In this article, you will learn how to create a candidate profile that offers the best possible match between your professional experience and the job field you want to work in.

What you get out of it:

  • knowledge how to create a CV/resume that makes it through the Applicant Tracking System
  • knowledge how to create a LinkedIn profile that will be found by potential employers
  • a much more concrete idea than you have now of what the responsibilities of your target job imply
  • a tool that helps you figure out what jobs mean that are very far from what you are doing now

Who will benefit from it?

  • everyone who is planning a fundamental career transition, such as from academia (PhD, postdoc) to industry, NGOs or public sector
  • everyone whose current professional field is not asked for in job postings, such as PhDs and postdocs in the humanities and liberal arts

In short, these are the steps to take. Read on if you want to know more about them. It’s a very thorough method and as such it takes some time. But it’s time well-spent and the results can be extraordinary.

  1.  Really understand what the requirements and responsibilities mean.
  2. Read more than one job posting for your desired professional field.

  3. Create a list of responsibilities.

  4. Structure and prioritize them in categories.

  5. Create a list of requirements.

  6. Translate your experience into the language of these job postings.

  7. Prioritize those of your skills that are also prioritized in the job ads.

I will talk you through every step in more detail below. 

A note of appreciation to author and career coach Martin Yate, whose concept of the Target Job Deconstruction I use as the guiding structure here.

1. Really understand what the requirements mean.

How do you do that?

You go through every single bullet point and term in your job ad and try to describe the tasks to a 10-year-old child. Expect the child to ask: “What does xyz (e.g. ‘project management’, or ‘responsible for maintaining assets inventory’) mean?” Can you explain it in a way that they will understand?

If yes, great! You’re in a great position to create a fabulous profile already. (But I still recommend you read the following steps.)

You’re not able to describe the tasks to a 10-year-old?

Well, then you’re in good company. And the following guide will help you enormously.

2. Read more than one job posting for your desired professional field.

How much is “more”? And why?

What usually happens is this: You browse job ads until you find one that makes you think you could do the job. You read the job ad a few times and you think you know what the described tasks mean. (Because if you didn’t think you knew it you probably wouldn’t apply, right?) Then you set out to write your cover letter. You probably leave your CV/resume exactly as it was before or only modify it slightly. After all, your experience stays the same so why change your CV/resume?

The problems with this approach are this: The chances are very high that you don’t really understand what the jobs in your chosen field are about. This is especially true if you have very little or no work experience in your chosen field.  

In order to get a clearer picture of what to expect in your target job, identify at least six, but ideally ten job ads in your chosen field. Use job websites such as experteer.com, indeed.com, monster.com. Or more niche job websites that focus on certain regions and/or industries. In Germany, for example, tbd* focuses on jobs in NGOs (some of them English language jobs). Or Gesines Jobtipps, a hand-curated job platform for jobs in and around Berlin within the cultural sector.

3. Create a list of responsibilities

I recommend you create a Word document or similar. That makes editing easier. But really, it depends on your type. Some people prefer spreading out a large piece of paper in front of them and write everything down with a pen. Both work fine.

Print out your job ads and read them carefully several times to get an overview of the responsibilities. You can do this by underlining and colour-coding responsibilities that sound similar.

4. Structure and prioritize responsibilities in categories

Now, it’s time to count. How many times does a particular kind of responsibility come up? Start with the highest occurrence. This includes descriptions that use different terms but essentially have a similar meaning, group them in the same category. Try to find a title for the category that encompasses all the responsibilities. Then, move on to the next highest occurrence.

5. Create a list of requirements

This is slightly easier. One part of the requirements are the “hard facts”. Those are easy to check, such as type of degree, subject and other formal qualifications, or years of experience. Most “hard facts” are also knock-out criteria. That means that if a recruiter does not see that you bring these requirements (or sees that you don’t) your application will go on the rejection pile.

The other part consists of soft skill requirements and your strengths. There are many ways to visualize these. For an example, download the guide “Cracking (non-academic) job ads”, which includes a real-life example “before and after” CV.

6. Translate your experience into the language of the job postings

Do you find it hard to formulate your skills and experience in a way that creates interest by future employers? Do you suspect that employers outside your current field will have little understanding of what it is that you currently do?

Every profession has their own language, and so it is not an easy task to learn to speak and write the language of another professional field. Yet, this is essential in order to be taken seriously as a candidate. Once you have understood what the individual tasks in the job description mean, you will be able to compare them to your own experience and the tasks of your current and past jobs. This allows you to match them.

Whenever possible, use the wording and the terms in the job ad you are applying to. If you apply to medium-sized to large organisations, chances are extremely high that an Applicant Tracking System (=ATS) is in place. This is a software that is used to filter all incoming applications according to keywords. These keywords can be found in the job posting itself. Smaller organisations (less than 250 employees) usually don’t use an ATS.

In other words, a machine will read your application before human eyes will see it. And only if you use the right key words, will human eyes actually see it. Of course, you will have to make sure that all the given information is accurate. By using your future employer’s language, your chances of getting an invitation will be much higher. And when human eyes finally set on your application, it is important that you haven’t copied and pasted the entire job posting. But because you will have analysed six to ten postings from different organisations you will be able to use terminology that is adequate for the field without being a blueprint.

7. Prioritize those of your skills that are also prioritized in the job ads

As obvious as this one seems, I rarely see CVs/resumes or cover letters that are structured along this guideline. Be very clear about which responsibilities and requirements are the most important ones for the job you apply to. As a rule of thumb, the first 3-4 bullet points are the most essential in any job posting. These are the skills that you will want to emphasise in your CV/resume. Make sure that they are the first thing any recruiter will see.

You can download an illustrated guide to cracking job ads, including a real-life example that will accompany you through every step AND an example CV before and after the analysis of the guide.  

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