Ask A Progeek – Incoherent Job Requirements

Let’s just jump into this week’s question, one we’ve all probably asked before:

How do you know what is true in a job posting?  They ask very specific things sometimes, plus there’s all this common knowledge and it doesn’t all work together.  For example, you’re supposed to be impressive and give extra information if it’s relevant AND you’re supposed to be detailed AND concise AND it’s okay if that takes a third page BUT if your resume is over two pages then you’re automatically disqualified.

Kind of disappointing isn’t it?  You get told to make coherent resumes and clear cover letters and then the job postings don’t make any sense.

Of course, that’s the solution in the first place . . .

Writing job postings is not an easy process.  There are going to be ones that are incoherent or confusing because anyone writing them has a chance to make mistakes.

Writing job postings can result in the postings going through many hands.  Many hands may make light work, but it can also make a job posting a kind of incoherent Frankenquilt of requirements.

Writing job postings also mean people are trying to make sense of strange, inconsistent, or specific requirements.  Sometimes the strangeness is just a reflection of a very difficult to describe position.

And yet, you still have to send in a good resume and cover letter.  So here’s the three steps you need to follow – because you’re the one that’s going to have to do the work to make sense of it all.  Sorry.

The first step?  The first step is realizing that no matter what it’s up to you to make sure your resume, portfolio, cover letter, etc. are good, well-done, and useful.  It’s all in your hands.

The second step is to figure out what people really want in the post.  That’s going to require you to do some detective work, guessing, and empathizing with the people looking to fill the position.  In some cases you’re going have to take a shot in the dark.  Either way, try and get a grip on what is desired.

(Remember if you get it wrong at least it’s a place to start from.)

Yes, what you have to do is try and figure out what people want when they may not know.  Welcome to the job search.

The third step is to make sure your resume, cover letter, and communications fit this profile you’ve put together.  If you’re sure the weirdly-stated requirements about Java really mean you need to be good at documenting it, say that.  If you’re really sure the position has an instructional component, cover that.

There may also be strange issues about “do not contact,” or “make sure resume is X” pages, and so on.  It’s up to you to divine what’s true, what’s boiler plate, and what matters.  For instance I’ve never seen resume page size ever matter on my job search.

So good luck.  Make the best sense of each job posting you can – someone has to.

This is especially important for us Progeeks as we have intimate knowledge of our profession (perhaps moreso than people doing the job posting).  We’re the one that know how things fit together in the first place.  This means were the one that have to make sure our applications work – even when the job postings don’t.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at