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If job postings are windows into the working world, maybe somebody needs to clean the glass, because it can be awfully hard to know what you’re really seeing! That’s why the first letter in REAL stands for “Read between the lines” when you read job postings.

In this post I’ll tell you how to do that, as well as how to Evaluate the fit, Apply with an advantage and Learn from the experience so you’ll have a better chance, not only with that job but with other opportunities that may follow.

Read between the lines.

Reading a job posting very carefully can save you a lot of time if you realize the job isn’t really for you. It can also help you land the job if it turns out to be a great fit.

Watch for clues. For example:

A catch-all job description or vague language like “other duties as required” may mean it’s a new role and they still aren’t sure what it will entail. That could be a disaster or an opportunity. If you obtain an interview, ask questions like “Is this a new position? If so, what need was it created to fulfill?” Present yourself as the answer to that need.
A casual, lively tone and/or an emphasis on having fun, might tell you that most of the people there are young. That may be a great thing, but if you’re older, make sure you know how to ace an interview when the boss is younger than you.
Verbiage like “self-starter” and “work independently” could be a tipoff that you won’t get much guidance or training.
“Solution-oriented” could mean you’ll have lots of fires to put out, and little help doing so.
“Works well under pressure,” “committed” or “fast-paced” could mean long hours. But don’t just assume! Research it through sites like Glassdoor and via word of mouth. And at the interview, tell stories that illustrate your dedication, but also ask questions such as “What’s the typical work week like here?” and “In my past roles there have always been some crunch times when we all worked late or on weekends to get the job done. What does that look like here?”
Was the job been posted a month ago, or longer? Even if the company is reputable, it may not be a real job.

And remember, the human resources employee who wrote the job announcement may not deeply understand the role they’re describing. If you’re really interested in a certain opening, research the company and also plan some tactful and probing questions to ask at the interview.

Reading the posting carefully will already put you ahead of many of your competitors. One company was so tired of receiving resumes from candidates who hadn’t read the description that they added this to the posting: “To make sure you read the job description, please add the word ‘moussaka’ to your cover letter.” I’m sure there were many “moussaka-free” applications, but they never stood a chance!

Evaluate the Fit

Assuming you’re still interested in the job, will the employer be interested in you? Is it worth applying if you don’t have 100% of the experience, skills and credentials mentioned? First, ask yourself these questions:

Am I confident I could do this job, and if so, why?
Is there a talent shortage for jobs like this?
Would a person with 100% of the requested qualifications be extremely hard to find (what some recruiters call a “purple squirrel”)?
Do I have at least 80% or 90% of what they’re looking for?
Do I have “REV Points”—key selling points that are highly Relevant, Exceptional and Verifiable—strong enough to outweigh what I’m lacking?
Do I have the qualifications listed at the beginning of the posting, and the ones labeled as “required” as opposed to “pluses”?
Do I have a personal connection?
Am I willing to do some additional networking or phone calling to get the attention of the hiring manager?

If you can answer “yes” to some of these questions, you may have a good shot at getting an interview. If not, you may want to skip straight to the “L” in REAL (see below).

Apply with an advantage

It’s not uncommon for a job announcement to draw a couple of hundred applicants. Beyond sending a great resume and following the application instructions, there are some extra steps you can take to stand out from the crowd, for example:

Find allies within the company and get a personal referral. This is best done far in advance. Developing these connections is the main thing I mean when I talk about effective networking.
Make sure your online presence, especially your LinkedIn profile, will sway the recruiter towards putting you on their short list. This, too, is best done in advance.
Call the hiring manager—and handle the conversation effectively.
Be well prepared for the phone screening.

Learn from the posting, whether you apply or not.

Last but definitely not least: capitalize on job announcements as a fantastic source of information, not only about this job but about the job market and your position in it.

Keep a list of keywords and skills you’re seeing often in postings. To the extent you can honestly do so, include those terms in your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile.
If you’re repeatedly seeing interesting postings that call for skills you don’t have, consider building those skills.
If the postings keep emphasizing certain soft skills that you abundantly have but don’t know how to prove, gather social proof for them.
If a job isn’t right for you but the company sounds great, consider adding it to your target companies list for ongoing networking. The fact that they’re hiring–even if not for your target role–may indicate growth and future opportunities.
Look up anything you don’t know. If you see a technology or skill you aren’t familiar with, you can probably at least get conversant with what it’s used for and what other tools/skills are similar to it. If it looks like a trend, make sure you’re well informed about it. Job postings are a window into your target job market and your industry–a great way to poke your head out of your professional cubbyhole and discover what’s new.
Prepare for interviews by developing examples (stories) that show you have the experience and qualifications mentioned in the postings.

So remember to be REAL when you read a job posting. Read, Evaluate, possibly Apply and always Learn!