Myths Transitioning Veterans Believe, Part 11: Job Descriptions Are Accurate
In the military, job descriptions are standardized and are similar within each service. So, an Army or Marine infantry squad leader can expect similar standards and duties no matter the unit. In the civilian world, human resources professionals spend a lot of time chasing down hiring managers to write job descriptions for each position. Usually those descriptions are filed away and used only for posting open jobs and occasionally as a reference in an annual performance review. As a result, titles like marketing manager and territory director can mean very different things in diverse industries and companies.
It is incumbent upon the veteran job seeker to research and determine through networking what the “real” job description is before applying for and accepting a new job. This is not easy and many job seekers will dismiss the need when they have access to a written job description from the company. As we will see, as with many aspects of the civilian employment world, things are not always what they seem at first glance.
How Job Descriptions Are Written
Although seemingly written with authority and detail, most company job descriptions are hastily prepared using a document template from an earlier company position. Typically, the document author just keeps the requirements from the last job. For example, “bachelor’s degree, four years of industry experience etc.” Some of these items are “must haves” but many are either “nice to have” or not even relevant. These latter requisites live on with the unfortunate effect of discouraging candidates who do not comply with all the “requirements” yet are otherwise good fits with the actual organizational need.
Because multiple decision makers usually influence the creation of a job position, there is a “kitchen sink effect” where everyone’s favorite job requirements are compounded in the description. For example, a standard territory sales manager might add “Spanish speaking bilingual candidates are preferred” requirement but that is only included for the sake of the Miami and Laredo territories. No one else cares about Spanish speaking ability but the unwary job applicant thinks she is not competitive because her Spanish is poor or nonexistent.
Similar to this factor is the “CYA” political consideration when certain certifications and other qualifications are added largely for show. For example, a description may call for “up-to-date CPR and first aid certifications” even though the hiring manager can’t even remember why those requirements are listed.
Veterans should never conclude that they are not competitive for a given position just because they do not conform to a few items on a job description. If the hiring managers like you and believe that you can do the “real” job, it will not matter if you lack a few of the stated criteria.
The Real Job Description
The “real” description for a job is not 2-4 pages long and it is never filed with Human Resources. Instead, it refers to the actual need in question. The job seeker must uncover the “real” job description to win the job and excel after starting.
Consider these “real” job descriptions:
Customer service manager: Keep the team motivated enough to keep customer defections below 30% while dealing with completely hysterical and unreasonable, borderline crazy, customers on the phone.
Sales manager – Keep the team selling at a level 15% above last year even though the company’s product is two years behind the competitor’s newest offering.
Controller – Keep the senior executives out of jail while producing accurate financial statements month and somehow dealing with a Chief Financial Officer who is incompetent and micromanaging.
I injected a bit of humor in these examples, but anyone with real world civilian experience will recognize the authenticity of these needs. The person who can interview effectively while expressing diplomatic insight into these authentic needs will be ahead of the game.
How to Learn the “Real” Job Description
Not surprisingly, it is networking with people that leads to the insightful understanding of real job descriptions. If you don’t get on the inside to learn what is actually needed, how can you expect to gain this intelligence? The official or posted need is almost never what the employer is really seeking.
Uncovering the “real” job description at an organization invariably follows the answering of three questions. By explicitly asking these questions or at least trying to answer them yourself, you will uncover the real job description.
- What is the problem or challenge being addressed?
- What kind of person can solve or address the need?
- How will success be measured or determined?
As you network in and around the target company, you will collect pieces of information that fill in the story. Sometimes it is very simple as in “we want someone who can sell $500,000 per year of our service.” Other times, it is more abstract like “we need someone who understands the technical and artistic needs of website design but can relate to the sales type people who run our marketing effort.”
Veterans can put themselves at a disadvantage when they fail to uncover the “real” job description. Get beyond the buzz words to understand what is truly required. Jobs are not standardized like they are in the military even when employers think or say they are. Employers will be impressed at your insight and intelligence when you perceive and articulate the real need beyond the stated one.