How to Speed Read a Job Listing: ask “is it good enough for me?”

With practice, you should be able to suss out a job listing’s feasibility within a minute. It’s often easier to open lots of jobs to review this way than it is to try to hunt by job title. Think of these instructions as learning to speed read job listings with the goal of finding opportunities, rather than ruling them out.

Skim the “required” and “desired” skill sets

Do you know what all the terms mean? Do some quick googling if not (if they mention specific software packages, do you know similar programs? If they’re using weird jargon, what’s the gist of what they’re asking for?). Do you have more than half of them? Remember: job listings are idealized, it’s rare to find something that’s perfectly tailored to you. If you have all the requirements, it might even be a more junior role than you’re qualified for!

  1. If the answer to one or more of these questions is YES, keep going!
  2. Write yourself a note about what the story or guiding thread is between your experience and the skills the job wants. Pick a few of their requirements like “understand user groups and conduct needs analysis” or “be familiar with open source software usage and issues” and explain why that skill is something you have (even if it’s a nearby skill instead of a direct correlation). The idea is to be able to say “I am an ethnographer by training, and a teacher by trade, so I am uniquely positioned to understand user groups and translate materials to suit diverse audiences;” or “My degree in library and information science has given me new tools for approaching the legal quandary of open source software usage from the perspective of both support and licensing.” You don’t have to be confident about it, you just have to be able to say it truthfully: why does your experience match their list of skills? The key here is connecting your past to this job’s future. Whatever you write doesn’t have to be this idea’s final form. Ideally, it’ll show up as keywords in your resume and as stories and evidence in your cover letter. There’s great advice out there on how to figure out what’s unique and valuable about you as an employee, check out https://medium.com/personal-growth/the-freedom-diagram-how-to-pick-career-skills-6a19101b0a75 for a start.

Read the “about the role” or “general duties” section

Does it sound anything like what you’ve done in past jobs? Does it sound appealing?

  1. If the answer to one or more of these questions is YES, keep going!
  2. Write yourself a note about why you’re uniquely positioned to do this job, what 3–5 qualities makes you the person they’re looking for? Pick a few of your strengths — especially when they overlap with the descriptors in the job listing (like “team environment,” “self-starter, or “familiarity with multiple development environments”) and write a phrase that explains how YOU particularly embody that trait. “I am an entrepreneurial self-starter, who thrives on collaboration and communication;” or “My keen interest in data analysis and visualization has taken me everywhere from Edward Tufte’s trainings through a self-led course in programming with R.” The key here is telling them what kind of employee you’ll be; are you a person with big ideas or who’s detail-oriented? Are you a person who is instatiably curious or who loves to mentor others? Keep in mind that these are just notes — ways to connect your history and experience to the job listing. You don’t have to keep whatever jargon-rich or far-fetched sentences you come up with.

Read anything they tell you about the team or company

What can you glean about the culture of the organization? Do you hear any character or quirks in the language? Does it read like something you’d write? Something you can imagine a trusted friend or colleague writing?

  1. If the organization and/or hiring manager sounds appealing, it’s time to make a judgment call about if you’re going to apply. If the answer is YES, keep going!
  2. Write down 5–7 keywords from everything you’ve read that will indicate you’re on the same wavelength as the job. Do this by looking for the most unusual or distinctive words, and look for the words/phrases that are repeated most (i.e. flexible, eloquent, process, lifecycle, agile, team environment, data visualization, etc.). You’re going to use these as seeds in your resume to make sure you are persuading the hiring manager that you are the right person. Take a look at https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2011/05/31/the-art-and-science-of-mirroring/#3ed70e7d1318 for some ideas about the benefits and drawbacks of using this kind of mirroring language to influence your hiring manager.

Check Your Network

Check LinkedIn or Facebook or whatever app you like best to see if you know people who work at the company either first- or second-hand. It’s usually better to apply through an internal referral. Do some background research on the company.

  1. Research salary ranges for that title and reviews of the company on glassdoor, payscale, indeed, and other sites. If the range looks like something you could live with, and/or the company sounds like an acceptable environment, keep going!
  2. If you do NOT know anyone at the company, expect to spend longer on your cover letter, because you’ll need to get past the recruiting/HR gauntlet.
  3. If you DO know someone at the company, check in with them to see if they know anything about the job, team, or hiring manager. Ask them what they think of the company. Be aware that many larger organizations offer a recruiting bonus to employees who refer colleagues from outside their organization to open jobs.

Alright, by asking yourself if the job is good enough for you, you’ve found a potential employer and a potential job instead of shutting down your exploration. All of this assumes that you’re able to make the time to do this kind of research and make time for the necessary self reflection and self-love. Hopefully, breaking it down into steps to practice can make this approachable for everyone, but I’d love to hear more in the comments if you have other ideas. Next time, I’ll talk about how to customize your cover letter and resume for a job quickly and effectively.