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10 Tips for Decoding Tech Job Listings

Exactly how to break through job listing jargon once and for all.

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Finding a tech job can get frustrating. Mostly because tech job listings can be a nightmare to decode. There’s so much jargon! And sometimes the requirements are just insane! 3-5 years of experience for a “junior” designer? Wouldn’t that make you a senior designer?

When searching for my last job, I had very, very specific criteria for the type of job I wanted. I wanted a job that was tech-related, preferably in content or marketing at a tech-savvy company, and it had to be remote (I love living in the middle of nowhere).

Pouring through job listings, trying to figure out not only what a specific job was all about, but also if I was even remotely (pun totally intended) qualified for it, sometimes felt like it wasn’t even worth it. I was tempted to just keep freelancing full-time forever!

But eventually, you start to figure out what different terms mean in job listings, and you figure out which parts of a job listing are actually important, and which parts don’t really hold much weight. From there, you can figure out if a job is even worth applying for before you spend time overhauling your resume and crafting the perfect cover letter.

Here are some of the things you’re likely to encounter in tech job listings, and how to decode them to figure out if a job is a good fit for you!

1. Job titles

Job titles can be one of the most confusing parts of a job listing. You sit there and think “I need to find a web developer job”, and so you start typing “web developer job” into job boards. Except that’s not the only job title that might use the skills of a web developer. It turns out that web developers can go by a lot of different names.

A full stack developer is someone who needs to be able to work with both backend and frontend technologies. A frontend developer needs to be comfortable working with things like JavaScript (including libraries like jQuery), HTML5, and CSS3. A general “web developer” is probably going to be a backend developer, working with languages like PHP, Ruby, or Python.

The same goes for “web designer”. You can search for web designer, but also titles like UI designer, UX designer, product designer, visual designer, and the like.

Job titles are created to appeal to the widest number of potential applicants possible. “Web designer” might sound too generic to some applicants, or might sound too entry-level for some more experienced designers. But UI designer or UX designer makes it sound like a more advanced or exciting job, and so those writing the job listings opt to use those terms.

The other thing you’ll likely see with job listings in the tech world is novelty titles. Things like “rockstar,” “hero,” “ninja,” and the like. These job titles can be confusing and frustrating. Job titles like “Frontend Rockstar” don’t really tell you what you need to know about the job requirements. Are they looking for a designer? Developer? Both? You’ll need to read the job requirements to figure it out.

2. The type of company

Companies of virtually every size and type need employees with tech skills. But there’s a big difference between working for an established company outside of the tech industry, an established tech company, a startup, or an agency.

A lot of different kinds of companies have in-house design and development teams, so even if they aren’t “tech” companies, they have tech job openings. If you already have a ton of experience in a particular industry, you might look for tech jobs at companies within that industry. Your experience will give you an edge.

Established tech companies, like Google or Apple, often have more stringent hiring standards than startups do. They might also have more applicants, just because of name recognition. That means competition is tough, and they may be looking for any reason not to hire you, rather than reasons to hire you.

Startups, on the other hand, are often more flexible in their hiring, because they have positions to fill as they grow. That’s not to say they’ll hire you if you’re unqualified, but they might be more likely to look at your skills and experience in creative ways. Agencies come in all shapes and sizes, from high-profile agencies like Happy Cog to local agencies that take on much smaller clients, and everything in between.

If you want a fast-paced environment where things are constantly changing, then look for jobs at a startup or agency. If you want stability and a more regular schedule and job responsibilities, a bigger company (in tech or not) might be a better choice.

If you’re looking for a tech job outside of the tech industry, make sure that the team you’d be working with is well supported within the company. It can be hard to tell if this is the case or not when just reading a job listing, but there are a few things to watch out for that might be red flags:

  • A generic, template job listing that doesn’t list any specifics.
    If you never interview with anyone on the actual tech team (your first interview might be with someone in HR, but at some point you should be talking to someone in the department you’ll actually be working in);
  • If it looks like they have a high turnover rate
    If you see job listings from a few months ago from the same company for the same position, that can be an indicator that someone took the job and then left very quickly. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure unless you can actually speak with someone who works in tech for that company.

I’ve heard so many horror stories where design and dev teams were afterthoughts, and didn’t get the resources, budget, or time needed to do their jobs well. The vast majority of great companies out there aren’t like that, but it’s something to watch out for!

