Your resume and cover letter need be in sync with the job you are after. Anna Kobb breaks down a typical job posting to help you give a potential employer the information that matters most.
When applying for a new role, it is important to tailor your resume and cover letter to each specific job. I’ll cover some tips on writing those documents in another post, but here I want to explain how to figure out what skills and experience a company is looking for in a job posting - we will “deconstruct” the job posting.
When you’re deconstructing a job description, you’re hunting for keywords and skills. Let’s walk through this “Lead Field Technician” example from the Climate Career Portal Jobs page. (I recommend going to the posting site to ensure you get all of the correct information). Start by profiling the company: the job is interesting but is the company the right fit for you? Look at their website and LinkedIn to get a feel for who they are and what values they hold. Glassdoor.ca can be a great resource for reviews (take online reviews with a grain of salt, especially if there are very few) and tips for interviewing.
Next, look at the key responsibilities or job functions. Here, employers call out areas of skill, knowledge and experience that are needed for the role. For instance, in this Field Technician role a key function is planning and scheduling maintenance (i.e. project management). Go through each of the key functions of the role and consider how your experience fits - and begin thinking of specific examples.
Now move to the job requirements. Employers often list required skills or experience in order of importance. Keep in mind that the requirements listed are for the “ideal” candidate, who may or may not exist. Even if you do not meet all of the requirements listed - if you’re excited about the role - apply! How well you need to match the required skills list will depend a bit on the labour market. In a tight labour market, you may only need a few of the listed skills because there are more jobs than workers, whereas in a slack labour market you may need to have all of the required skills and most of the preferred skills.
What are “required” vs “preferred” skills? A required skill is the minimum skill needed to start. For example: a specific degree, a driver’s license, or a certification in a specific field. These may be things that are regulated in the industry, or are simply required on day one. For instance, as a Field Technician you need to drive to the work site so you must have a driver's license. Preferred skills are the skills the employer thinks will make you an exceptional employee; there is more wiggle room here in terms of experience. For example, in the Field Technician posting, applicants are required to have experience with SCADA. Likely, the company uses SCADA, so it would be ideal to bring someone in who already knows that monitoring system. But, if you have the other skills that they are looking for and have used similar systems - you could learn SCADA on the job.
For preferred skills, and even some required skills it is helpful to consider what experience you have demonstrates your ability to learn a skill that you’re missing. Even if you don’t have the exact experience desired, if you can demonstrate how your experience prepares you for the role that may be a good enough fit.
Deconstruction is easiest when the job description itself is well constructed. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the job description is too vague - like this one - where even the title of the role doesn’t seem to be settled. It can be hard to craft tailored material without enough details of the role. Consider reaching out to the hiring staff to ask more about the position (that shows initiative!). If you need help determining what roles fit you best, or which required skills to highlight, consider enlisting a mentor to guide you.
Post by freelance writer Anna Kobb
This blog is funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.