Reading a Job Posting and Common Interview Irritations: Is Common Career Advice Out of Date?
In Part IV, I'd like to sidestep the usual topic of out-of-date employment advice in favor of some other things that may not be as meaningful as they once were. Since my goal is to open discussion, not to provide absolute information, I want to take the opportunity to mention the language used in writing job descriptions and some of the sneaky things employers do using interview questions.
Job Descriptions? Are you Serious? How is this important?
Keep in mind, there are little to no regulations governing what you can say or what you should say in a job posting. Also bear in mind that while most people writing job postings are not malicious people, most of them are terrible writers.
I can't stress that last point enough. Too often I deal with students who feel the need to sound intelligent when they write, or who feel the need to conform to what they feel are conventions of an industry. We've all read writing like this. It's the stuff that made our eyes glaze over in school. It makes your mind drift to other things. Job postings are shorter than college texts, so you can't wander as far, but it still happens. There's an expected language style (I make fun of this in my hub posting a position for Nazgul, and likewise for resume language in my hub on video game accomplishments). This style focuses on verbs, usually at the beginning of the sentences. In theory, this should tell you exactly what the job does.
Watch out for generic, vague verbs. I once interviewed for an "Event Specialist" position. The title didn't tell me much; it sounded like a planning/organization job. But when I moved on to the description, the first sentence read "Generates excitement about products." In a legitimate job posting, a verb like "generate" should mean you're hooked up to electrodes to power appliances. "Generate" doesn't mean anything. Vague terms like that are meant to hide information. It turned out that the "Event Specialist" is the guy who passes out free food samples in Walmart.
It's worth mentioning that I didn't actually apply for this job. I posted my resume to a job search website and they called me. I won't tell you not to post your resume, but I'd be very careful about accepting any job that responded to it. Remember my previous posts where I mention how employers are swamped with resumes? If they're actively looking for applicants, there is probably something wrong with the job. As it turns out, there's a posting for "Event Specialist" every two or three weeks. So our checklist of red flags includes:
- Vague language to hide actual function of the job
- No voluntary applicants
- Evidence of an extremely high turnover rate
But I was desperate, so I interviewed anyway. They were apparently desperate too, because they asked me to bring my ID documents to the interview. I usually bring my passport because it's easier to carry one small book than two loose documents. When they asked me to come back with my SS card and Driver's License (which is an illegal request), I didn't.
But that's just one case, right?
Yeah, I got a little carried away with my story, but it's good to be careful. And it's not like there aren't other shady things going on in job postings. For example, take the salary listing.
"This job pays $10 to $12.50 per hour."
The job could pay $10 to $368 per hour. If you get hired, you'll be paid $10. End of story. I don't even know why employers list ranges. It's not like they have to entice people into applying. Sometimes, mostly with salaried positions, they'll add, "based on education and experience." This is the sneakiest trick of all, because a lot of applicants will have either one or the other. I've been told in interviews both that, "The higher rate is actually based on education" and "The higher rate is actually based on experience."
Why is this sneaky? Because they can get someone with impressive qualifications without actually paying them for those qualifications. As long as this is legal, the "Entry Level" position won't exist. In fact, "entry level" is being replaced with another sneaky trick, "unpaid internship."
(If I'm only successful at one thing in this series, I hope people will propose legislation to make unpaid work positions illegal and to increase the amount of entry level opportunities)
Since I don't often get feedback from employers, I can only speculate on certain areas, but I have a strong suspicion that having separate categories for "required" and "preferred" qualifications is a frivolous distinction. Referring again to the mountain of applications HR people receive, how likely are they to opt for someone who only has the "required" category when a handful of applicants surely must have all the "preferred" qualifications? And why would they bother interviewing the latter category when they can easily find someone who has years upon years of experience that dwarfs what they themselves asked for?
I spoke with someone recently who said, "Here's a posting that looks appropriate for you. They want five to seven years of experience, but since you have a master's degree..."
Well, that's not how it works. They'll find someone with seven years of experience. Probably more. Education doesn't mean much to a lot of employers anymore. College doesn't really train a lot of people for work, so experience is what matters. That someone thought I'd be competitive in a stack of applicants for this position just shows that the professionals are out-of-touch with the advice they've been giving.
Here's another sneaky trick they pull; not listing the name of the hiring manager. This is one of those tests that I wrote about in earlier installments--the kind of test that you can only fail. Many employers feel that candidates should be made to jump through hoops to prove they're good employees, and one of those hoops is "researching" the name of the hiring manager. Except that they've made it near impossible. Yes, you actually can find the name in many cases if you dig enough. But there are job postings sometimes that won't even tell you the name of the company. On a few occasions, I've called and been told they don't have a specific name. In other cases, the contact I'm given isn't actually involved in the hiring process; they're just the person responsible for posting the notice.
But that's how it is. It shows you're a good employee.
Does it? Have you actually stopped and thought about the connections hiring managers are told they must make? Here's my favorite example:
If someone is unemployed, they must be a bad worker.
And no one questions this! People take this as divine law. The reason I'm unemployed is not because I'm a bad worker. In fact, the reason I'm unemployed probably is because of this rule.
Hopping over to another hub, I found an employer who admits that she interprets:
- Phone calls as a sign of laziness
- A weak handshake as indicative of a lack of confidence
- Tattoos as being bad.
I mention that last one because she puts in parenthesis that she actually likes tattoos. So why shouldn't you have tattoos? Tradition. They were once a sign of rebellious counter-culture, and they weren't viewed as respectable. I know a guy who runs a local theatre who has tattoos coating both arms--he's one of the most competent, hard-working people I've ever worked with. Even this woman who's writing the other hub knows it doesn't mean anything.
And it doesn't stop at tattoos. I bought a book of interview questions six months back. I had to put it down halfway through because it frustrated me how dodgy employers will be trying to get information. No one can ask an honest question anymore. "Do you let your personal life interfere with your work?" Sorry, that's too honest. Too direct. We're going to ask you, "What kitchen utensil most embodies your philosophy as a sales rep."
Okay, extreme example. I know. But the fact remains that employers believe they have to suss out meanings that don't exist from every last word you say. I've heard that I can't use any negative words at all. "Oh no, our candidate said he doesn't like to come in late! He'll be a terrible teacher. If only we could find someone who says she likes to arrive on time!" Does this honestly accomplish what the hiring process aims to do? Does it really ensure that competent workers get placed in suitable positions?
This imaginary manual of how to interpret candidates responses does not ensure that the best people get hired for the job. I think we seriously need to re-evaluate our need for this practice.