How to Interpret Ridiculous Web Design Job Posts

education

It’s a wonderful time to work in the tech industry. Jobs are plentiful and companies compete for the best talent by offering high salaries and amazing perks. However, if you’ve ever taken the time to slog through the countless job boards and company postings, you’ve probably noticed an alarming trend of inflated requirements in job posts.

Photograph of business suits hung on a line.

If a programming job requires you to wear a business suit, it’s probably a bad sign. Photograph from Flickr user Robert Sheie.

Excerpts from Actual Job Posts

For many job posts, the “requirements” are absurd. They’re too long, unnecessary, or they make absolutely no sense. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s a sampling of excerpts from real job posts I found. These are so ridiculous, I couldn’t help but add some childish and sarcastic commentary.

Responsible for architecting and defining the presentation layer framework to solve complex designs that reflect the creative and art direction provided

Wow, sounds fancy!

Knowledge in Web2.0 application development (CSS 2 and 3 / JavaScript / HTML 4 and 5)

Ah, that’s good. Don’t want those Web1.0 people applying.

Required Skills:

  • Bootstrap/CSS
  • Client end templates/JSON integration
  • UI design/building web pages
  • JSRender/Dust.js
  • Jquery (JQuery UI)
  • HTML 5.0/Ajax

I didn’t know those were all interchangeable terms!

  • Provide status to supervisor as required.
  • Escalate issues and risks to supervisor in a timely manner.
  • Provide technical inputs on work estimating.
  • Inform the technical architect, technical lead and project manager of any issues that may affect any other areas of the project.

This place sounds like it’s a high energy work environment that appreciates creativity!

Reading Between the Lines

Now that I’ve had my fun, I’d like to delve into a more constructive exercise by dissecting a real job post and rewriting it to sound better. First, let’s take a look at the job post. This is for a “front-end developer” position.

Job Requirements:

  • B.S./B.A. Computer Science or related field
  • 4-6 years of professional website coding experience
  • Expert with HTML/CSS, web standards, best practices and writing clean, semantic code
  • Proficient with javascript, good knowledge of jQuery and creating/debugging jQuery plugins
  • Understanding of OO principles, especially with regard to HTML/CSS/JS and creating reusable UI components
  • Expert knowledge of browser quirks and creating web apps that are consistent across all major browsers
  • Expert troubleshooting and fixing JavaScript/HTML/CSS cross-browser bugs and using debug tools such as firebug
  • Experience optimizing front end code for performance/speed
  • Experience optimizing front end code for SEO
  • Experience developing with an IDE such as Eclipse, using SVN and working on web projects in a team environment – meeting deadlines
  • Ability to code detailed, functional pages from mockups in collaboration with web designers
  • Ability to work with java developers to integrate front end code with server side technology
  • Working knowledge of HTML5, CSS3 and current trends

Believe it or not, this isn’t the worst out there. It’s too verbose and needs a lot of cleaning up, but I can at least get an idea of their needs. Let’s look at some of the highlights.

  • B.S./B.A. Computer Science or related field

Right up front, they’re asking for a computer science degree. There’s a small chance that part of the work will actually require you to have a deep understanding of computer science, but most of the time this isn’t necessary. If you take a closer look, it also says “…or related field” which implies flexibility. I’ve written about college degrees before so I won’t go into too much detail here, but in most cases, you don’t actually need the degree they’re requesting. It’s just standard boilerplate stuff that they feel obligated to mention. I would interpret this as saying, “a college degree can be helpful, but we just want someone that’s smart and dedicated.”

  • 4-6 years of professional website coding experience

Sometimes this is flexible as well. If you’re close with 3.5 years of coding experience, don’t assume that you’re automatically disqualified. Experience is often measured in years but sometimes that doesn’t map perfectly to the technology industry. Some people learn much faster than others. If you know that you’re just as talented as others that have more “years” of experience than you, then go for it.

  • Expert with HTML/CSS, web standards, best practices and writing clean, semantic code
  • Proficient with javascript, good knowledge of jQuery and creating/debugging jQuery plugins

So far this isn’t too bad. Unfortunately they continue with roughly a dozen more lines that say basically the exact same thing, which just confuses things. Let’s keep going…

  • Experience developing with an IDE such as Eclipse, using SVN and working on web projects in a team environment – meeting deadlines
  • Ability to code detailed, functional pages from mockups in collaboration with web designers
  • Ability to work with java developers to integrate front end code with server side technology

This is the real substance of this job post. It sounds like on a day-to-day basis, you’re going to be working with Java developers to integrate front-end code. Typically Java developers use Eclipse, but it also sounds like you can use the editor that you feel most comfortable with. This would be a good thing to ask about during an interview.

Now, let’s rewrite this so it’s easy for human beings to interpret.

Photograph of shredded paper

This is where most job posts belong. Photo from Flickr user Liz West.

