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.


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