For candidates, wading through ever-more-complex job descriptions can be an exercise in code-breaking.

By Sonia Lelii
Dice News Staff | May 2008

In this age of consolidation, companies are merging IT job roles with the speed it takes to collapse ten servers into a single virtual machine. The trend is becoming increasingly apparent to tech job seekers trying to match their skill set to available positions.

"You're seeing companies that want a database administrator and also want you to do coding," observes Brian Guild, a security specialist. "They want somebody with an IT background that has selling skills. Someone responsible for security strategy/policy who can also do programming. There are people out there, but finding a match for these jobs is going to be difficult. A lot of job requisitions are going unfulfilled."

Historically, IT job descriptions were written by people working within the IT department. However, as technology has matured and become more integrated into the rest of a company, the task of finding candidates has shifted to human resources staffers - many of whom lack an understanding of the tech organization's nuances.

"I think a lot of people that write the job requisitions are not the direct hiring managers," says Chad Broadus, a product manager. "It seems that someone is using a template. You really have to be careful in what you put in the requirements, or it could make it difficult to hire someone. You scare away a lot of people who can do the job."

What to Do

For job seekers, reading through these difficult job descriptions can be an exercise in code-breaking. Broadus, who has worked as a hiring manager, advises candidates to apply for positions when they can show they qualify for about 80 percent of its listed requirements. "I personally look at the job description, realize it borders on pie-in-the-sky, and then craft my cover letter and resume so it's close," he says. "I then hope that the hiring manager can read between the lines on my resume to see the range of possibilities for which my work and life experiences have prepared me."

Justin Stanley, a database administrator, takes much the same approach. The only exception is when a major requirement falls within the 20 percent of experience he doesn't have. "Essentially, requirements that are key to the position - such as if they are looking for a Java developer and I have no Java experience," he says. In those cases, he doesn't apply for the job.

Going Mainstream

There's no question technology is the business these days. As a result, companies are demanding IT workers who have more business acumen, so that their IT strategies can be more closely aligned with business goals. However, IT workers and recruiters say many job requisitions look more like a committee's wish list than an actionable job description.

"I've seen some crazy ones lately. It's a huge problem," says Christa Baker, an area manager for Manpower Professional, in Southborough, Mass. "A lot of these companies' wish lists are completely unrealistic."

Baker recalls one request for a database administrator who could also handle switches and routers. However, she notes, professionals with knowledge-based skills aren't necessarily interchangeable: Database administrators are primarily software-focused, while switch and routing issues are handled by people with more abilities in infrastructure and networking.

Often, HR staffers and recruiters take pains to shape a job requisition that is logical and helps pinpoint the IT role a company is trying to fill. However, the process can be hampered when recruiters don't have access to the IT hiring manager, which is the case in many instances, according to Baker.

"It depends on the organization, but sometimes they want a person to perform a variety of duties. Sometimes these roles overlap and sometimes they don't," she notes. "For instance, they may want a software developer who also is a GUI developer. That's when you have to say, 'No, stop. Those are two different guys.' If you ask hard-core software developers to do GUI work, they are going to laugh at you."

Some tech workers contend companies want people to do more multi-tasking, though not always in ways that make sense. Justin Stanley recalls one opening where a company was looking for a system administrator, a hardware-focused job. "Then you read through the description and they wanted someone with three years Java experience," he recalls. "I normally wouldn't associate a system administrator with that role. People who become system administrators go into it because they don't like to code."

E-mail Sonia Lelii at sonia.lelii at