Have you ever re-read your resume just before sending it out, wondering whether it is the best it can be?

This is your big chance to make a great impression, and a certain amount of nervousness is normal. From my experience, many job candidates find themselves fretting over word choices and second-guessing the accomplishments and skills they hand-picked.

Do your words represent you in the best light possible? Is there a way to minimize that last-minute resume anxiety? My advice is to do a quick side-by-side job analysis check to make sure that your resume speaks directly to the job description. This is relatively straight-forward when you have a great job posting description to start with. Other times, you might be working with a description that is incomplete or not detailed enough. In those situations, sample job descriptions can give you the information you need to eliminate second-guessing.

The anatomy of a sample job description.

When reviewing sample job postings, it helps to understand what you're looking at. That way, you can know what might be missing, which parts to pay special attention to, and what additional questions to ask of the recruiter or the hiring manager. Here is your quick outline of what makes up a complete position description.

1. Title

The job title is the first thing that catches your attention when you come across a new opportunity. Unfortunately, job titles can often be misleading. Just because a position has a sexy title does not always mean that its duties align with what is typically expected. The reverse can also be true – a position without a high-ranking title might offer all the right challenges and opportunities for career growth. The lesson is clear: keep reading!

2. Summary

This is usually a brief (1-2 sentences) high-level description of duties and reporting relationships that come with the position. Look for general consistency with the job title, note key words and dive into the detail next.

3. Key functions

In a perfect world, this section will help address many of your questions. What daily job responsibilities are associated with the position? Would you be expected to have a supervisory role? What involvement and interaction will you have with other departments? How much customer contact is expected?

4. Skills needed to succeed

This section can help you identify critical skills that the hiring manager thinks are needed to succeed on the job. A well-written skill requirements section will include both soft and hard (or technical) skills. Be present to the fact that sometimes, this section is bulked up by technical job requirements and qualifications that aren't truly necessary. To be a better judge of what actually matters, consider reviewing multiple job descriptions for similar roles. That simple sanity check will help you establish a pattern.

5. Reporting hierarchy

Reporting lines are extremely important. A manager who reports directly to the CEO will have an experience of frequent and direct interaction with senior leadership, which can mean more exposure to big-picture decision-making and potentially a higher degree of pressure. On the other hand, a manager who is buffered from top management by four to five layers of reporting relationships will have fewer direct interactions with senior leaders. There is no right or wrong way to choose, but it does help to understand whether the setup of the position aligns with your professional preferences and goals.

6. Evaluation criteria and timeline

How will your supervisor know that you are doing a great job? Who defines success, how fair is that criteria, and how frequently can you expect feedback? Keep in mind that seeing a well-developed evaluation section in a position description is relatively rare. If it is missing from the position description, be sure to add it to the list of your questions to ask the hiring manager during the interview. Be alert in the event that he or she hesitates to give you a clear answer – that could be an indication that the company lacks clarity on what success in the role will look like.  

7. Compensation

Many sample position descriptions do not include an explicit salary range. Look for other tips and hints to give you a sense for whether compensation arrangements are likely to be competitive. For example, a job description that emphasizes performance bonus or the fact that the company is in the startup stages might point to a lower base salary. Keep in mind that the salary question during the job interview is not a recommended way of opening your interactions with a potential employer. However, gathering all the data you can will help you make the best decision.

8. Physical location

Consider whether the position will require you to relocate or result in a commute that is considerably longer than what you are accustomed to. If you will be expected to work in a part of town that has a bad reputation, be present to what that might mean for your safety and daily routines.

Three tips for getting the most out of sample job descriptions.

There are three important take-aways that job seekers should gain from spending time on job description research.

1. Look for patterns in tasks and critical skills. What seems to be most important to the hiring manager or employer? What will define your ability to succeed?

2. Try the job descriptions on for size. Will you actually enjoy doing this job on a day-to-day basis? Every position comes with a certain amount of responsibilities and tasks that you would rather not do, and most jobs have moments that are frustrating, boring or emotionally challenging. Focus on the big picture, and ask yourself whether the job will allow you the right degree of autonomy, control, creativity and opportunities for growth. Define the mix of attributes and characteristics that are most important to you, and choose accordingly.

3. Connect with people in the role you are considering or directly above it. LinkedIn can prove to be an excellent source of introductions and connections for professional networking and research. The insights and feedback from individuals who have personal experience with the role you are considering can boost your confidence and help you prepare for the interview.

A bonus benefit of sample job descriptions.

There is one other benefit of reviewing sample job descriptions that is often left out of consideration. Reading them can give you the right words and focus points to describe your current job during the interview. It can also highlight how your past experience has prepared you for the challenges of the new position. By presenting your past work history in a way that logically supports your next step, you can tell a more compelling personal story, better connect with the hiring manager and touch on the right success factors.

Lastly, remember that the job description is meant to help you customize your resume and prepare for the interview. In a perfect world, the description should be informing, thoughtful and exciting. If you are feeling the butterflies or slight nervousness from the professional stretch that the opportunity would be requiring of you, dig deeper and channel that energy into preparation and research. On the other hand, if you walk away from the job description unmoved, that feeling will likely show during the interview. Consider looking at other options during the job search, so that your presence during the interview is fully engaged, enthusiastic and inspired.

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