Interviewing: Navigating Job Postings

Job postings will likely be your first step towards getting any in-depth info about a role. You may have colleagues who can give you inside info or the company may be well known enough that you can get an idea of what you may do, but that may not give you as much about specifics. More often than not, you’re going to walk through plenty of listings to gather an idea of what’s available, so it’s going to inform your idea of what the job market is like. It’s also where companies set expectations for candidates coming in.

Be warned: careers pages are a form of advertising. For one, it’s attracting talent as you might guess. Companies are looking to both cast a wide net and filter down, as much as those two may seem to be at odds. They want to source for candidates who are going to fit their needs, many times from teams that don’t exactly know what they’re looking for despite lengthy prose about years of experience, education, and skill sets in demand. They can list particular tech skills or specifics on team fit, but it doesn’t guarantee the right person walks in their door. A large pool of candidates that all check the right boxes gives the hiring team options. The filtering performed is to avoid said pool of candidates requiring attention but ultimately not producing a good fit. It costs time and money for the team to review candidates, which can take weeks if not months to find the right fit even in the best of circumstances. Hiring teams want to spend precious time efficiently.

The other half of the marketing is that candidates aren’t the only ones reading careers pages. Venture capital firms, news outlets, competitors, external recruiters – they’re walking the same public listings as you are. A company projects through their careers page what they want the outside world to see, the image of a successful company. It is both in a strong position to accomplish everything they need to and yet lacking because you are not there, another contradiction. It’s important to not be swept up by the hype.

This is worth considering because candidates can be made to feel “less” when walking through the laundry list of requirements. A bias creeps in as folks who don’t realize their value can be dismayed at a direct one-to-one comparison. Learning to read past the advertising is a skill, one that can be exceedingly helpful to learn throughout your career. With that in mind, it’s critical to develop your own filter as to where you should apply. If you’re new to the market, don’t apply to a Principal Engineering role, but likewise if they ask for 4 years of experience on an entry level position, know that they’re aiming high for a reason and it may not be to your benefit.

You may also hear listings referred to as job requisitions or job reqs which will vary in quality as well. Larger organizations, those with money or experience in hiring, will have a similar beat to their career page layouts. Roles tend to be more clearly defined and expertise can be narrowed down. Smaller organizations, especially those in their formative years, won’t yet have their bearings on what they need. They tend towards generalists, folks who can wear many hats, and create euphemisms for volatility in their working life such as dynamic working environments.
You’ll most likely wind up reading a lot of reqs, which can itself be disheartening. Marketspeak is like another language to learn, one that replaces empathy with cookie cutter babble. Learning to look for subtle clues and read between the lines for what a company is actually saying can help you spot red flags early, saving yourself a lot of heartache. Just as hiring managers are sourcing from large pools to filter down, so should you. Getting a feel for what you want from a job, and what you don’t want, will make your search all the more efficient.

This post is the current version of a section in my book on interviewing for technical roles. I’m trying to help out with any advice I can while I’m putting all of this together. As part of that, I’m looking for constructive criticism and feedback. My experiences as an engineer are also not universal and so my own biases will creep up in my writing.