Job Postings: What They Say vs. What They Mean

by Staff - Original publish date: December 11, 2013

Job postings range from regurgitated job descriptions to carefully crafted sales pitches.

At some level all job postings are designed to give you enough information to qualify yourself in or out of applying.

And, if well done, the compelling copy and clarion call-to-action spurs you to "Apply!" "Submit!" "Enter, enter, enter!"

Before you take the plunge

So, you're ready to apply online.

Before you dive in, dizzy with anticipation of landing your dream job, consider: What do these common job posting phrases really mean?

"We have an immediate opening for..."

Job openings rarely coincide with your being in the right place at the right time. Assuming you're qualified, ask: "Why didn't you contact me first?" and "Why the urgency? Why now?"  

Do multiple openings mean they don't plan for success, yours or theirs?Ask. You'll rarely get the unvarnished truth but it beats missing all together what the posting probably glosses over.

"Must have this and must have that"

Whether it is a PhD or simply ability to work the late shift, there's no getting around the "requirements."

Or is there? If the requirements are so exacting that very few people could ever qualify you just might be the best candidate after all!

If you possess the most important jobseeker "must haves" -- guts and determination -- apply. But if you're not otherwise well qualified, back off. It can only end in tears.

"This and that preferred"

Compared with "must haves," "nice to have" suggests a more inclusive approach.

It may indicate a culture that values employees and realistic goals -- all good things.

However, wishy-washy "requirements" attract bozos that you'll probably end up having to compensate for down the line. "Nice to have" may also mask a recruiter's indecisiveness too, so be cautious.

Remember, your preferences matter too. Just be sure to express them as "must haves!"

"Work in a fast-paced, results-oriented environment"

If you're applying for the U.S. Olympics' swim team, or a job that requires you to have lightning-fast reflexes to stay alive, like Bomb Squad Operative for example, this line may sound too obvious.

Typically it means however fast you work it will never be fast enough, and whatever targets are set at the beginning, the bar will be raised many more times than your "performance-based" salary ever will be.

"Ability to work under pressure and with minimal supervision"

Does this mean without a good manager or clear direction, when rudderless self-doubt overtakes you the pressure will be coming from within?

Or, despite your new manager being inept, you'll be the one found wanting, with pressure coming from the higher-ups or customers maybe?

Sure, any one of us may be called on to do a tracheotomy in the cafeteria but that's life, not work. Whatever! Roll up your sleeves...

"An exciting opportunity to develop your career"

Well, that's fine and dandy if formal career development is part of the employment package, detailed up front along with what "exciting" is being measured against.

This language is often used to puff up an entry-level job or to offset below-average compensation and/or working conditions.

Notable exceptions to this: a job with the Armed Forces or a White House internship, neither to be confused with "job security" or "lifelong career."

"Have excellent communication skills"

Most of the time this line, along with its expanded "oral," "written," and "presentation" versions, is meaningless.

The difficulty in objectively measuring communication skills, (mediocre, excellent or otherwise), combined with the infrequency of it ever happening, means that recruiters and hiring managers can get away with making unchallenged; decisions based on their personal level of communication "excellence."

"Bilingual candidates are strongly encouraged to apply"

Believe it or not, the majority of jobs that advertise this fail to, a) specify what the other language should be; and b) offer any real encouragement (as in pay more money, not lip service).

Heaven help the Swahili speaker that was "encouraged" to apply for a position that recruiter failed to communicate, in any language, requires fluency in Spanish.

Now, what is it English speakers say about what happens when you assume?

"Compensation commensurate with experience"

Translation: "We have an amount budgeted but we don't want to pay that if we can get away with paying you less, or we find a lesser-qualified candidate who will accept less than you will."

If later you hear, "Sorry, you're over-qualified for this position," you'll know that you should have read between the lines before being undersold by someone who also bought the line, "An exciting opportunity to develop your career!"

"Email your resume with salary history and expectations"

It seems reasonable to be asked for your resume if you want to be considered for a job. But asking for salary history up front should raise red flags.

The value of information being exchanged goes up with increased levels of mutual interest, no? On the bright side, emailing your resume gives you the chance to include a link to That takes care of "salary expectations."

Recruiting is a two-way street

Just as the cliches and tired turns of phrase you see on job postings can tell you much about the recruiting process, the same cliches and tired turns of phrases found on countless resumes say something you may never have intended to say!  It happens.

Next: What your words say to recruiters

In part two, we'll share what recruiters think when they read lines like: "Seeking an exciting opportunity to develop my career" and "I am an excellent communicator!"  Yeah, right...

Stay tuned!