3. Their “requirements”

First things first: job “requirements” aren’t really requirements. There are plenty of people who get jobs where they don’t meet every single requirement. And sometimes the job descriptions are written by people who don’t actually know everything they need to about the job. They might even take the “requirements” from a template, rather than from the company’s actual needs.

Rather than study the job requirements in depth and look at all the ways I don’t match up, I prefer to look at the responsibilities of the job, and see if my skills and past experience are in line with them. Then, when you actually apply, stress your skills, and downplay wherever you don’t meet the “requirements.”

4. Job responsibilities

This can be the most important part of the job listing. Hopefully, this has been written by someone who’s actually familiar with the specific job at the specific company, and not just taken from a template site.

Either way, consider each item on the responsibilities list and honestly answer to yourself whether you can meet those responsibilities immediately or in the near future. If there are specific technologies that you aren’t familiar with, do a little research and see what the learning curve is.

When I started at Skillcrush, I’d never used HipChat or JIRA, even though I had heard of both. But those are the kinds of things that can be learned quickly on the job, and don’t require years of training. There’s a difference between applying for a job with responsibilities that might take you a couple weeks to get up to speed on, and applying for a job where the responsibilities will take you months or even years to learn (in other words, don’t apply for a senior backend web developer position if you’ve only ever done frontend web design).

5. Job description terms

A lot of seemingly innocuous job description terms can actually be potential red flags. “Detail-oriented” might translate to expecting perfection, or indicate a control freak of a boss. “Team player” might mean that you’re at the bottom of the totem pole and they’ll hand off to you everything no one else wants to do constantly. And “self-starter” might mean that they have no idea what they need you to do, and you have to figure it out based on vague descriptions of what they think they need.

6. Flexible vs. remote

Flexible jobs and remote jobs aren’t necessarily the same thing, though there’s definitely some overlap. Flexible usually means that you have a high level of control over your hours, and that you may be able to work from home at least some of the time. Of course, flexible can also mean that they may need you at weird hours, so pay attention to context here.

Remote means that you can work from home (or elsewhere outside of a central office) most or all of the time. Remote jobs may or may not require regular hours. And they may require some travel for company events or meetings, but probably not often.

Flexible jobs are sometimes remote, and remote jobs are often flexible, but the two terms are not entirely interchangeable.

7. “Growth opportunity”

This is another one of those tricky key words that can have a lot of hidden meaning. Nine times out of ten, you’re going to find this in the job listing of a startup company. Growth opportunity might indicate a few things, but it often means your responsibilities and tasks will expand over time. It can also mean that there’s a lot of chance for advancement.

The other thing “growth opportunity” sometimes hides is a low starting salary. That’s not always the case, but it can definitely be an indicator, especially at a startup.

8. “Fast-paced work environment”

This can often mean that you’ll have tight deadlines, or even that you’ll be given more work than a normal human could possibly be expected to complete in a set amount of time. Now, a fast-paced environment isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if that’s how you like to work. Personally, I thrive under deadlines and get more done in less time when I have a lot on my plate. But not everyone is like that, and if you’re not, you should probably avoid applying for jobs with this kind of keyword in the title.

9. Junior vs. senior positions

If a job is listed as a senior position, they likely want someone with at least 3-5 years of experience, and probably someone with some management experience. Senior designers and developers are usually in charge of a team.

Junior designers, on the other hand, are entry-level or maybe have a couple years of experience, and often work closely with other team members. They may be given more basic design tasks to start with, and have less responsibility. It’s a good starting point, though, and considered a necessary (by some) stepping stone in your tech career.

A lot of tech job titles won’t include terms like “junior” or “senior”. In that case, they probably fall somewhere in between junior and senior, unless words like “management” or “head” are included in the description. In that case, just pay attention to the job responsibilities, and if it looks like a good fit, go for it!

10. Sometimes buzzwords are just buzzwords

Sometimes all those buzzwords and catchphrases really don’t mean anything, because the person actually writing the job description doesn’t know much about the job. Or because the job listing has been taken straight from a template.

In that case, try to decipher them as best you can, and then apply. In the interview, you can ask for clarification on any of the points you didn’t understand, to get a better grasp on whether the job is a good fit.

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Cameron Chapman

Cameron is a staff writer here at Skillcrush, and spends most of her time writing and editing blog posts and Ultimate Guides. She's been a freelance writer, editor, and author for going on a decade, writing for some of the world's leading web design and tech blogs. When she's not writing about design, she spends her time writing screenplays and making films (and music videos for rock and metal bands!) in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

Category: Blog