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Decrypting the job description: What employers are really asking for

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We’ve all been there; you spend hours – sometimes days – crafting the perfect application, only to receive the dreaded generic email telling you you’ve been ‘unsuccessful on this occasion’.

But you’re sure you ticked all the boxes, so why wasn’t your application up to scratch?

To know this, it helps to get inside the mind of the person reading your application.

That’s why we’ve picked apart some of the general phrases you’ll find in job descriptions and what they’re really asking of you.


“Able to perform well under pressure”


You’ll also read:

  • Able to work to a deadline
  • Highly organised
  • Excellent time-management
  • Able to keep up in a fast-paced environment


What this means

Whatever job you do, within a matter of weeks you can start to see a hundred and one things start piling up that you’re expected to manage.

This can be anything from typical day-to-day tasks, big projects on the horizon or super urgent last-minute deadlines (some of which may not even technically be in your job description).

As you can imagine, things have the chance of getting out of control.

So employers want to see that you know how to judge what tasks take priority and how not to let things get on top of you.


How to show it

Have you ever been in a situation where you had almost too many things to do at once?

Maybe you had to organise a social, complete a report, prep for a group presentation, revise for an exam and then had to fill someone else’s shift at work.

Talk about what you did to make sure it all got done in time, what the results were and importantly what you did to make sure it didn’t overwhelm you.


“A real self-starter”


You’ll also read

  • A ‘can-do’ attitude
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Self-motivated
  • Ambitious
  • Driven

What this means

Employers are on the lookout for people who will not just come into the business and do their job, but people who will always be on the lookout for opportunities of where the business can do better.

This means getting to know how things are done, and figuring out what could be done better, what other companies are doing and how your company could adapt.

Your employer won’t expect you to have solved all the world’s problems, but if they can see you’ve taken the initiative to do something different and most importantly, did it without being asked to, you’re the person they’ll want on their team.


How to show it

Did your last company use to spend hours filing documents in a certain way until you pointed out there was a way to do it in half the time?

While this may not sound like much, it would have improved efficiency across the company – something that’s needed in every company.

It doesn’t matter what the scale of your change is – just be sure to talk about it!


“Hit the ground running”


You’ll also read

  • Enthusiastic
  • Passionate
  • Eager to excel
  • Likes a challenge


What this means

Often confused for ‘be able to take on a million things straight away and do them perfectly’.

We can’t deny that some jobs will see you taking on a lot of responsibility quite early on, but whatever job you start, you won’t be expected to know how to do everything from day one.

What employers really want to see, is that you’ll be eager to give all your energy to learning, make an effort to get fully stuck in with your team and essentially become a living, breathing company mascot.

This means thinking beyond your own day-to-day work and where you’re aiming to get to and being committed to the wider company goals.


How to show it

Were you part of a sports club with training several times a week, stretching late into the night, with competitions at weekends?

Then be sure to shout about it.

This shows an employer your high level of commitment and flags you as someone worth investing in.


Wrapping it up

As you might have guessed, the trick is to make sure you’re not just regurgitating the job description; “I’m an ambitious, highly organised and passionate self-starter who is able to work to tight deadlines” doesn’t really say much about you as an individual.

This statement can be applied to lots of people, but what will make sure you stand out is talking about the specific experiences and challenges you faced. And most importantly – your achievements!


Find more useful careers advice on our Graduate Blog – or fuel your graduate job search by checking out the latest roles on our jobs board.

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