What does that mean? Learn to understand position descriptions

understanding position descriptions

It’s fair to say the majority of you reading this right now have applied for at least one job in your life, so you’ve probably come across one of the weirder parts about getting a job: the position description. If you haven’t, do a quick job search for graduate positions, read a few and then come back to this article. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

Can you explain what you just read? Chances are, probably not.

Depending on the number of job listings you just read, you probably spotted a few key similarities and a few key differences. Firstly, most position descriptions have a common language which is very different from regular, everyday language. Many will include phrases such as:

  • Developing and managing professional working relationships
  • Analysing centre operations to provide support
  • Direct clients to appropriate sections
  • Provide timely and effective support
  • Proactive gathering of market intelligence
  • Identifying opportunities

Secondly, there’s an infinite number of ways a job listing can be set out and described. Some will include sections called “The Role”, “Key Responsibilities” or simply “Job Description”, as well as a section called “Requirements”, maybe something on the company, and a “Desirable”, “Good to Have” or “Ideally” section. Some may have other sections or not include others.

Other listing may choose not to have any sections and instead have five or six paragraphs going through everything. Some are in third person (“the ideal candidate will have these skills”), others are in second person (“you will have these skills”), and there are some in first person (“we want a candidate with these skills”).


What does this all mean?

The good news is it’s not too difficult to work it out. It might surprise you to learn that despite their unusual language and differences in layout, once you translate them and break them down into their parts, they’re all asking you to do the same thing: prove you have the soft and hard skills required to perform this job.

Let’s first look at the language. Terms like “develop”, “manage”, “provide”, “gather” and “support” are all verbs (action words) related to a task. They may sound complicated and possibly describing something you’ve never done before, but at their base, they’re really saying “create”, “take care of”, “give”, “take” and “help”.

Then there are terms like “professional relationships,” “support” and “market intelligence”. Again, they sound complicated but are actually pretty basic. “Professional relationships” is a way of describing the interactions and connections you have with co-workers and people outside of your business – also known as “clients”. “Market intelligence” just refers to any knowledge you might have of the industry you work in.

With that in mind, a phrase like “developing and managing professional working relationships” is really saying: can you get on with others? Pretty simple, right?

The other thing to bear in mind is that while no two position descriptions are alike, they are all very purposeful. Regardless of whether the description lists the details of a role, the “key responsibilities”, the specific requirements needed from you, or if it is several paragraphs without subheadings, the information contained within is there for a reason: you have to address it at some point in your job application.

If the position description says the job will involve “developing promotional collateral for a diverse range of stakeholders” (create content for people in different areas), then you’ll need to prove you’ve done that at some point in time. If it lists a tertiary qualification as a requirement, you need to say “I have this degree”.

The exception to this is anything listed as desirable or good to have. These are not a strict requirement and as such don’t need to be directly addressed, but if you meet those criteria, it’s a good idea to mention it in your application as well.

As well as detailing the requirements of the position, a position description is also a useful resource of other information. Many will provide you with a very brief description of the company you’re applying for. Again, this is very purposeful because like you should be doing, your prospective employer is telling you what they want you to know about them. Does that mean you’re a good fit for their organisation?

Successful Graduate can help you understand your core values and give you tips on how to find out whether those values fit with a prospective employer’s. Already have a few areas down and only want to learn one section? We’ve got you covered! You can now purchase module packs. We recommend trying the Skills and Attributes package to learn more about yourself and how to research others.


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