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Break Down Your Target Job to Find the Skills Employers Want

A man sitting at a table with a laptop and cell phone.

​As we discussed last week, a successful job search begins with an analysis of what employers need and what skills you have. Then you need to choose a target job for which you can make a strong argument, in both your resume and an interview. 

This week's advice will show you how to be sure your resume will be discovered regularly in resume databases and result in job interviews. Here's how to make this happen:

Get a sample document1. Collect six to 10 postings for the job you are best qualified to do. Ideally, you'll select jobs in the area where you want to live, but if you don't have enough options there, then collect job descriptions from anywhere. At this point, you're gathering as much information as you can on how employers prioritize their needs and how those needs are expressed. Save the posts in a folder.

2. Create a Word document and name it TJD (for "Target-Job Deconstruction") plus a job title, for example, "TJD: HR Business Partner." 

Next, add a subhead: Job Titles

Under the subhead, copy and paste the different job titles from each job posting you've collected. In the example, you'll notice that five different job titles describe essentially the same job. Now you know that when employers are hiring people like you, the most popular job titles tend to use these variations. 

3. Add another subhead: Skills/Responsibilities/Experience/Deliverables

Scan your job postings and find one requirement that's common to all of them.

Copy the most complete description of that requirement and paste it into your doc. Add a number by your entry to signify how many job postings list it (in the sample, we drew from six job postings, so there's a 6 to the left of the first heading).

Make a bulleted list of any other words from the other job postings that also describe this responsibility, giving you a comprehensive, employer-preferred word choice to use in your resume.

When you run out of job requirements common to all six samples, look for ones common to five and repeat the exercise, remembering to put a 5 beside these items to signify their relative importance. Then repeat for requirements common to four, three and two of your job postings, and then finally list a requirement found in only one.

When this is done, you'll know that when employers are hiring people to do your job, they tend to refer to them by these job titles, prioritize their needs in this way and use these words to describe their needs. This gives you a template for the story your resume needs to tell to get noticed and generate interviews.

4. Think about the problems your target job solves. No matter what your job is or at what level you do it, the main point of your job is to identify, anticipate and prevent problems arising within your area of responsibility and then to solve problems expeditiously when they arise.

The candidate who is best able to identify and discuss the recurrent problems of each aspect of the job and shows the greatest understanding and engagement with the work is most likely to get the job offer.

Consequently, think about your every responsibility in terms of the problems you would be tasked with handling in fulfilling that responsibility, and how you would identify, anticipate, prevent and solve those problems. Do this and you will have isolated the areas of concern that every interviewer really wants to talk about. So while you're working on the resume, you're also doing important interview preparation work.

Next week, we'll take all this work and create a killer resume.


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