Understanding Your Employment Ad


As an unemployed job hunter, one of the skills I have had to acquire is how to read between the lines of employment advertisements.  While the want ads hardly qualify as great literature, having been a college English major has turned out to be an asset in interpreting what can often seem like a foreign language.  The wording of many ads contains much in the way of subtext and subtlety, simile and symbolism, all of which lends itself to the same style of explication de texte as is a work of poetry.

The following is a description of just a few of the elements that you may wish to consider in understanding your employment ad:


Most help wanted ads do not list a wage or salary.  The reason for this should be obvious:  This simply isn’t a very important factor in deciding whether to apply for a particular position.  Wouldn’t you agree?

A notable exception is in the public sector (such as federal and state jobs), where the salary for most positions is public information and may even be set by law.  In ads for public sector jobs, you can expect a salary range (either per month or per year), such as “$3650-$5025.”  However, don’t be misled into believing that the successful candidate may start at a salary anywhere within the stated range, depending on experience.  Generally, the low number constitutes the starting salary; public employees advance by steps, usually annually, until the high end of the range is reached.  After that, salary generally remains the same from year to year, sometimes with a cost-of-living allowance added.  Many applicants are led astray by salary ranges.  For example, an applicant who has many years of experience in this position and would like to earn about $5000 monthly may be in for quite a disappointment when $3650 is offered.

This is not to say that an applicant can’t make a counteroffer for any type of job.  If salary is not set by law or union contract, there is almost always an opportunity for the successful applicant to negotiate money.  The worst they can do is say no!  Remember, the very fact that the job has been offered to you means that the employer is very interested in bringing you on board and might be inclined to throw you a bit more money to snag your services.  Of course, there will always be employers who operate under a “take it or leave it” model and would be just as happy to move on to another candidate who is sufficiently desperate to accept their pathetic offer.  These are the employers who have a revolving door and have to continuously recruit and hire.  Why?  Because their employees will bolt at the first opportunity to earn a couple bucks an hour more (see Arrogant SOBs, below).

Travel (The 4 I’s)

Some management positions require travel, but many do not.  A well-written job announcement should specify not only whether travel is expected, but also how much — 20%, 40%, 60%, etc.  This should be obvious, as it is a waste of the time of both the employer and the applicant to prepare and examine applications for positions requiring travel from candidates who, for example, are unable to be away from home much for health reasons or due to child care or elder care responsibilities.

Unfortunately, many ads for managers (in)conveniently make no mention of how much travel is required.  Sometimes, however, the wording of the job announcement can give you a hint.  For example, if the ad states “passport or ability to obtain one required,” that’s a pretty good clue that international travel will be the order of the day, and probably not just once or twice a year either.  The successful candidate in this position is likely to fall victim to the four Is:  iPhone, I’m at the airport, I’m on a plane and I don’t recognize you, are we married or something?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not being a prima donna here.  I realize that some amount of sacrifice for the company is an integral component of a management position.  I don’t like planes and I like to sleep in my own bed every night, but I certainly will not object to flying to a decaying Rust Belt city two or three times a year to make presentations at conferences, even though it will likely involve changing planes in Phoenix and again in Dallas.  Nor will I balk at occasionally packing up and heading to Peoria or Missoula to hold the hand of a panicked client.  But I won’t do it every other week, nor will I do it if the same thing can be accomplished in our conference room over Skype.


Businesses, particular larger ones, frequently include employee or applicant testimonials on their jobs site for the purpose of serving up a heaping helping of palaver regarding how great it is to work at the company.  Having said that, please take a look at this applicant’s testimonial.

So, to summarize:  Mr. Carlozo worked as a freelancer (no steady paycheck and who knows if the company will accept and pay for your latest article or not?), then became a contracted editor, then was “let go.”  So what did he do?  He went back to freelancing for these people!  I mean, does this guy live in his mother’s basement or something?

As if that’s not enough, then he writes a testimonial gushing about how his sometime employer considered him for (gasp) a full-time position by flying him out to Virginia and then to New York for a series of interviews.  The company emphasized that this had to be done immediately so they could hire him before a hiring freeze went into effect (now there’s a red flag warning!).  The interviews went great, he felt important but they did not hire him!  So what happened then?  He went back to a temporary contracted position with the company.

And this is supposed to be a testimonial?  I sat here slack-jawed reading this piece.  There are no words.  I suppose I should say “fool me once, shame on you; fool me eight times, shame on me.”

The Russians

The old Communist Party in Russia was intolerant of any ideas that deviated in the slightest from the party line.

Some employers emulate the Russian Communists in their job announcements.  Rather than acknowledging the wide range of experiences and ideas that applicants could bring to the table to help improve their businesses, these employers tell you exactly what they want you to think.  This allows applicants who do not share the employer’s philosophies to decide whether they are willing to adjust their thinking to the company’s narrow mandates or whether they should just look elsewhere.  I vote for the latter, and many of these employers would agree.

For example, an employer with the Russian Communist mindset might start a job announcement with a statement something like this:  “If you think that <fill in the blank>, we’re not interested.  But if you think that <company’s party line>, we’re not only interested, we’ll roll out the red carpet for you.”

Another style of the Communist approach goes something like this:  “Those who are not technically oriented need not apply.”

When you see this, I recommend that you run for the hills.  And how exactly would you define “technically oriented,” Mr. Moskva?  Do you require many years of experience with C++ and Java programming, or just a passing acquaintance with HTML?  Are you rejecting out of hand the artists among us who appreciate beauty and speak and write well, but don’t know their way around coding?  How about those who can crunch your numbers like there’s no tomorrow and provide accurate forecasting?  What about the visionaries and ideas people?  Do you honestly believe that only techies have anything of value to offer your company?

If you apply for these types of jobs, be prepared for your square peg to be shoved into the company’s round hole.  These employers deserve what they get.

The Arrogant SOBs

After noticing an interesting job announcement, I did some reading online to give me a better idea of whether this is a company for which I would like to work.  (Believe me, it’s worth it to do a little research.)  The company had recently opened a call center nearby and a local newspaper interviewed a manager about the hiring drive they were conducting.  The manager explained that the company had selected our rural area in the hope that employees will be “more loyal” than they were at the previous call center in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It’s all about money, people.  Let’s take a moment to read between the lines and decode what these arrogant asses are really saying:

  1. We want to pay employees less, so we’re relocating over here where the cost of living is lower and jobs are more scarce.
  2. We were stuck in a vicious cycle of recruiting, hiring and training in the Bay Area because we couldn’t keep our employees.  Why?  We were underpaying them and they bolted the second they got a little experience under their belts and were able to earn better wages at one of our competitors down the street.

Funny how employers refuse to pay more when they can pay less, but chastise employees who refuse to accept less when they can get more.  Go figure.


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