the all-seeingeyeA Software List is Not a Job Description

Muffler shop needs mechanic. Candidates must be familiar with Snap-On brand tools, and Quaker-State petroleum products. Preference will be given to those with experience with Pennzoil, Rigid Tools, and Craftsman Brand socket wrenches. Left-handed mechanics only.

Pretty silly ad, huh? It would be funnier if it wasn't the sort of thing I see all of the time. Graphic artists and page-layout people are usually sought after in exactly this way. Substitute your favorite software names for the brands and your favorite platform for left-handed, and it could be every job description I've read in the last few years.

My guess is that the descriptions are not written by somebody who knows anything about the job skills, but is rather more familiar with a bunch of product names. I'll admit to my own software preferences, but truthfully any type of software product is pretty much the same. If you can make one work, you can probably make the others work as well. Market forces almost guarantee it.

An alternate possibility is that the employer regards its staff as interchangeable parts. "Quick, we need a replacement graphic artist, model number A246-67J! We don't care what color or size, we just need it now!" That attitude might explain the high turnover in some environments.

Finally, there is the possibility that even job descriptions have fallen under what I call "the tyranny of the spreadsheet." Talent and ability are not things that fit into a spreadsheet cell. But we can make a checklist for software use, and substitute that seemingly objective measure for the much harder subjective decisions this field calls for.