15. 06. 2018

Why 99% of the candidates we place don't fit the job description

Adaptive Digital places hundreds of digital marketing professionals each in jobs every year, and guess what – 99% of them don’t match the published job description.

Wait… what? A bit of a risky thing for a recruiter to say in a public forum, surely?

And yes, in some ways it is.

But it’s also true - and there’s a logic behind it that offers a valuable lesson for candidates everywhere looking to advance their careers.

Let’s give that statement some context:

Adaptive Digital places candidates across all areas of the digital marketing spectrum – search marketing, mobile, social, analytics, e-commerce… we secure positions for candidates at entry-level to VP, and almost none of them directly fit the job description produced by the client.

Does this mean we’re giving our clients a poor service?

Far from it – we recruit for some of the world’s largest digital agencies and corporate marketing teams and have partnerships dating back ten years.

So why do so many candidates get jobs they don’t qualify for on paper?

 The Job Description Is Just A Wishlist

Many of us get enthusiastic when thinking about a possible career change, then talk ourselves out of exploring possibilities when we start browsing job descriptions online and disqualifying ourselves from application.

Not enough years of X.

Haven’t managed budgets of £Y.

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a think about how most job descriptions come into being.

In a best-case scenario, hiring managers sit down and try to condense a complex range of intangible, non-quantifiable assets of a human being into a one-page document.

Often, a job description is created by an internal recruiter or HR team member paraphrasing on behalf of the hiring manager, or Frankenstein-ing a JD together from previous versions.

So job descriptions are often imperfect.

That’s not to dismiss their value – they’re a vital part of the recruitment process, and our team bases our work daily off the guidance given by our clients.

But when it comes to assembling top-performing teams, JDs are exactly that – guidance.

Recruiters and career-minded candidates work with that guidance to find a match that goes beyond a simplistic equation of CV + JD = match.

Not All Experience Is Equal

Another thing that creates a major disconnect between hiring managers and candidates is the tradition of quantifying experience in years:

“8+ years’ experience in marketing, with a focus on digital and content marketing”

“Minimum 3 Years’ experience with Bid Optimisation, Ad Rotation, Audience Profiling & Location Targeting”

Though it’s helpful as a broad gauge, hiring managers are really looking for someone who is great at what they do!

5 years of working without enthusiasm or curiosity is not a like-for-like comparison with 3 years of working with energy, excellence and a continual focus on self-improvement.

That’s why we always encourage candidates to base their CVs around what they’ve achieved and how they work, rather than approaching the job market with a profile that looks like the JD of their previous job.

What hiring managers want

In our daily roles as recruiters, we see exceptionally well-qualified candidates fail at interview where less experienced peers succeed.


Because technical skills are almost never the main reason candidates are selected by top companies.

Yes, you need to have a relevant base of knowledge for a role. While companies can train, the learning curve can’t be too steep or too long.

But beyond experience and technical ability, the vast majority of hiring managers are looking for people who will provide long-term value and be an asset to the team.

For job-seekers in digital marketing, this means:

  • Willingness to learn – hiring managers love welcoming people onto their teams who display internal drive to stay curious about new ways to achieve marketing goals. The pressure quickly piles up on any team or department lead if they are the only person expected to innovate or find new ways to solve problems.  

  • Viewing marketing holistically – with so many digital marketing and e-commerce teams structured around channels, it’s a common frustration for hiring managers to interview candidates who show no awareness or interest in how their role fits the bigger picture. As companies grow and evolve, team members who understand the broader marketing mix prove invaluable over colleagues happy to remain silo-ed.

  • Caring about team success – ultimately, any digital marketing effort is about driving top-line results for the company or client. Candidates who make a habit of relating their contribution to team success typically shine brighter in interviews than those who see their work only in the context of their assigned goals or KPIs. Demonstrate that you’re joining a team to help make everyone around you successful, and you’ll open doors even when your hard skills may not make the grade.

How to benefit

Smart digital marketers looking to advance their careers can learn to understand the qualities a company wants, not just the list items.

Once you’ve deconstructed a JD to understand what a business needs from the role, you can compare this much more accurately to your skill set and experience, and shape your CV accordingly.

When it comes to interviews, remember to let the key factors shine – motivation, focus on team work, desire for progress, investment in learning, problem-solving skills and flexibility… these are almost never in a JD – but they’re key!

Pulling it all together, you can learn to narrate your experience to match the needs of the role, and give yourself the best possible chance of landing your next dream role.

Good luck with your search!

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