6 Qualifications That Really Don’t Belong in Job Ads

I’m sorry if you’ve ever used one or more of these yourself, but there are lots of qualifications listed in job ads that are just plain useless – they don’t help the candidate determine if they’re a good fit, or give them any clue as to what the job actually involves. Not to mention they’re so dry and boring they do nothing to motivate people to apply.

I suspect the use of these stock qualifications is driven by job ad templates and wizards, as many of them occur with frightening regularity. I got the ones below from just the first 3 job ads that popped up when I searched for an “Admin Assistant” role on a job board for example.

Here are the 6 worst offenders that jumped out at me, and some ideas for what to use instead:

1. Ability to work both independently and in a team setting

This is my personal (un)favourite and it’s been around for ever (including on the first job I ever applied to). What exactly is a job seeker supposed to make of this? It doesn’t tell them anything about what kind of environment they will be working in or what competency they need to possess. Here’s another approach:

“As our first Admin, you’ll need to be comfortable working independently and figuring things out for yourself. You will be providing support to a team of 15, however, so experience and a desire to work in a team environment is important”.

2. Exceptional attention to detail

Sounds good, something you’d like employees to have, right? But what is it asking for exactly? Context is important, so a better description may be along the lines of:

“We’re a small team and rely on attention to detail and accountability to get things done right (not systems and processes and double checks). You should be someone who has demonstrated taking responsibility for getting things right first time”.

3. Strong time management skills

Does this mean looking for people to come to work on time, or manage multiple different priorities at once?

“Supporting a team like ours means you’ll often be dealing with simultaneous requests and conflicting priorities. So, if you’re the kind of person with a 15 color-coded calendar, apply now”.

4. Ability to learn new technologies and tools

What?! We’re looking for someone who is prepared to learn new stuff! Tell them what stuff and why.

“Our current tools are ABC software, XYZ system and the LMN platform. If you have experience using these that’s awesome. As we’re growing fast, we also expect to be adding more systems so be prepared to keep learning new things”.

5. Ability to communicate effectively, written and verbally

Perhaps the most common “filler” used in qualifications. It’s too broad and doesn’t relate to what the job requires. Again what you should ask for depends on the role itself, but more specifics help.

“Effective communication is key to the success of this role. You’ll need to be able to handle verbal and written requests from the team and deal with suppliers and partners. As you’ll be manning the phone, you should have a professional phone presence and experience responding to general inquiries and directing calls”.

6. Ability to think “outside the box” and be an innovative problem solver


“We’re looking for someone who is willing to think critically about the challenges and problems we face and suggest fixes and improvements. If you can think of some examples of when you’ve creatively solved a problem recently, apply and tell us about them, you’re probably a great fit.”

At the end of the day, the above examples are more like competencies than qualifications (which are more objective and definitive). But, whatever you call the things you’re looking for, there are no shortcuts to writing a good job ad. It takes time and effort to profile the role properly and turn this understanding into a job description that motivates the right applicants to apply. Please, turn off that job wizard and put that template in the trash.