Don’t be alarmed if you’re having a hard time understanding job postings. Too many of them are poorly written, don’t include important information and mislabel the position.
Why is this so common? Well, job ads posted on major sites like Indeed do not have to comply with a rigorous set of standards. They can be just a paragraph long, not describe the role properly and sometimes, they’re just downright illegal and discriminatory.
During my time running the Generation PR job board, I’ve looked at thousands of job postings. And of course, had my own job-hunting experiences and have also participated in hiring new employees for my workplace.
So, I’ve gained an understanding of just what companies are looking for based on what their ad says—even when that ad says very little.
We’re going to look at the following:
- What a job title tells you about the role
- What do employers consider when including the “years of experience”?
- When there’s no mention of health benefits
- What’s up with jobs that get reposted again and again?
- When the role seems like two or three jobs combined
- How do I get the additional information I need?
What a job title tells you about the role
Not every company abides by industry standards when it comes to job titles. But generally speaking, there are expectations for job titles to align with a particular number of years of work experience.
This is what that looks like for communications and marketing professionals in Canada:
- Assistant: 0-1 years
- Coordinator: 1-2 years
- Associate or Executive: 2-3 years
- Specialist or Consultant: 3-5 years
- Manager or Officer: 5-7 years
- Director: 8+ years
As I said before, it’s not always so cut and dry. Some roles are labelled “Specialist” and ask for 1-2 years and “Coordinator” positions ask for 3-5 years. That is why it’s so important to always click past a job posting, even if the title doesn’t seem to match your experience.
So going by the title, what can you expect from a role? When you’re an Assistant, Coordinator or Associate, you’re typically in a supporting role and take direction from your manager (or whoever is supervising you). As a Specialist or Consultant, this may still be the case but you’re also guiding the strategy and you’re given more freedom to make big moves.
Of course, how your company’s hierarchy is structured and the relationship you have with your manager are all going to define the nuances of your role. So does the size of the company. At smaller companies, entry-level employees can take on responsibilities above their rank simply because the company does not have the manpower to delegate it to someone else.
What do employers consider when including the “years of experience”?
Most job ads mention how many “years of experience” they want the candidate to have, but each employer has their own approach to setting this guideline.
What does “2-4 years of experience” mean?
Two years and four years is a huge difference. When companies put such a range for a position, it usually means that they’re looking for the right “fit” and not necessarily someone who can accomplish particular responsibilities with a particular level of expertise.
If hired, the position would be tailored to suit your capabilities. If you are hired with two years of experience, they will not throw work at you that would require a level of expertise acquired with four years of experience. Instead, you will be given duties that align with your capabilities.
What does it mean when a job asks for one year of experience but the title is “Specialist”?
Super confusing, right? Well, this is typically a case of a company just not titling their jobs properly. This can happen when the company is not working with an experienced recruiter and/or doesn’t have an HR department. Instead, hiring is managed by department heads and company executives. They don’t always understand that “Specialist” is not a title that suits someone with only one year of experience.
Should I apply for a role even if I have fewer years of experience than asked for?
Yes, if you really want the job and have time to spend on your application. But to be honest, your chances are slim even if you get called in for an interview. Maybe the hiring manager found your resume intriguing and wants to get to know you, but it’s unlikely you will beat out the many others that have also been contacted and actually do have the years of experience that was asked for.
I once applied for a role with an ad agency whose work I really admired. I was definitely underqualified but snagged a phone interview. The HR representative told me upfront that I did not suit the role because of my lack of experience but she was interested in bringing me in as a freelance copywriter.
That being said, take the chance and nail the interview. Maybe you won’t get the job, but establishing a relationship with the HR rep at a company you want to work for is still a win and may open you up to future opportunities.
What if the job posting doesn’t mention “years of experience” at all?
At this point, you need to take note of the job title and think about the guidelines I laid out above. After that, look for keywords in the description that will hint at what kind of candidate they need. If words like “manage” and “strategy” come up, you know this role isn’t entry-level and they need somebody to come in and take charge. If the job description mentions you will be working under a manager and a director, you can assume they don’t need someone to take charge because they already have that covered.
