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Job Ad Translations

So I've been at the job hunting game for a while now. I've played it daily over the past year that I've been looking for full-time employment, but I've been dabbling in it ever since the summer of 2007, when I needed to earn the rent for my first sublet while taking first semester chemistry. In library school we also analyzed job ads at least once per semester, not only to prepare ourselves for the market, but also to learn how to write some ads of our own, since librarians are essentially specialized business managers. I've pored through hundreds of job ads, applied to dozens of them, and held eight jobs by my count. I've even been on the other end of it, processing applications for selection.

Over time, I've picked up a few things. Number one is that there's almost always a big gap between what an ad says the employer wants and what they're actually looking for. Below are a few sentences you'll find in every other ad that don't mean what they appear to.

What It SaysWhat It Means
"Up to 37 hours per week, $X/hour."We want someone to work full-time, but we don't want to have to pay them benefits.
"Must be proficient in HTML5, CSS, C++, and Python. Experience with Drupal and Cold Fusion a plus."We're not web developers so we have no idea what we need, but this is what the other ads say they want.
"Excellent communication skills, attention to detail, and ability to work with minimal supervision while following established standards."Automatons only, please. Independent thinkers need not apply.
"Bachelor's degree in Communications, Marketing, Graphic Design, or a related discipline, and a minimum of five years' experience in data management required. Master's degree preferred."We know none that of this is necessary or even relevant for the job, and that no one with these qualifications would accept the salary we're offering. We just wanted to raise the barrier to entry.
"Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled."Review of applications may begin in a month or two. Maybe. If the committee can agree on a date and time to meet.

Here are some other red flags:

Phantom Jobs

  • The job is advertised exclusively on the company website and nowhere else.
  • The open application period is only one or two weeks.
  • The qualifications listed in the ad are highly specific, and it's unlikely that more than a handful of individuals can meet them.

A "phantom job" is an apparent opening that doesn't actually exist. The folks in charge have already chosen someone from within or from their informal network, and they're just going through the motions of advertising and interviewing to give the appearance of impartiality. I was recently the victim of a phantom job posting. Because they made me think I had a chance, I spent a week researching and rehearsing for a presentation, spent $70 on a nice outfit and $40 and gas, and took a day off of work to drive four hours for a twenty-minute interview. Then—surprise!—they chose "another applicant," which is to say, an existing member of staff they had intended to promote from the get-go. They were just yanking my chain.

Affirmative Action

  • "We are strongly committed to diversity in the workplace."
  • "Traditionally underrepresented groups (women and minorities) are especially encouraged to apply."

If you're white (and worse, male), don't bother. Your resume will go right into the shredder. It's illegal and unethical as hell, but what are you going to do about it?

Evidence of High Turnover

  • "Must commit to work at least one full year."

I saw this in bold red letters on a posting that popped up every few months like clockwork. Even flaky college students will stick with a job if it pays decently and offers a pleasant environment. Most likely this position, or the manager who supervises it, is not very pleasant.


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