Preparing Job Materials: Reading Job Ads

Getting a job is hard work. Higher than normal unemployment and significant increases in the number of college graduates mean that even well-qualified applicants may find it challenging to land the position they want. This chapter endeavors to help you set yourself apart – in a positive way – by improving the one part of the job search you can control: your application materials.

The sections that follow will help you create and improve your job materials by connecting information gleaned from job ads and corporate websites to experience you already have so that you can position yourself as uniquely qualified for the position you want.

Rhetorically Reading a Job Ad

The first step in getting a job is finding the one you want. This section will provide strategies for scanning job ads for key words and using these keywords and phrases to tailor descriptions of relevant experiences for your resume and cover letter.

Where to Find a Job Ad

When looking for a job ad, it is important to consider reputable job searching sites, as well as the websites for particular companies that you might like to work for. Here are some links for reputable job searching sites:

As you survey available opportunities, ask

  • Is there an application deadline?
  • What is the title of the position?
  • Who should the application materials be addressed to?
  • Is this position specific to a particular department within the company?
  • What are the requirements necessary to fill this position? (educational requirements, years of experience, particular knowledge, etc.)
  • What are the responsibilities for this position? In other words, what will you, as an employee, do on a daily basis?
  • Does the position require teamwork?
  • Is this a management position?
  • Does the job ad mention writing or communication skills as a part of the position?
  • Are there any technical proficiencies required for this position?
  • What adjectives does the job ad use to describe the ideal employee?
  • How long has the company been operating?
  • What is the company’s mission statement?
  • What kinds of products or services do they provide?
  • What types of clients does the company serve?

What to Look for in a Job Ad

A job ad is the way companies let potential employees know what they need and what they want in an applicant. The job ad also provides important clues regarding how to talk about your experiences in a way that make them attractive to the employer. Your job as an applicant is to read the job ad critically and to develop a list of key words, phrases, and information related to the position.

Questions to Ask Yourself about Key Information

To answer the remaining questions, you will need to do some external research, such as visiting the company’s website.

Matching Qualifications to Job Ads

After analyzing your ad for key words, use this grid (created by Meredith Johnson) to organize these key words in the “What they want” column according to categories–skills, experiences, education, qualities & values. Then reflect on your own skills, experiences, education, and qualities & values. How do they match up with the keywords you’ve identified? You probably won’t be able to fill in all the blanks in the “What I’ve got” column, but that’s okay.

What they want as outlined in the job ad. List from most important to least important What I’ve got
Skills(i.e. hardware/software skills, writing skills, building skills, etc.)
Example Java and database administration X class at USF that covered Java and X class at USF that covered database administration
Experiences (i.e. jobs, internships, volunteering, co-ops, etc.)
Example 0-2 years experience in  Civil Engineering A co-op at Nederveld Associates, Inc.
Education (i.e. college, high school, seminars, workshops, etc.)
Example College education B.S. from USF
Qualities and values (i.e. hard working, good communicator, etc.)
Example Someone who is responsible Worked as a lifeguard