Tech & Work

Don't let bad job ad listings deter your employment efforts

As career columnist Molly Joss explains, many IT job ads often list too many tech skill requirements--many of which are unrealistic. Here are some tips on how to apply for a job if you don't have every skill cited in the ad.


Question
I have been supervising, leading, grooming, managing, and directing IT technicians for close to 20 years. While hardware and software technologies have come and gone, my abilities to communicate with business leaders and to get technicians to produce results have always been my key strengths.

Like many others on the job market today, I am very frustrated by the precise, technically specific requirements on many current IT management job postings. Is there an effective way to get yourself noticed when the job posting lists, for example, PeopleSoft as a requirement and your expertise is with SAP?

Answer
I share your frustration because I rarely see an IT job posting for a senior position that I think could be filled by any human being. Only off-planet aliens with life spans several times our own could accumulate enough experience and training to meet the requirements of some of the ads I’ve seen.

With IT management, the hiring requirements can be even more unrealistic. As I’ve said before in this column, companies need to make up their minds if they want to hire someone to manage the technology or manage the people who take care of the technology.

Unfortunately, many companies aren’t sure what they want when they go to hire new IT managers. If they don’t know, they can’t say what they want. When in doubt, they often say they want someone who is a total expert in a particular area who is also fabulous manager.

Even worse is when IT job ads are created by an HR specialist who has no idea that the hiring criteria listed are impractical. HR may not even know what some of the terms in the ad mean. All HR has done is poll the people involved in the hiring decision for job requirements, ending up with a wish list a mile long. HR dumps all the criteria into the ad, hoping that magically someone will turn up who meets all the requirements.

Or, HR may have inadvertently come up with a list of requirements that is so unnecessarily specific that people who could do the job don’t bother to apply. Your example of PeopleSoft vs. SAP is a case in point—since PeopleSoft is what the company uses, that name gets put into the ad even though the manager doesn’t need to know the software intimately.

It’s usually only after weeks or months go by, and a remarkable person fails to surface, that the company decides to revamp the job listing. A more realistic ad may appear at that point. Or, the company may not realize it’s asking for more than is humanly possible and will keep looking for someone who doesn’t exist.

The workaround
Knowing that this is how IT help-wanted ads normally work, especially for senior IT positions, you can turn the knowledge to your advantage.

Find out the name of the hiring manager or the person you would report to and send the resume directly to that person, citing the relevant job ad. If you can’t find out who the person is you would report to, send it to the CTO or the VP in charge of operations. Don’t send your resume to the HR department unless you can find no alternative.

Make sure that in the cover letter you explain how your experience and training make you a good candidate for the position. Emphasize the value of what you have, and don’t mention what you don’t have.

You may get a letter back saying that the HR department handles all hiring and that your resume has been forwarded to that department. All is not lost, however. If the person who forwarded your resume is savvy and interested in your capabilities, that person will file a copy of the resume away for later use.

After the perfect candidate fails to appear, HR may be asked to write an ad that you just happen to match perfectly, and you’ll get a call later on. Even if you don’t get a letter, the hiring manager may keep your resume on file, so keep your eyes on the company’s ads in the next few weeks or months. If you see a more realistic ad appear and you want to apply for the job, send the hiring manager another resume and cover letter.

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