I've noticed that there tends to be a trend in North America of defining rather "vague" requirements for technical positions, contrasted with e.g. in some countries, where a position might advertise very specific requirements such as:

  • MSc or PhD in computer science, bioinformatics, AI or related field
  • 10+ years' experience (even though the field is less than 10 years old)
  • Experience with Java Enterprise software development, Spring, MySQL, Maven and 30 more buzzwords
  • Knowledge of Hadoop and Mahout a plus

I've seen similar job adverts in the US/Canada sometimes look more like:

  • 10+ years of relevant work experience
  • Knowledge of machine learning, bioinformatics
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Solid programming skills in Java, Eclipse etc. (actually writing "etc." in the advert)

How can I judge what level of qualifications and competence the recruiters are expecting given a relatively "vague" advert? — While the above two descriptions share similarities, the first one seems (at least to me) to be asking for someone already with very mature skills in the target area, while the second one is not as transparent to me: If an advert explicitly requires a PhD, it's more or less obvious that I should be able to design and execute research ideas independently and already have a relatively deep understanding of the field.

I know that, at least to some degree, North American companies are often less obsessed with papers and degrees than those in some other parts of the world, but how can I "guess" what level of "goodness" I'm supposed to have?

  • 1
    I assume you're talking about the software industry. For any position beyond about midlevel, there is an "insane" shortage at the moment. Qualifications, etc, listed in job adverts are all-but pointless; all they can do is say "we need someone" and hope for the best that (non-hopeless) people show up. "how can I 'guess' what level of "goodness' I'm supposed to have" .. just go ahead an apply. If you are, actually, good and senior, you can write your own ticket. – Fattie Jun 11 '17 at 19:40
  • If your point is just that the USA is "looser" and more "brash" (let's put it that way) than say Germany - ok, sure, that's correct. Go ahead and apply. Tip, whatever salary you're thinking, add at least 50% to begin with. – Fattie Jun 11 '17 at 19:42
  • @Fattie the core of the problem problem is that in e.g. Germany, "MSc or PhD" actually indicates an entry-to-mid-level job, not a senior one... – errantlinguist Jun 11 '17 at 19:57
  • Hi @errantlinguist. I understand what you mean, but there's simply "no problem". It's all a non-issue. With US job ads the descriptions, etc are irrelevant. 1 - look at the indicated salary offered. (BTW this is traditionally at least 30% less than what they will actually pay for the role.) 2 - next, look at the indicated salary offered. When you've completed these two steps, 3 - look at the indicated salary offered! They might vaguely mention some programming languages (presently) used on the project but .. whatever? (What company can be fussy today?) If you like the job, apply! – Fattie Jun 11 '17 at 20:03
  • 1
    "North American companies are often less obsessed with papers and degrees than in some other parts of the world" interestingly: in terms of literally the CV SCREENING PROCESS. (They get HUGE, INSANELY HUGE numbers of applications for all positions: the vast majority are total trash, just from recruiters, "freelance offshore teams" and so on.) It is true that depressingly/annoyingly, they DO often just dismiss anyone without good academic "letters" on the CV (often just automatically at the web-site-automation level). Since you seem to have that, you're all set on that count. – Fattie Jun 11 '17 at 20:14

How can I judge what level of qualifications and competence the recruiters are expecting given a relatively "vague" advert?

Not all North American employers post "vague" job requirements. Many are extremely detailed and restrictive.

If you find one that you deem to be "vague" then it might be intentionally so. It might be that the company realizes that exactness of applicants' background is less important than overall "fit".

So you are free to match your background to the vague requirements and decide for yourself if you think the job sounds appealing, and if you believe you qualify. Don't worry about an exactness of match.

You'll find out during the interview process if there is a fit or not.

  • 1
    Or it might be intentional, that they expect a person meeting the (not mentioned) requirements to understand them from the job description and mention them in their CV compared to persons not meeting them not being able to determine that and thus being filtered out for not mentioning the right "buzzwords" in their application. – skymningen Jun 12 '17 at 9:23
  • It is true that a few US companies post detailed ("European-style") job postings. (A simple large example is Google.) But those exceptions prove the general observation that US job listings (in software) are vague, bubbly and brash. – Fattie Jun 12 '17 at 11:18

Let's have a look at the companies who do offer vague requirements. The theory behind their behaviour is that a good engineer who does not know your technology will do a better job than a bad one who knows your technology.

It's an old school of thought, that may be true, or not(I'm not debating that point here), and that is more popular when the job market is tight. Which means they are looking for someone clever who will quickly enter their world. What they expect from you is to learn quickly all the ropes, to prove a profitable hire quickly.

And you don't prepare for the job interview the same way that you prepare for an accurate ad interview. Your aim is to prove you'll adapt quickly to their world, not that you already know everything about the tool they are using.

That is, if you still want the job, of course.

  • 1
    Thank you for the additional perspective: I've never experienced a market where employers might look for "someone clever" over someone who knows "everything about the tool they are using". – errantlinguist Jun 12 '17 at 8:36
  • @errantlinguist, given the pace of change of languages and frameworks used at many companies this actually makes sense. If they end up changing languages in a year, it won't mean much if you are the best in the world at the language being left behind, but can't work with the new one. – cdkMoose Jun 12 '17 at 9:19
  • @cdkMoose sounds like I should have started looking seriously at the US job market a long time ago... – errantlinguist Jun 12 '17 at 9:23
  • @cdkMoose : exactly my point. I switched jobs 3 years ago, for a programming language I didn't know. This summer, I'm going for training because they change their programming language, and I'm staying there. – gazzz0x2z Jun 12 '17 at 9:28
  • 1
    If I need someone to use a specific tool or language, I can can teach you that. Or send you to training. What I can't teach is good business judgement and ability to adapt. I'd rather hire someone with the latter, even if they have never used my tools ever, over someone with 10 years experience but can't learn. – Seth R Jun 12 '17 at 20:55

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.