you can get from the job description is who you'll be reporting to. You may not know how many interviews you'll have, but you can rest assured that until you sit down with the person you'll be reporting to, there'll be at least one more face-to-face or phone interview before they pick you for the job.
Some companies will outline the interview process, step-by-step, right on the job description. They may also list who your primary point of contact will be.
How to know if you should apply
According to Madison Olson, Codecademy's Manager of Technical Recruiting, you don't have to have all of the listed skills on a job description to apply. As she put it:
"Most job descriptions are split into 'must-haves' and 'nice to haves.' If you meet some of the key must-haves along with some of the nice to haves, it doesn't hurt to apply."
Similarly, you also don't have to meet the exact experience requirements outlined in the job description. This doesn't mean you should apply for a senior position if you're just starting out. But, if you have the same general amount of experience or you're only a year or two shy, consider throwing your hat in the ring.
Applicant tracking systems and resume optimization
Job descriptions are also a valuable resource for optimizing your resume. Companies often receive dozens (if not hundreds) of applications for open positions, and recruiters just don't have the time to go through each one. So, many rely on applicant tracking systems (ATS).
According to Jobscan, 99% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS because they help streamline the recruiting process by screening job applications and resumes.
Many ATS use natural language processing, machine learning, and AI to analyze and rank candidates by how well their resumes match the job description. If your resume doesn't include the keywords the ATS is looking for, there's a good chance that the recruiter won't even see it.
This is why you should tailor your resume for every position you apply to — or at least the jobs you’re really excited about. It might seem tedious, but taking the time to make sure your resume reflects the skills and requirements outlined in the job description will help maximize your chances of being called in for an interview.
Having the right keywords in your resume will also show recruiters that you're serious about your application and not just applying to anything that might be a good fit. If you're applying for a job as a Mobile Developer but Kotlin and Swift aren't listed in your resume — how will they know you've got the right skills?
While sharing tips for improving your developer resume, Jovanay Carter, an Associate Recruiter with Codecademy, recommends:
"[Being] prepared for and intentional about the roles you're applying for. You have to somehow demonstrate in your experiences, cover letter, or resume, that this is actually what you want."
Preparing for the next steps
While knowing how to read a job description is important, applying is just the first step toward getting the job. Once you hear back from the company, it's time to start preparing for the interview process.
Depending on the role you're applying for, the interview process might consist of two parts: behavioral and technical interviews. Behavioral interviews are those you're probably familiar with, in which your interviewer asks questions about your past roles and experiences.
Technical interviews, on the other hand, assess your proficiency with some of the technical skills outlined in the job posting. You might be given a coding problem to solve or asked about the inner workings of various programming languages and other tools. Technical interviews are your chance to showcase your skills and problem-solving ability and ultimately prove you're the best choice for the role.
So, it goes without saying that you'll want to bring your A-game. We offer several resources that'll help you prepare for your upcoming technical interviews, including courses like:
- Pass the technical interview with Java
- Pass the technical interview with Python
On our Interview Prep page, you'll also find tips and insights from professional developers, a complete guide to acing technical interviews, and more.
Or, if you need a little more help with the overall job-hunting process, check out our Career Center. You'll find helpful resources that'll help propel you along every step of the way, such as:
- Tips from recruiters about what they're looking for in candidates in your field.
- Workspaces, which you can use to code independently and build your own mini-projects.
- Code Challenges — real technical interview assessments pulled from top companies to help you prepare.