Deciphering Technical Job Descriptions

Wouldn’t it be great if job titles were standard across industries and employers? If “Programmer Analyst” always meant the same thing, and that no matter whom you’re talking with the title would always be “Programmer Analyst”? Then we wouldn’t have to know to also look at Software Engineers, Systems Programmers, and Application Developers. For technical recruiters, translating the language on a resume is challenging enough, but it’s made worse knowing that all these different words can describe the same position. On top of that, in the ongoing war for talent, employers strive to differentiate themselves by creating job titles that sound interesting and/or exciting ? but that we may have never heard before! The easiest way to wade through this quagmire of job titles on a candidate’s resume is to ignore the title and evaluate the position based on four criteria: experience level, category/function, technical environment, and tools or skills required.

  1. Experience level. First look at the experience either required by the position or the number of years experience the individual shows on the resume. This information can help you determine whether or not you’re looking for an entry-, intermediate- or senior-level individual. Just ask a question such as:
  • “How many years have you been programming in C++?”
  • “When did you begin working as a System Administrator?”
  • “How many years have you been in that role?”
  1. Category/Function. Next, evaluate the job function or category for an understanding of the primary responsibilities involved. At this point, you’ll want to understand if the primary role was development or support. By development, I mean that the professional was involved in creating a new system. This could be a new database, application or network. Those involved in the support function are then focusing on maintaining an existing system such as a database, or network. For example, for a database person, consider whether the database currently exists and requires maintenance, or if the database needed to be designed from scratch. In an interview, you may ask:
  • “What were your responsibilities on the project (or with the database)?”
  • “In what phases of development have you been involved?”


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  1. Technical environment. After looking at function, consider technical environment. In other words, determine whether it’s mainframe, midrange or desktop and determine the platform. “Platform” refers to the hardware and the operating system. You might ask the questions:
  • “What platforms have you worked on?”
  • “What are the complexities of the platform?”
  1. Tools or skills required. Finally, review tools and skills. This is where you look at your keywords like Java, Unix, or CORBA and begin to understand which ones are important. Each job description has a set of skills associated with it, and there are unlimited of variations that can include a combination of development languages, databases, and connectivity issues, for example. At this point in an interview, the questions may include:
  • “Which databases have you worked on?”
  • “How many disparate technologies have you had to integrate?
  • “Which OO methodologies or notations have you used?”

By breaking down the job description into manageable pieces, you can gain a better understanding of the type of person you’re looking for and do a better job of matching applicants to positions. There are hundreds of jobs that technical professionals can perform and understanding them all can seem like an impossible task. In asking questions like the samples given, you can begin to see where the candidate fits against the job description and ensure a better fit and greater employee and hiring manager satisfaction.

Kimberly Bedore ( is a consultant and public speaker who develops and implements staffing solutions for clients, resulting in increased efficiencies and significant cost savings. She uses her wide range of recruiting experience to provide companies with a wealth of information related to sourcing and sourcing strategies, recruitment training, and the implementation of solutions and metrics that enable a higher degree of staffing effectiveness.


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