How to decode employment ad phrases

Larry Buhl, Special to CareerBuilder

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Contrary to many job seekers' fears, employment ads are more likely to be wish lists than demands. But reading these ads, it's often hard to tell what these companies are actually wishing for. It's a good idea to decode confusing phrases before you apply, so you'll avoid wasting time on jobs out of your reach, and not overlook that perfect fit position.

Experience required, or preferred?


  • Experience preferred: The company hopes you have done most of the tasks in the job description. If you haven't you won't automatically be disqualified.



  • Experience required: You should have done most of the tasks of the job advertised. However, the exact amount of experience they want is sometimes negotiable. And remember that your experience can be in a particular field or position, or you might have more general experience or transferable skills that you can apply to the specific job advertised.



  • Will train: It's fine if you don't have direct experience. In some cases -- rare, but it happens -- companies want people without experience, so they won't have to unlearn the ways of a previous employer.


Senior-, junior- or entry-level?

Entry-level jobs require the least experience and are open to candidates just out of school. You should have a few years of experience for a junior-level position, and you must be highly proficient with more than five years of experience, generally, for a senior-level role.

Sometimes the level is implied but not stated in the title itself. For example, "senior administrative assistant" (senior) will require more experience than "administrative assistant," (junior) which will require more experience than "receptionist" (entry level).

Also consider the size of the company. A senior position in a large firm may require decades of experience; in a small company a few years may be adequate.

Knowledge and proficiency


  • Working knowledge of: This means that you should be familiar with the topic, tool, technique or software, but it's not necessary that you've used them.



  • Proficient in: You have handled certain tasks and tools in the past, but may not know the finer points. If you have a year of hands-on experience, that should be enough.

  • Command of: You are so experienced with a task, skill or software that you could teach others how it works.


Personal qualities

Phrases that seem like meaningless jargon are actually ways of finding intangible personal qualities. Some examples:


  • Highly motivated: They want to be sure you have passion and commitment for the job and you're not applying just for a paycheck.



  • Team player and/or good interpersonal skills: They want to know if you work well with others, even if your job requires working independently. Being able to collaborate when necessary is important for most jobs.



  • Works well under pressure: They want to make sure you won't flip out if your deadline is pushed up a day or two.



  • Thinks outside of the box: They want you to have some original and innovative ideas. Then again, they don't want a loose cannon; teamwork almost always takes precedence over genius, no matter what the want ads say.


Be specific in your own résumé.

As confusing as want ads can be for job candidates, résumés can be just as confusing for employers, according to Hassan Akmal, director of career services for DeVry University in Sherman Oaks, Palmdale and Oxnard, California. Akmal recommends working with a counselor who will help you use the terms correctly on your résumé. "You don't want to mislead a hiring manager by inflating your skills. For example, don't say you are experienced in a language when you only know a few words."

Should you apply?
Most career counselors recommend applying even when you don't fit all the criteria. "With so many applicants today, if a company demands a certain number of years of experience, they will find many [candidates] to choose from, but sometimes they will choose a candidate with less experience who shines in other ways," Akmal says.

Jenna Gausman, a career counselor at Santa Monica College, says it's okay to apply for a position that is one step higher or one step lower than your level of experience. "You never know if the organization might just have the opportunity to bring someone up to speed if you don't have all the experience they want. Putting time into a really good cover letter as to why you are ready for the next step will help the candidate land an interview."

Larry Buhl researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.



Last Updated: 07/06/2011 - 12:08 PM


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