How to Use Close Reading to Analyze Job Descriptions

By Sarah Goldberg, Undergraduate Career Development, and Jason Ueda, Writing Center

Let’s be real: job postings are a weird genre of writing—and you’ll probably encounter many of them in your lifetime.

Happily, your humanities skillset is here to help. In this first installment of our Humanities Skills for the Job Search series, we’ll explore how close reading can help you craft stellar application materials.

Your close reading skills, honed in University Writing and your humanities coursework, can be an invaluable tool in your job-search process. Read on to discover tips on how to use close reading to understand the structure and purpose of job postings, narrow down your career interests, and create tailored application documents and interview stories that showcase your preparedness for and interest in the role.

So, let’s dive in!

What’s Close Reading, Again?

Close reading is a process of inspecting and making sense of a text.

A rule of thumb: When close reading, assume that the text is the result of a series of deliberate choices by the author(s) about content, structure, and tone.

From this rule, it follows that the process of inspecting and interpreting the text is also a process of analyzing authorial intention. Who is their intended reader? What do they intend to communicate to that reader? What values and assumptions underlie that message?

When close reading, you’ll look for conspicuous choices. What strikes you as unusual or surprising? What patterns, trends, or repetitions do you see?

What’s in a Job Posting?, or Job Postings 101

For a moment, put yourself in the headspace of the person writing the job description: the hiring manager or HR generalist trying to fill an open role. How are you going to find that elusive individual who will be motivated to do the job, and do it well—and whom you’d like to become a member of your community?

The job description is one of your main tools to find this person. By promoting your company’s best face to them, you want to not only find those great candidates, but also convince them to apply.

As an applicant, you’ll notice that many job postings are aspirational, representing the employer’s dream candidate. So, if you don’t meet all of the desired qualifications, but are very interested and think you can make a strong case for yourself, you should still consider applying!

Now, let’s talk about what you’ll find in a job posting:

  • Job Title
  • Posting Date or Application Deadline

Pro-tip: If there’s no deadline, don’t wait. Apply as soon as you can get your materials ready!

  • Introduction or Overview: Conveys the big picture of the position and organization.
  • Responsibilities: Outlines how an employee in this position will spend their time at work. Sometimes this list is divvied up by category of task (for instance, administrative, research, etc.) and percentage of time they’ll spend doing each.
  • Qualifications: Usually appears in list form, and may include things like technical skills, soft skills, personality traits, and educational qualifications. Sometimes there are separate categories for required qualifications and additional desired qualifications.
  • Company Description: Showcases the mission, values, and key accomplishments of the company.

Keep in mind: The order of information in the posting gives you clues about what’s important to the employer. So, be sure to pay attention to what appears early and often in the posting!

Applying Your Close Reading Skills to Job Postings

Tip #1: Close Reading for Exploration and Career Planning

Look for commonalities between 5–10 similar jobs to understand what an employer might be seeking for that type of job in that industry.

  • Reflect on what aspects of these jobs appeal and don’t appeal to you to narrow down your search to jobs that align with your workplace and workstyle preferences, interests, strengths, and values.
  • Identify skill or knowledge gaps (including industry lingo) you might be looking to fill before applying.

Tip #2: Close Reading for Organizing and Preparing for Your Search

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, use the same technique, of reading several postings for similar positions, to streamline your application process.

  • Pay attention to job titles to identify the types of positions you might search for and target, using a job function filter and keyword search.
  • Create template documents for different types of positions in specific industries, which you can tailor further for specific positions when you’re ready to apply. You can use the strategies in the next tip to create these templates.

Tip #3: Close Reading for Applying and Interviewing

Use the job description to tailor your story to a specific job and employer. We’ll talk more about this in the next installment in this series, Your Persuasion-Ready Pitch.

  • Highlight or list the verbs in the job description to identify transferable skills they’re looking for. Next, brainstorm examples of when you’ve done those things.
  • Highlight or list adjectives from the job description and company mission statement to identify key company values that align with yours.
  • Group words into categories to identify key competency areas, knowledge areas, or qualities the employer is looking for. Use these categories to structure and revise your resume, generate a main argument and topic sentences for your cover letter, and understand what they’ll be looking to learn about you in the interview.
  • Freewrite on unique elements of the job and the company. What elements excite or intrigue you? Use this in your application materials and interview to convey your genuine interest in the role.

Humanities Skills for the Job Search

Check out our other installments of this series: Your Persuasion-Ready Pitch (part 1, part 2) and Applying Your Humanities Mindsets to Your Career Development.