Some job ads can baffle even the most seasoned job hunter. Here’s how to make sense of them.

For some, searching for a new job can be daunting. So let’s simplify what those job ads are saying to you.

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Understanding the job ad and description is the key to success in getting the job you want. When you understand the job requirements, you can tailor your application by highlighting your skills, attributes and experiences to match what employers are looking for.

The job ad vs. the job description

The aim of the job ad is to grab your attention and give you an understanding of the role and the type of person they’re looking for in terms of experience, skills and fit.

Job ads usually follow a similar order. The most important requirements of the job at the beginning and the least important at the end. This can help you assume the employer's priorities so you can present your application to match.

The job description, on the other hand, will describe the actual role in more details. It will include the main tasks, important skills and what you’ll need to bring to the business and deliver.

For example, where the job ad says "needs to be a strong communicator", the job description may outline the specific responsibilities that require good communication skills – like being able to deal with customers.

Try not to get intimidated by a wordy or technical job description. If you're struggling to understand it, remember the main parts of the job will be summarised in the ad.

Don't have all the skills or experience? Don't worry…

Don’t let the mandatory skills section of the ad discourage you. Don't be put off applying for a job if you don't tick all the boxes.

According to HBR: Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

“Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.”

Pat Cody, careers advisor for Careers New Zealand, says, "The mandatory skills section isn't as scary as you think – you just need to understand what skills you bring to the table and apply as many of those as you can. If you aren't quite sure if you have a certain skill set, there are many ways you can self-assess. The most helpful is actually talking to people.”

"If you've had previous jobs, ask colleagues to remind you what your strengths and capabilities are. Another good option is to look at old performance reviews or job descriptions. If you get stuck, you can always call a careers advisor at Careers New Zealand for some guidance."

“You also need to determine whether or not you're a good fit for the organisation that is advertising the role. Do some research into the business to see if it's actually somewhere you'd like to work”.

Selling yourself and the importance of personal attributes

A good employer will recognise that most people have potential. Cody explains that they're not just looking for what you can do but also what you will do: "When it comes to applying for a job, you need to show the employer what value you'll add to the business and the problem you'll solve for them. How you fit into the culture of the business is a crucial consideration. If a candidate ticks all the boxes from a qualifications and experience perspective but is difficult to work with, it can cause all kinds of problems for a business. So highlighting your personal attributes is a really important part of the application process."

Many job seekers struggle with how to work personal qualities into a job application. Cody explains, "Saying 'I'm motivated' doesn’t mean much to an employer unless you can back it up with some evidence. A far stronger statement would be, 'I'm a highly motivated person – as captain of the school soccer team I had to be focussed and ensure players were on their game at all times'."

Some highly sought-after personal attributes include:

  • honesty

  • ability to learn on the job

  • manners and courtesy

  • sense of humour

  • positive attitude

  • self-confidence

  • personal presentation

  • responsibility

  • self-management

  • motivated.

The skills you don’t even know you have

Each advertised role may have a list of very specific essential skills but employers are also interested in a number of generic skills that can be gained in almost all aspects of life, such as:

  • communication skills – verbal and written

  • computing skills

  • ability to work as part of a team

  • ability to critically analyse information

  • ability to rationally solve problems

  • creativity

  • flexibility

  • leadership.

Like with personal attributes, think about ways you can demonstrate these skills both at work and home. For example, you may be able to demonstrate your communication skills through your understanding of social media, or your role in a community group might demonstrate flexibility and teamwork.

If you think you've got what it takes, prove it!

Your CV and cover letter are the first and possibly the last impression you'll make when applying for a job. You have to sell yourself in a way that is carefully tailored to the role and covers every aspect of the job description.

Your letter needs to be to the point and directly relate to the employer's needs. Remember the important parts are usually at the beginning of the ad, so you should match this in your letter. Don't waffle short stories about your skills and attributes should be less than 2.5 lines each, and keep your cover letter to less than one page.


Career Dynamic website, accessed June 2016, (

Harvard Business Review:

Cody, P, careers advisor, Careers New Zealand, interview May 2016.

For more careers advice visit our friends at Careers NZ.