Decoding Job Descriptions: Which Responsibilities Matter Most?
Lindsay Scott also shares tips for answering the “relocation” question and tracking project complexity.
Most job descriptions list dozens of responsibilities. How can I find out which 3 or 4 from the list are the most important—so I know if the role is really a good fit for my skills?
In most cases, the job posting prioritizes them for you. Many recruiters will list roles and responsibilities in order of importance, so pay closer attention to the top four or five on the list. The trick to knowing if a position is a good fit is whether those top responsibilities match up with your skills and experience.
For example, the overview for the position will state what the organization does, where this role fits and some headlines on what makes this position important—as well as how the role’s objectives align with the business and can be executed successfully. The responsibilities highlight how this role will meet these objectives.
Here’s a snippet from a recent project manager role job post, including the first two responsibilities listed:
The role would oversee several projects that focus on physical environmental improvement projects. This person will be experienced in project development and delivery, that would include consultant and contractor supervision.
- Manage and in some cases undertake the development activities of physical improvement projects.
- Preparing and submitting applications to obtaining necessary consents and permissions.
In this case, the résumé or CV you submit as part of your application would focus heavily on both project initiation (development) and delivery; it would highlight the environmental, sustainability angle; it would make clear that you have third-party contract management. But go deeper: Highlight how you approach project development and delivery rather than just sharing what you have delivered.
When a list has 10 or more responsibilities, you should aim to hit at least half of them—and if those are toward the top of the list, your chance of securing an interview will be strong.
I know that remote and hybrid work have become the norm, but during my last two interviews they asked if I would be willing to relocate—and that's not an option for me. What's the best way to respond?
If you end up in this interview scenario again, just give them an honest answer. Of course, it might be a deal breaker to tell them “no.” But it’s also an opportunity ask them about their remote work policy and whether there’s an opportunity to negotiate an exception. Sometimes there can’t be a compromise, and you should move on to the next potential opportunity. But ultimately, you need to be clear about what your criteria is and how flexible you are prepared to be.
Want to make sure it never happens again? If the job advertisement doesn’t clearly state whether relocation is necessary, you need to explicitly ask before you agree to an interview. As ways of working continue to be redefined, it’s only fair that the organization be up front about its policy, so you don’t waste time chasing roles that don’t fit your criteria.
I’ve seen job descriptions ask for “experience of delivering small-medium scale/reasonably complex projects.” How do I know if I’m hitting these criteria?
Do you keep a record of the projects you have delivered? Having a list or portfolio that categorizes each project with tags (such as objective, duration, budget, number of resources and whether it was simple, complicated or complex) is useful for many reasons. Most importantly, it’s a quick reference for career planning, skills gap analysis and, of course, tracking career progress.
In recent years, complex and complicated have become almost throwaway terms to differentiate between projects and the varying risk profiles. That’s why you need to keep up to date with the latest thinking around complexity models and the various techniques, tools and approaches that are being advocated for project managers. You should then be able to categorize your own portfolio of experience and choose where you want to be in your next opportunity.
Have a career question for Lindsay Scott? Email [email protected].
PMI career columnist Lindsay Scott is based in London.