Job Posts: Rewritten

Here’s how I would rewrite the “requirements” for this job post. Please keep in mind that I don’t actually have any relationship with this company. This is just my own interpretation based on my prior experience in the industry. Every job posting is different and you should ask for clarification if necessary.

Qualifications:

  • Excellent communication skills and the ability to work well with others
  • Solid understanding of front-end languages and frameworks (primarily HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery)
  • Ability to work with a version control system (like SVN) in a team environment
  • Capable of balancing detail oriented work with important project milestones
  • Experience working with Java developers using IDEs like Eclipse is a big plus
  • 4-6+ years of experience preferred

The word “qualifications” feels a lot better than “requirements” in this case, because usually not all of these are strict requirements. Rather, this is just a list of things that makes you increasingly likely to be a good candidate for the job, which is the case with most web design job posts.

Each bullet point is either a clear technology skill or a soft skill, with no repetition. It’s obvious that they need someone with good front-end skills. However, the second part is easy to miss. It sounds like they need someone that can integrate designs into a Java back-end. They’ll be working with developers using the SVN versioning system, which if you don’t already know, is pretty easy to pick up. This has been replaced with Git in many places, but some companies still use SVN or other versioning systems for one reason or another. As for the soft skills, they could apply to almost any tech job. No matter where you go, it’s likely that you’ll need to work well with other people and do quality work on schedule.

I hope this exercise has been fun and useful for people applying to jobs as well as companies that need to write job posts. If you have any thoughts or questions you’d like to share in the comments, I’m happy to help!

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Nick Pettit

Nick is a designer, public speaker, and teacher at Treehouse. He is also a co-host of The Treehouse Show. Twitter: @nickrp

Comments

11 comments on “How to Interpret Ridiculous Web Design Job Posts

  1. Well articulated points, Nick. Many tech job postings sound like they were written by HR or the marketing department. Reading between the lines is absolutely necessary.

    Another good thing to find out is who you will need to talk to to get hired. If a company is using a staffing agency as a filter, they may read the qualifications verbatim and throw out applications without the keywords they are looking for. This could be a reason that many positions take 18-24 months to fill (based on actual conversations I’ve had with recruiters).

    If possible, apply to jobs that are written human-friendly, as this example showed. Chances are good the rest of the processes in that company will also veer away from the arcane.

    Lastly, I read an article (sorry, can’t find the link) that said men tend to apply to jobs where they meet 70% of the qualifications listed, while women tend not to apply unless they meet 99.9% of the listed qualifications.
    My takeaway: We ALL could be applying to jobs where we have most, but perhaps not all of the qualifications. Look for dealbreakers, such as writing Java in Eclipse in the example above. Those are the things the screeners are really looking for.

  2. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blogs and I’m impressed! Very helpful information specially the remaining part :) I care for such information much. I was looking for this particular info for a long time. Thanks and best of luck.

    • This is a really excellent question. Generally, you just have to use your judgement, and there’s no specific rules for this.

      Often jobs will require a lot more than they actually need, but understanding where the boundaries are only comes with experience. For example, let’s say a job is asking for a senior developer with 10 years experience and 5 shipped products. If you only have 3 years with 1 shipped product, then obviously it’s not going to be a good fit. On the other hand, if you’re relatively close with 8 years of rigorous experience and you have 3 or 4 shipped products that are really high quality, then the company would probably be happy to take a look at you.

      Every company will be different and every candidate will be different, so developing that situational awareness takes time.

    • Casey, I’d go for it if you’re within the ballpark of what they’re seeking. Don’t apply for a CTO job if you have just 1 year of experience, but it’s ok to aim a bit high. Usually job ads are written with “nice to haves” in mind. Most companies would have to wait for years to get a perfect fit with exactly the right company. You just need to get it past HR and in front of a developer.

      That being said, consider not going the normal career route and starting up your own company. Programming frameworks and libraries are much more advanced than they were even a few years ago. It’s possible to build your own business as a sole, motivated developer. Between display ads, search ads, the types of services listed at http://www.buyfacebooklikesreviews.com and much more, there’s a bunch of ways for devs to do the business development and marketing necessary to grow. Going the job-seeking route is the safe and traditional strategy, but it can be much more fun working on your own stuff – free of pointy haired bosses, politics, and the like.

  3. What advice would you give to TreeHouse customers on how to find junior/entry level jobs requiring less than one year experience?

  4. While I agree that a lot of job postings are truly horrible, quite frequently these impossible combination of requirements are intentional. In these cases there is a legal requirement to show that there was a job posting, but the hiring manager has already identified the candidate. The job requirements are lifted directly from that persons resume, and deliberately constructed to make it difficult for anyone else to qualify under the requirements. I’ve personally seen this done in both federal job promotions and for visa/greencard requirements, but I’m sure there are other cases as well.

  5. IMHO the first qualification is unnecessary to list. Which job does not require teamwork and ability to communicate with others? Otherwise good post.