Get hired remotely, Resumes and cover letters

The right way to read an entry-level job description

How to see if you're a fit, and learn about the company and culture.

So you’ve found an entry-level job description that looks promising. How do you make sure it’s worth your time to apply? The job description can tell you a lot, not just about the role, but about the company and culture. Take the time to read the job description carefully. Then, use the job description to help you tailor your application.

Breaking down the sections of a job description

Job title

The same role type can have very different titles at different companies. For example, Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) can also be called Business Development Representatives (BDRs). Words like “manager” can also be misleading—are you expected to manage people, or just an area of work? Focus on the job overview and the required key skills to see what you’d actually be doing and if you’re a fit.

Company description

You’re not just seeing if you’re a fit for the job–you’re trying to see if the job and company is a fit for you. How the employer talks about itself can give you a clue about their company culture: Do they use inclusive language? Do they use a lot of jargon, or do they sound more approachable? Are they looking for someone who ‘works well under pressure,” or do they talk about work-life balance?

Employment type

Is this a full time job, part time job, or contract? As a contractor, you may be paid more but have access to fewer benefits, like health insurance, and there may be a fixed term to your employment. (Use the Job Type filter on Handshake to set these preferences).

Job location

Does the company have a remote work option, or will you have to go to the office full time? If it’s in an office, can you manage the commute, or be willing to relocate?

Job overview and duties

This section is the best place to learn what is actually expected of you in the role, and how it fits into the rest of the company. Be sure to read this section and not just the job title! Jobs with the same title can have very different functions in different industries and companies of different sizes.

Required qualifications

This section lists the skills, experiences, and/or certifications you may need to be considered for the role. Skills are usually listed in descending order of importance–the most critical skills for the role are listed first. Use the key words in this section to tailor your resume and cover letter.

Even though the heading says “required,” this list describes the ideal candidate, who may not exist! If you meet at least 60-70% of the requirements, and you feel you’d excel in the role, apply anyway. (Use your judgment: don’t apply to a role that asks for fluency in Spanish if you only took Spanish 101.)

There may also be a “preferred qualifications” section for skills that aren’t mandatory but would help you stand out from other candidates. If you have any of these nice-to-have skills, be sure to highlight them in your resume and cover letter! 

Tip: If the job description has a laundry list of skills that aren’t realistic for an entry-level position, that might be a red flag. It may mean there are unrealistic expectations of the person in the role, or it may just mean the role is poorly defined.

Research the company!

It’s always smart to Google the company: Have they been in the news, for good or bad reasons? Do you see any “green flags,” like winning a “best place to work” award? What does their C-suite look like? Do they release their diversity data publicly?

You can also look at their social media profiles and Glassdoor page (but keep in mind that like all review sites, you’ll probably hear only from the happiest and unhappiest employees).

This info can make you more enthusiastic about the role, or it could help you decide that the role isn’t for you. If you do find something that makes you excited to work there, say that in your cover letter!

What’s the salary?

In a perfect world, a job description would list the salary range. But, if you don’t have that info up front, tools like Glassdoor or Salary.com can give you an idea of what to expect. You can also ask your career services office to connect you with alumni in similar roles, and ask them about their salaries directly.

How to spot a scam

Handshake screens listings to make sure you see only reputable jobs and employers. But you should be ready to spot a fake or misleading job description during your search. Some signs to watch out for:

  • Job descriptions that are short and vague. 
  • Jobs that have almost no requirements listed.
  • Postings that overpromise how much you can earn. If a job sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Any job posting that requires a fee up front. Recruiters get paid by the company, not by the candidate!
  • If a job is commission only, or asks you to buy inventory up front, it might be a posting from a multilevel marketing company.

And remember, never give out sensitive personal info (like your SSN) until you have an offer of employment.

Final check before you apply

Did you follow all application instructions correctly? 

Did you write a cover letter or link to a portfolio, if the role asks for these things? 

Did you tailor your resume? 

Trust your gut

If reading the job description gives you a sense of dread, or the feeling that something is off—don’t apply! It’s not worth it.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

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