How to find and use ‘the unpublished job spec’
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Q: “I read the job spec until my eyes hurt. I went through the company website too in great detail. But I still felt like I wasn’t properly prepared on the day – some things came up that hadn’t been prominent on the spec or site. How can I avoid this happening again?” (LT, email).

A: LT, you did a lot – but you need to do more, writes Sean Browne Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers, Ballinrobe. 

You probably did more than a lot of other candidates in the same contest, but I’d wager that the successful candidate did more.

Candidates need to think about what I call ‘the unpublished job spec’. Not everything goes on the job advert or in the full job description. The company website, though insightful, doesn’t contain the full story either.


Sean Browne,
Ballinrobe. T: 094 95 42965

You can zoom in on the unpublished job spec by talking to someone working in the company, someone who worked there previously, or someone who works in a rival company – or all three. Find out the real story with the vacancy.

From these conversations, you might reach the following conclusions:

  1. The last incumbent wasn’t good with people and the company are likely to value someone more personable and approachable – ergo, I can talk in the interview about being personable and approachable;
  2. The company has an ongoing problem with compliance – people have grown accustomed to cutting corners, but this won’t wash in an era when regulation is all the rage. I’ve some experience in compliance and so I will highlight that in the interview;
  3. Down the road, the company may expand overseas – it’s a logical move for them. I’ve worked in this sector overseas previously, so that’s something I need to emphasise in the interview.

I can think of one outstanding example where a candidate – a client of mine – made great use of ascertaining the unpublished job spec. The candidate was a newly qualified solicitor hoping to get a job in a company that specialised in a specific area of law.

When researching the legal firm’s’ website, he noticed the company blogged extensively on topics of interest to their sector. The peak of the blogging was from 2008 to 2011, and a number of the blogs resulted in interviews and articles in various media organs, including The Sunday Times – all good publicity for the firm.

But the blogging dried up in 2011. The candidate wondered why this might be. Was it that the company started getting busier around then and allowed blogging to drift off their agenda?

He made a few phone calls and satisfied himself that this was the case. As it happened, this candidate enjoyed writing and some blogging was right up his street.

In the interview, he found a way of introducing his interest in writing, and noted that the company had a tradition of blogging. “Could I get involved in blogging on the company website?” he asked.

It was the right button to press. The company believed in blogging and saw the value that accrued in terms of showcasing their expertise and credibility in the sector. They’d just got out of the habit. His offer of blogging in their name was a key factor in his getting the job.

And, remember, blogging was never mentioned on the job spec. LT, you did a lot – a bit more might have got you there.