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Decoding Job Descriptions

Knowing what a company needs vs. the long list of wants they list on a job description is a challenge for developers of every level. Often job descriptions are written by Human Resources or by a manager that doesn’t know what their developers do.

Job descriptions are often a giant wish list covering every language or keyword that is popular at the time in the hope of getting that “unicorn” or mysterious 10x developer. Sometimes there are even new languages where the job description is asking for more years of experience than it was in existence.

We will start by building your confidence when looking and applying for jobs by going through actual job postings to understand which you are qualified for and which jobs you want.

Job Titles

Job titles for similar positions can vary drastically from company to company, making it difficult to decide if the job is right for you based on the title. Job titles could have levels such as “Developer I,” “Junior Developer,” or be listed merely as “Developer.”

Job Summary/Description

The summary/description should provide an overview of the company and set expectations for the position. It is an introduction to the company and its brand and should delve into the essential responsibilities, activities, qualifications, and skills for a role. It will also provide details around the company’s mission, culture, and benefits the employee can expect.


The responsibilities and duties listed in the job description should emphasize the responsibilities/duties that are unique to the position and organization. It should help applicants understand the work environment and the activities they should expect daily. The responsibilities/duties are usually listed in order from most important to least important.

As you read through responsibilities/duties, make a list of the one you’ve done in your previous jobs

Qualifications and Skills

The job description should specify education, previous job experience, certifications, and technical skills required for the role. It may also include soft skills, like communication, problem-solving, and personality traits that would enhance the applicant’s fulfillment of the position.

Qualifications/skills will often be labeled as Required, Preferred, or Desired. So what does that mean for you as an applicant? Required: “You’d better have this, or don’t bother applying.” Preferred: “We’d like it if you know how to do this because it’s essential.” Desired skills: “It would be neat if you knew how to do this.”

Jargon and Buzzwords

Some words and phrases are often just buzzwords that recruiters and managers use in every job description. Keep an eye out for wording such as passionate, committed, team player, responsible, dynamic interpersonal skills, ability to work independently, detail-oriented, and analytical skills.

Narratives vs Characteristics

There are times when the information provided in a job description can feel like they are telling you about the company when they are just using exciting things to draw you in. It takes practice to decide what the description is telling you the company’s “Narrative” vs. just selling you neat “Characteristics.”

So what exactly is the difference between a narrative and characteristics?

A narrative should help you understand what story they are trying to tell

  • Who are they as a company?
  • What do they do?
  • Why do they do it?

The characteristics are features they are advertising. They usually have little meaning when learning about the company or the job.

  • Cool Location
  • Adult Beverages
  • Fun Activities

Spot a Fake Job Posting

Avoid postings that sound too good to be true.

  • Overly high salary for low skills level
  • Job posts that state no skills or experience required
  • Promise perfect hours and benefits

If it is truly an ideal job, they would not need to advertise.

Avoid job postings that ask you to pay a fee. Keep in mind that legitimate recruiters are paid by employers, not by potential job candidates. A requirement to pay for training materials or web training seminars should also raise a red flag. A legitimate company will not require you to pay for your training.

Avoid companies requesting your personal information before your interview, or you receive an offer for a position.

What do employers want?

Whether you are a recent grad making a career change or a developer moving on to a second or third position, companies want to know some information about you.

  • Can you show them that you can do the work required?
  • Do you have the ability to learn and grow?
  • Can you work individually and on team projects?
  • What value do you bring to their story?
  • Are you Hungry, Humble, and Smart?

Humble: Will you demonstrate strong alignment towards the team’s goals, and prioritize collective wins over individual ones. Humble team players are self-confident, but not arrogant.

Hungry: Hungry people are motivated, diligent, and have a strong desire to do more by going above and beyond. They are always looking for more responsibility and thinking about the next step and the next opportunity (for the team).

Smart: Smart people can conduct themselves in a group situation and deal with others in the most effective way. They ask questions, listen to what others are saying, and stay engaged in conversations intently. Smart people exercise excellent judgment and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and are fully aware of the effect their words will have on the team.

Source: The Ideal Team Player

Questions to Ask Yourself

As you are reading through job postings, there are also questions you will want to ask yourself.

  • Can I grow at this company?
  • Does this fulfill my passions?
  • Is the salary worth my career move?
  • Do my skills meet the requirements?
  • Will I fit into the company culture?

Comparing Companies and Positions

While you are conducting your job search, there are additional questions you will want to consider. The answers will help you determine what the right fit is for you.

What are you looking for in an employer?

  • Flexible work options
  • Location
  • Company size
  • Fun office culture
  • Transparent leadership system.

Ready to Apply?

  • Do your homework

    • Did you find the company narrative? Does it speak to you?
    • Dig a bit more into their work, code, and team
    • LI, GitHub, FB, Twitter, Meetups, and community
    • Put time into the application process
    • Update your resume to fit the position
  • What is your last step...

    • How does the employer want you to respond?
    • Make sure you’ve found out the company’s preferred method of communication.
    • Don’t plan to email a resume if the organization wants you to apply through its online job portal.


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