How to Efficiently Understand What an Organization is Looking For in a Job Description

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Have you ever read a long, three to four-page job description and still have a sense of confusion by the time you’re finished? Many job postings for life science professionals are extensive and include many components. It’s not uncommon to be a little overwhelmed by a detailed job description. Many life science professionals even wonder, ‘What is this organization really looking for?’

If you don’t know how to quickly and effectively review job postings and understand if you’re a good fit for the position, you can waste hours of time reading and applying for jobs without getting any interviews. Expending countless hours of time and energy usually leads to frustration and burnout during a job search. Here are some tips to understanding what a company is really looking for in a job description! These aspects will not only help you determine what’s really important, but the details can also help you position yourself as an ideal candidate on your resume and during the interviewing process.

Start with the requirements

This might sound obvious, but most job postings list their actual requirements (for education, credentials and training) at the end of the job description. This leads most people to read the entire posting, only to get to the end and see that they are missing out on a major requirement. If that’s the case, you might have wasted a few minutes, which can add up over time. Try scanning the entire job description first, to find the non-negotiable requirements before reading the entire thing. It’s best if you meet all (or almost all) of the position requirements. If you don’t, there might be a way for you to still convince the hiring manager that you are a top candidate, based on your resume and/or interviews.

Consider any preferences they have

In addition to a requirements section, many job postings have key skills or credentials that they list as “preferred.” Try to isolate those preferences during your scan of the job posting. Does the organization prefer candidates within their area of specialty? Or, are they open to anyone with the proper research and scientific background? These types of preferences are generally thought of as “nice to haves", but not eliminating factors for candidates. Ideally, you’d want to meet the requirements and preferences.

Research any qualifications you don’t know

When looking over a wide range of job descriptions, you might come across terminology or qualifications that you aren’t familiar with. If you are interested in that role, research those qualifications and any corresponding terminology that you don’t know. Once you find out exactly what everything means, are you still excited about the position? Do you think you’d be able to address the aspects of the job pertaining to those qualifications? Are you eligible to apply for the qualifications or get certified in those highlighted areas?

Be competent in the job duties/responsibilities

Finally, you want to dig into the job duties and responsibilities listed. This section is usually listed towards the beginning of a job posting and can include the most detail. Most life science professionals start reading here and they might begin feeling extremely positive about a job. Later, they get to the requirements and preferences sections of the job description and start to feel bad about themselves because they don’t have certain things. By then, they’ve wasted time reading the job posting. It’s important to be competent in the job duties and responsibilities if you plan to apply for a job. However, you can quickly move on to searching for other positions prior to reviewing the duties, using a more structured approach.

Click to browse jobs in the life sciences

If you’ve ever felt like you’ve wasted a lot of time looking for jobs (without truly understanding if you were a good fit), there are a few tips you can use to help. Start with scanning the document to find the job requirements regarding education, background, and training. Next, see if you can quickly find any other preferences listed in the description. If you come across qualifications or terminology you don’t know, do a quick online search to learn what they mean. At that point, looking at the job duties and responsibilities to determine your level of competency is a good idea. What can you incorporate in order to help you better understand a job description?

Porschia Parker is a Certified Coach, Professional Resume Writer, and Founder of Fly High Coaching. ( She empowers ambitious professionals and motivated executives to add $10K on average to their salaries.

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