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I've come across several job descriptions in vacancy advertisements relevant to my field that are vague and unclear to say the least. What's a good approach to ask what exactly the job is before going through the interview process?

  • Please clarify: Is that some highly specific field where managers seek candidates directly or is it some field where a recruiter is outsourced to sieve through thousands of CVs before recommending a handful to the manager? – Mefitico Jan 24 at 13:40
  • What is so "unrefined" about “So, what's the job?” – A. I. Breveleri Jan 24 at 21:10
  • @AIBreveleri While I can't speak for Riku, as an interviewer I would immediately question why the applicant had applied if they didn't know what the job was. – InSpaceICanScreamAsLoudAsIWant Jan 25 at 4:15
49

Here's a no fuss straight forward approach:

Hello,

I saw the role regarding [job title], and am interested as it's in my area of expertise. I find that the duties of this role differ between companies, so can you give me more details on its scope?

Thanks,

Riku

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    I'm not a native speaker, so I'll ask in a comment instead of just changing it: Shouldn't it be "differ" instead of "differs", since "duties" is plural? – Heinzi Jan 24 at 11:56
  • @Heinzi IMO "differ" is correct as it refers to the role and not the duties. If you would ask about multiple roles then "differ" would be correct. "...duties of these roles differ between companies..." – XtremeBaumer Jan 24 at 12:15
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    @Heinzi correct - duties is the subject of the verb, so it should be differ – davnicwil Jan 24 at 12:23
  • You can also ask, "what does it take to succeed in this job?" – O. Jones Jan 24 at 12:25
  • IMHO, should be "can differ", rather than differs or differ. – AdzzzUK Jan 24 at 13:09
7

Most of the times, the best approach is just being straightforward.

Follow whichever is applicable in the below order:

  • If you have a contact number provided in the job listing, call them up and ask about the job description.
  • If you have don't have a contact number, but a point-of-contact email ID, drop an email showing your interest and asking about the clarification for the role.
  • If you don't have any specific contact information, find out the corresponding company communication channel (generic ID, phone number), and ask them to get you in touch with the people responsible for recruitment to talk about the job post.
4

The other answers are good for the literal question, but I'll take a different perspective and posit that a job description being so vague that you can't even confidently start the interview process is such a red flag that you should probably just skip over such jobs entirely.

Usually, it means the truthful answer to So, what's the job? is We don't really know. Outside of a few particular situations such as the job being exploratory in nature, or at an early stage startup, this is probably not a good thing.

But even in the case your eventual manager does have a clear idea of what they need, the fact the job description ended up being vague anyway suggests they don't have much control over their own recruitment pipeline. Why? What other aspects of work might be similar? On the surface, this doesn't reflect well on the culture at this organisation.

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    Not entirely ... as to my experience many companies have difficulties specifying job descriptions especially regarding jobs that don't touch their primary field of operation. Most common examples are the various IT jobs for about any production or commerce oriented organization. They know its necessary but don't have a real clue what's it about. So in many cases they ask a friend or a real consultant.The asked person sets up the job-ad and lists things he deems necessary and welcome to the mess of vague / non-saying job descriptions. – eagle275 Jan 24 at 11:02
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    @RobinBennett yes good point - that's a common explanation for this also. Kind of in the same bracket as 'we don't really know' - takeaway being if the job description isn't very precise and targeted, it's reasonably likely applying will be a waste of your time. – davnicwil Jan 24 at 11:49
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    OK .. but usually they DO know what the hired person is asked to do - they only fail at putting it together in context. Example " We want a graduated (IT) student to continue developing our applications, maintain the database, create office macros and various other stuff" - granted anybody with a university degree in IT studied it to not "DO" those tasks but to lead the actual "bees" doing those tedious tasks. – eagle275 Jan 24 at 12:08
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    Rejecting the employer, or even assuming the culture is bad, because of a vague job description seems like a great way to miss opportunities in order to save the 5 minutes of time a phone call that could clarify the whole situation would take. Strikes me as a poor trade-off. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons why a good team might have poorly worded job descriptions. – dwizum Jan 24 at 14:06
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    @dwizum I have seen this happen on government contracting job postings (USA). The post will have every coding language in use for the last 50 years, even though they are really only looking for a C# developer. It's best to call and ask, and even ask if the person you would be working for could be part of the interview so you can get a clear answer – John Herbert Jan 24 at 16:06

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