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Job Listings: Cracking the Code

By Mary Lorenz

If you've ever looked at a job listing and thought, "I'd be perfect for this job, if only...," you understand the discouragement a lot of job seekers feel.

When it comes to meeting the qualifications for a job, is there any flexibility?  That depends on the employer, but in most cases, the answer is yes.  Certainly, it helps to understand how your own experience and needs match up to what the employer wants and is willing to offer, which isn't always an easy task, thanks to the obscure language typical of many job listings. 

Here are some common job listing terms and what they really mean for job candidates.

"Preferred skills" and "Required skills"

  "When a job listing says 'required,' it's a lot firmer.  Employers are trying to narrow the field," says Tom Allen, director of career services at DeVry University in Decatur, Ga.  A skill that's listed as "preferred" is not necessarily essential for a candidate to have.  In today's competitive world, however, it's unrealistic for employers to expect to get a candidate who meets all of their requirements, and employers may relax some of those requirements for a candidate who meets at least most of the requirements. 'If you meet 50 to 60 percent of the qualifications, that's probably not enough," Allen says. "But if you're pushing past 80 percent, you've got a good shot."

"Command of" and "Working knowledge of'

If you have "working knowledge of" a certain program, you know the basics of how to operate that program; if you have "command of" a program, you have enough experience with it to be able to explain how it works and use it for more complex projects or a higher level of work. 

"Entry-level" and "Experienced"

If a job posting indicates it's an entry-level position, employers are typically looking for someone who has been out of college up to two years, Allen says.  "Experienced" candidates usually have been working for three or more years in the industry or have graduate degrees, which can account for some work experience.

And then there's the little matter of payment...

Confused by the terms like "competitive" or "scale?" When it comes to salary, research is essential. Online search sites like provide the average salary for one's profession, city and level of experience.  By figuring out what the "competitive" salary for that job is, candidates can figure out their worth and put up an asking price that's fair to both themselves and employers. 

If an employer asks for salary requirements, Allen says it's preferable to avoid it altogether, because if you name a salary that's too low, you are selling yourself short; but if you give too high a number, you can automatically take yourself out of the running.  The best way to avoid providing a requirement is to give a range - one that you can live with.  Again, do your research beforehand.

There's less wiggle room, however, when employers ask job seekers to provide salary histories.  Because employers can easily verify a candidate's history, it's best to be up front about that, says Allen, who's known some employers ask to see copies of W-2's.

If you're still unsure as to whether your skills match a certain job or whether you'd fit in with a company, Allen advises getting an inside opinion.  Try to network within the company or the industry in order to meet people who can answer your questions or advise you.
Learning all you can about a company's culture and the job itself is critical to any job search.  Do your research and you'll have an edge over others who are competing for the same position, because you'll be prepared and confident come time for the interview, Allen says. "If you play sports, you practice and train to have as sharp an edge as the other athletes," he says. "Competing for a job is no different."

Copyright 2008 All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.

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