Sometimes, job ads will use terms like “significant experience” or some other descriptor. Don’t ignore this; they’re not being coy. If they want “significant experience” that means at least three years of experience (and probably more).
When there’s no mention of health benefits
It’s important for me to know if a company provides health benefits (I have a codependent relationship with my dental hygienist). And job postings often don’t tell you much beyond “health and dental benefits provided”.
But what happens when they don’t mention anything? Instead, the only “benefits” mentioned are a snack cabinet and summer hours. Well, it’s best to assume the worst. Mentioning health insurance is an important recruitment tool and companies will normally use that to attract the best candidates.
However, sometimes a company does provide health insurance and skips putting it in the job description. Your next step is to check Glassdoor as employees will sometimes share what kind of health benefits are provided.
What’s up with jobs that get reposted again and again?
Something we avoid doing at Generation PR is putting jobs on the board that are being reposted all the time. It’s usually not a great reflection of the company itself—however, there are exceptions and we have to understand that some companies, that are otherwise great to work for, don’t have the best recruitment processes in place.
The employer doesn’t know what they want
Sometimes employers don’t have a firm grasp of the position they need to fill. It isn’t until they bring professionals into the office and talk to them, that they understand what kind of person they need. That is why job titles will change, even after the listing has already gone live—or listings will be taken down, reworded and reposted after a few months.
I once applied for a “Social Media Specialist” role at an arts organization. I later found out they changed the role to a “Corporate Sales Specialist” and hired somebody with sales experience. It wasn’t a total surprise for me, because even during the interview I sensed they needed someone to support their sales team more than they needed a social expert. They clearly didn’t realize that either until they were already deep into the interview process.
This company has a high turnover rate
It’s a running joke in the PR industry that if you’re looking for a job, you will always be able to find a bucketload of agencies hiring (especially in Toronto). From small firms to global powerhouses, agencies are hiring throughout the year for entry-level roles and managerial positions.
Retention rates are low because it’s a difficult work environment, and people rarely aim to stay at agencies for longer than two or three years. It’s fair to mention that an increase in clients can also result in a hiring spree!
Finding someone has been a nightmare
You would think in a competitive job landscape like communications and marketing, there’d plenty of good candidates. But that’s not always the case and sometimes companies have a difficult time finding what they want.
So they will keep refreshing that LinkedIn job post for months on end until they find their dream employee. Or, they made someone an offer but the negotiations fell through and they’re back to square one. However, you don’t need to keep applying for that same job—they have your resume already.
When the role seems like two or three jobs combined
One of my major frustrations is when two totally different skilled professions are lumped together even though they do not overlap. For example, “marketing and graphic design” or “communications and administrative” roles. These jobs will ask you to do both roles, more or less equally, but sometimes skewed more towards one than the other.
Read job descriptions carefully and understand exactly what you will be doing if hired. Sometimes, a role can have five different communications duties listed and just one that mentions you will be answering general inquiries over the phone.
For some people, having that one duty on their plate is a huge dealbreaker. As a communications and marketing professional, you are expected to wear a lot of hats but if your employer wants you to make graphics for social media every day, you have to question if that’s really what you want to be doing.
Why do employers merge these roles? Let’s be frank: they want two employees for the price of one and/or they seriously undervalue the work that goes into these roles. Graphic design is hugely important and should not be handled by an amateur. And writing an effective press release is also not a skill that everyone possesses.
My advice is to avoid applying for these roles unless you are confident you can complete both sides of the role with a great degree of effectiveness.
How do I get the additional information I need?
Okay, the job posting had some glaring issues but you still applied. If you do land an interview, that’s your opportunity to fill in all those gaps. It really is best to do this as early on in the process as possible. You can even ask these questions during the phone and email exchange when you’re scheduling your interview.
Questions to consider asking:
- What kind of benefits are offered?
- What is the salary range for this role?
- What is the office dress code?
- How many people are on my team and what are their roles?
- Who will be my supervisor or manager?
- What office will I be working at?
- What are all the expectations of my role?
- What kind of software or tools will I be using?
Don’t be scared to ask a legitimate question. It’s better to have all the information at hand before you invest too much time and effort during the hiring process. And organizations who are not willing to accommodate you are waving a big, red flag.