Deciphering Job Descriptions

Question: I am looking to make a job shift internally sometime within the next 6 months. When I go to my company’s job postings, I see job descriptions that have a lot of good information but they don’t tell me everything about the job. For instance, it is hard for me to tell how much of the work requires long hours or weekend work or if I can telecommute for part of the time. How can I find out more detail about the job beyond the posted description?

Alice Waagen: One of the most overlooked yet incredibly valuable tools in any job search is the informational interview. An informational interview’s purpose is in its name: you are looking to gather information, not to apply for any job openings.

You can have an informational conversation with the current manager of a job that you may apply for in the future. You can also have information gathering talks with any person who currently holds the job you may want in the future. Because you are not applying for the job but are simply asking questions about it, it is a low-risk casual conversation and ideal for asking the questions about working on the team or for the manager that are not on a standard job description.

Along with asking about work hours and the work environment itself, I always recommend that you ask managers to talk about the relationship they have with their staff:

  • How often do they meet with their direct reports?
  • Do they have team meetings or one-on-ones?
  • What are their requirements around status reports or other paperwork?

These questions help you figure out the day by day life in the position beyond what the job description will tell you. Do query people who currently hold the job if they can share their performance objectives with you. This will also tell you how success is measured by the boss.

Last but not least: Prod current employees for information about what they like and dislike about the work to see how that matches up to your personal expectations. You can even do some research to find employees who previously worked in the position and ask them why they moved on.

All of this research will give you a much fuller picture about a job beyond that which is in the job description.