job advert

How to make a strong application – Part 3: Reading the job advert

In our ‘How to make a strong application’ series, we tell you everything you need to know about choosing and applying for jobs – from the question “What do I want to do?” to the perfect job application photo, straight to the interview stage.


Reading a job advert: sounds easy, doesn’t it? And it is – as long as you keep an eye out for a few specific phrases and don’t let others put you off. Most job adverts are broadly divided into five parts:

“Who we are…”:

This is where the company describes itself. If you read this part carefully, it can tell you a lot about your prospective employer.

“We are seeking…”:

Here you will find a description of the job being advertised. Do not be intimidated by fancy job titles. Roles that sound high-powered and difficult often are not as grandiose as they may sound. Not every “manager” is responsible for leading a team, let alone the whole company. In addition, an “incoming and outgoing correspondence managing director” is actually just the person in charge of the mailroom.

“We expect…”:

This is where the company will list the skills and attributes it is looking for in an ideal candidate. However, do not worry: you do not have to meet all the criteria listed in this section. HR experts recommend applying for jobs even when you only meet 60% of the requirements. After all, not every requirement is necessary – job adverts also include qualities the ideal candidate “may” possess. This is how to tell the difference between them:

Wording for MUST criteria

(e.g. qualifications, professional skills)

  • “…is required…” / “…is expected…” / “We expect…”
  • “…crucial…”
  • “…only be considered if…”
  • “You will have…” / “You will be able to…”
  • “…are essential…” / “…are a prerequisite”
  • “We are looking for candidates with…”
Wording for MAY criteria

(e.g. practical experience)

  • “Ideally…”
  • “…would be an advantage.”
  • “…desirable.”
  • “…would also welcome candidates with experience in…”
  • “…would prefer candidates who…”
  • “If you are also able to…”


It is not always clear at first glance what the required attributes actually mean. Some of the most common ones are listed below, along with their meanings:

  • Ability to cope with pressure: It usually indicate that the job will often involve stressful periods requiring lots of overtime.
  • Autonomy: Usually means you will be working independently right from the start. If you are a quick learner and you enjoy having more responsibility, this might be the right job for you. This often goes hand in hand with good organisational skills, as your role will probably involve juggling many different balls and staying on top of all of them.
  • Flexibility: This is a sign that your responsibilities may change frequently. It may also refer to flexibility with your working hours and location. Please See Mobility.
  • Communication skills: This means the company is looking for diplomatic skills and an open, communicative style. This is also important when it comes to your ability to work in a team.
  • Creativity: Either you are applying for a creative job like graphic artist or designer – in which case creativity is a basic requirement – or this is a role in which you will constantly be faced with new challenges that you will need to find solutions for. Sometimes, however, creativity is only mentioned to make the job sound more attractive.
  • Mobility: This means is that you will have to travel a lot. It means more or less the same thing as willingness to travel.

“We offer…”:

This is where the company tries to make the job sound appealing. You should pay close attention to the wording of this section. “Development opportunities”, for example, can indicate good promotion prospects, but may also be a sign of high staff turnover (meaning that anyone who lasts long enough in their role is promoted). If a company says it has “flat hierarchies”, this tends to mean that its employees work very independently. If it says it has a “young team”, this could indicate either a genuinely young company or a company that people use as a stepping-stone, because nobody wants to stay there long and the pay is below average. “Innovative companies” expect their employees to have many new and creative ideas and to come up with solutions quickly.

“How to apply”:

Although this section comes right at the end, it is very important for your application. Here you will find out exactly how and where you can apply for the job being advertised. The deadline for applications is usually given here too, as well as the reference number for the job advert. The contact person specified here is usually the person you will need to address your application. Make sure you follow all the instructions and meet all the requirements listed here!

Any questions?

Once you have figured out what the wording of the job advert actually means, you will need to examine the responsibilities listed as part of the role and match them to your own experience. The key question would revolve around if you have ever done anything similar, which you can use to demonstrate that you are suitable for the role. You will need this to write your cover letter later on.

If you encounter something in the job advert that you do not understand, ask the named contact person. However, do not ask unnecessary or obvious questions that could make a bad impression! Showing interest, on the other hand, can earn you some initial bonus points with the HR department.


In the next part of the series, we will show you exactly what your application documents should look like.

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