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Navigating Job Descriptions To Understand What’s Really On Offer

Navigating Job Descriptions To Understand What’s Really On Offer


DATE: 30 October, 2023

I work with many people who are looking for a new role, navigating job descriptions, interviews and career expectations, trying to define where they want to go at an inflection point in their careers after a tough project or after outgrowing the role.

I've heard:

  • “The job just didn't meet my expectations.” 
  • “They put on a great song and dance about how design contributes to the product's direction, but I find myself pushing pixels.”
  • “My boss left the organisation; I realised that they shielded the team from the lack of design influence.”

They want to find organisations where they can be great designers and do the work that they're best suited to.

So when they start looking for a new role they do find themselves looking at the job descriptions and feeling a bit weary and disillusioned. They all seem the same or promise the world.   

Job descriptions don't give the whole picture

No job description can provide everything to the potential employee; reassurance that this is a good place to work, the full duties and responsibilities, or a feel for the culture.

As someone who wrote VERY complete job descriptions in one of my roles (4 areas that each consultant would need to with duties underneath – I have no idea why anyone applied!), I know they are hard to write competently without being overwhelming for the candidate.

Most corporate job descriptions are comprised of four areas:

  1. About the role
  2. Duties and responsibilities
  3. About the company and the culture
  4. How to apply

There is very little opportunity to describe what the candidate is going to do, what the team values, and ways of working – that's the role of the job interview.

I recommend that people use job descriptions as a guide only – and something to interrogate within the interview.

Ask the interviewer more than the final question

I recommend that interviewees ask more targeted questions about the role than normal. Questions about benefits are important, and expectations for hybrid/remote/in-office working are essential, but so are the percentages of work time expected in tasks and the politics of the organisation.

I find that many of the problems that are reported to me are a mismatch in job role expectations.

Is it:

  • Delivery of UI to a development team OR defining the direction of the product
  • Generative research OR validation research in the squad
  • Bringing design thinking to the organisation OR ensuring the designers deliver UI components to the squads
  • Working with product or engineering peers to define the product OR bringing the design in as a new skillset

“The aim is to delve into the role to understand the expectations rather than the aspirations.”

There are two aspects to focus on:

  1. Portion or priority of the role duties
    For example; if there are three main duties of a UX designer (extracting requirements from stakeholders, understanding the users' needs and designing the interface), what's the time split between them over a month?
  2. Politics and influence
    How does design influence in the organisation? How does a change happen that's important to a customer? Who decides the direction of the product and what do they value?

Why these two aspects? Ultimately people who are dissatisfied with a role usually say one of two things; they were sold a job that does not match the reality, or the politics were hard where design didn't have the leverage in the organisation to make an impact.

Explore other ways to get a more complete picture.

Digital and tech are small communities; as well as explicitly asking the focus and political questions in an interview, candidates can find information about the roles from other places like Glassdoor or your connections on LinkedIn. When you are expecting to be in a role for years, doing your research and due diligence is as important as the organisation doing theirs.

In these tough times in tech, it may feel counterintuitive to ask more questions and possibly reject companies based on their answers, but it is better to ask now than to find yourself in a role and feel the need to leave in 3 months.