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Why are Job Postings so Unrealistic?

Suppose you have looked at 10 job postings in the last year. It is likely that at least one, if not more, was so dense, so qualification heavy, so unbelievably long that your brain nearly malfunctioned trying to determine how a candidate could be that good.

Even if you haven’t been on the job hunt, I’m sure, at the very least, you have come across a role with unrealistic qualifications matched with poor compensation. Albeit not as excessive as what I stated above. Case and point:

What is the deal?

Why do employers expect so much?

How could anyone ever have all these qualifications?

The biggest misconception about job postings I hear from my clients and other job seekers is that employers are searching for the perfect candidate. While it can occur, the reasons for the dense and qualification-heavy postings are often not so simple. But then why intimidate job seekers with job postings that require two careers’ worth of experience?

Well, get cozy. I’m about to demystify the reasons job postings can be so insane.

But I Thought They Wanted a Unicorn?

If I had a penny for every LinkedIn post or comment that I have read where a person has chastised HR, recruitment, and job postings for unrealistic standards, I’d probably still not be rich. But I’d have a lovely new coffee mug, at least.

The point is if this is such a glaring issue in the eyes of potential candidates, why does it still happen?

The Job Posting is a Copy/Paste of The Job Description

Yes, there is a difference. A job description is usually an internal document that, in vivid detail, outlines the essential duties, qualifications, skills, education, functions, tasks, accountabilities, working conditions, and competencies of a position.

Whereas a job posting is an external document used to market the position and attract qualified and competitive candidates.

Why does this matter? Because far too often, recruiters or hiring managers are relying on this information word-for-word. A job description often includes things an employee may do or does very little of, as it is used for compensation and legal reasons. Meaning, you could look at a posting that requires a knowledge of Python, but the reality is the incumbent only needs to rely on it once a year, if ever. This is an extreme example, but the point is simple. Many elements included may not be crucial for the role and many of the qualifications are probably not required.

Another similar issue occurs when new organizations or growing organizations rely on job descriptions or postings that other companies or the government made. The problem is the description may not reflect the realities of the role and that often pre-made government JDs are needlessly descriptive.

The Job Posting/Job Description was not Updated Properly

As mentioned, a job description is an internal document. The problem is, it is not updated as often as it should be. Year over year positions, incumbents, and HR professionals change, which can lead to the job description not being updated correctly. Similarly, recruiters don’t always update job postings or not extensively; in fact according to Harvard:

A majority (72%) of employers surveyed acknowledged that when creating a new job posting for middle-skills workers, they used the existing job posting or slightly modified it. Only 19% of employers significantly modified an existing job description template, and only 8% created a completely new job description for middleskills workers. For high-skills workers, 38% of employers either used the same template or slightly modified it; 35% of employers significantly modified an existing job description template; and only 25% created a completely new job description. The resulting aggregation of job requirements has perverse effects. Over time, these requirements come to resemble the rings on a tree trunk; new requirements are added to those accumulated over time.

As Harvard points out, this can cause ballooning postings with excessive qualifications, skills, and expectations. Even worse, there is often no contribution from incumbents or subject matter experts in drafting these documents, which can cause it to get further and further from reality as years go by. As below:

Only one-third of the respondents to our survey indicated that such colleagues [SMEs] were involved in creating or editing job descriptions. Such processes risk bias in wording and error bred in a lack of an informed understanding of what skills are actually required to do a specific job.

The cumulative reality is a job posting that is distanced from the role via lack of understanding, poor processes, and simple laziness. And often results in a posting that is so full of excessive and unnecessary requirements that it dissuades qualified candidates from applying.

The Employer Want’s That Crazy Unicorn

On rare occasions, an employer may have a very specific role they are hiring for that requires an unrealistic or unusual combination of skills. This doesn’t mean that they are looking for the perfect candidate or have a skill list so long it makes War and Peace seem modest. It means they have a posting that is so specific; it defies what many job seekers would deem as being fair.

For example, I worked with a client who had extensive project management experience in Oil & Gas, and as a part of that, he had developed in-house PM-related tools. He applied for a position that required Oil & Gas project management experience, product management experience, and experience in developing in-house software tools. This was a rare combination of skills, and while he was hired for the role, he indicated that it was because he was the only candidate with experience in each.

Postings like this exist because organizations can have very specific demands for positions or projects.

Employer’s Actually Want Someone Perfect

Whether it’s arrogance, inexperience, or simply a glaring ignorance of the realities of the job market, there are times, albeit not as common as you would like to believe, that employers want the unicorn.

This typically stems from job market misunderstandings or unrealistic optimism. But when this happens, and an employer posts a job with qualifications that would make Iron Man blush, it leads to a woefully inadequate candidate pool. Even the most cutthroat employers recognize the pitfalls of this practice, for example:

As employers reflected on their hiring experience during the bull market for labor between January 2017 and January 2020, 47% of business leaders reported that only half or fewer of their middle-skills hires met all of the job’s requirements listed in their job postings. For high-skills hires, only 21% of employers reported that all of their high-skills hires over the previous three years met all of the job requirements listed in their job postings.

The point is, many employers do not expect you to be completely qualified. In fact, this study, which I quote more often than I would like to admit, exemplifies just that. It is why I tell my candidates to apply to roles they are around 50% qualified for, as this table shows:

The Posting is Bogus, Made in Error, Accidental, or has Errors

Another issue is that the job posting is made in error, posted with the wrong information, or marked “entry-level” via a technical issue.

Occasionally third parties are responsible for postings. The issue with this is that unless they have spoken with someone to provide insight about the role, the content may not reflect the position. For example, they could use the content for a Director of Sales position that they have previously used, but the company they are currently working with has 10 employees where the content was generated for an organization that had 500. This is an extreme example, and most employers recognize this and amend it, but not always. Third parties can also misunderstand the roles they are hiring for, so I would recommend doing more research and seeing if the role is posted on a company website as well.

Finally, job boards can crawl the internet for open roles to host them on their sites. This can also negatively impact the quality of the post for a variety of reasons. But from what I understand, primarily the accuracy of the parsed data can be mediocre or flat out wrong. (Not an expert on this one!)

As for bogus roles, these are straight-up just scams. Someone with no hiring experience copy and pastes a position, you apply, or more likely, they reach out to you, and the content and execution don’t add up. “So, you want to pay me $200K+ a year, and all I need to do is give you my SIN and banking info? Sign me up!” Accidental errors can occur when ATSs feed job posts to different job boards. This is a means to save time, but there are occasionally issues with the job board marking the role inaccurately. This could be why you see some “entry-level” roles that are, without question, not entry-level. I feel that this is what occurred in the image I posted.

What Should You Do?

It is important to point out that many job postings are a Wishlist, inaccurate, updated poorly, or not a set-in-stone guideline. Meaning, if you do not meet all the qualifications, you can still have a very good chance of getting an interview. In fact, most recruiters and hiring managers don’t expect applicants to be 100% qualified or even MOSTLY qualified as I have already discussed.

My advice is to apply for jobs you are at least 50% qualified for. The best resume in the world will not make up for lack of fundamental skills, qualifications, and experiences. Streamline your job search as much as possible.

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