"Knowledge of" means it's sufficient to show that you've taken a class on the subject or taken some training, though proving you've done it is always an extra little bump. Chances are, having read about it is probably not sufficient.
"Ability" or "Skills" mean you have to identify where you've actually done this particular thing.
"Demonstrated ability" means you will need to prove that you've done this thing, you can't just say that you've done it.
So that's fairly straightforward. But what, I can hear you say, do I do with the intangibles? "Demonstrated communication ability." What does that mean anyway? Here's where it gets interesting. A lot of different things to different people is what that means. For those applications that don't require writing samples, perhaps proof of a publication record or a link to an online writing sample of some sort, so forth. For me when I use it? I often make that assessment off of the quality of the cover letter and I'm not just talking about grammar and spelling here. (Yeah, I know, I'm occasionally really really mean.)
Computer literacy? Or web development ability? Or all those things that could mean a lot of different things to different people? Rely on context. Isn't it nice to be an archivist so you're used to looking for context? If the job is a digital archives specialist, the baseline for computer literacy or web development is likely to be a lot higher than a position that consists primarily of physical processing of textual records.
For more help with context: often, though not always, the elements that are more important to the recruiter will not only be listed earlier in the requirements, but the important stuff will be referenced in the job description as well. If digitization experience is listed in the requirements but isn't even hinted at in the job description, chances are you don't have to dedicate a huge amount of time to this topic. You'll still need to mention it, it's a requirement after all, but it's probably not as important as that "knowledge of web editing software" where the position description says "Will maintain departmental website." I'll get more into ranking matters in the next posting.
So that's some of the things you have to interpret in terms of you. What about the hidden things the advert is telling you about the job or the institution? The thing to keep in mind is reading a job advertisement is a lot like that old joke about reading real estate ads: "Handyman's dream" is likely to mean "Everybody else will want to raze it and start over." Chances are, there aren't going to be too many of these types of clues in the job ad because somebody along the way will have read those and edited them out, but occasionally you can still pick them out.
The job ads that look like somebody pulled the description off of a basic archives textbook? Could mean that the people doing the searching--and potentially the supervision--don't actually know much about the job or what an archivist does. Might be a great chance for you to do some education in a really supportive institution and build a great set-up from scratch or you might spend your time in the position battling for the basics. Like boxes and shelving and a place for people to do research that isn't your office desk. A huge laundry list of duties with no sense of what the priorities are? Again maybe written by somebody who doesn't understand the position or could be you're looking at a position that does nothing but put out fires as they come up. A low wage rate in comparison to expected credentials? Just avoid it. Sorry all, but if they're asking for three master's degrees and reading knowledge of two non-English European languages and five years of progressively responsible management experience, the pay for the position should recompense appropriately and not assume a second or third income in the household.
On that note, I know a few people who swear they will not apply for a position where the advertisement doesn't give any hint of pay. And I occasionally see those ads and wonder that if the people advertising truly understand that when they don't include a pay range, that a lot of otherwise excellent candidates are going to avoid applying just because they assume that an unstated pay = pathetic and embarrassing pay. I've applied for a few of those and with one exception, that was pretty much the case. I've heard the justification that this weeds out the people who aren't serious about the position, but honestly I'm not buying it. If you are paying a good salary, while it may weed out the timewasters or the money-hunting types, it also weeds out far too many excellent candidates. Perhaps some places aren't allowed to advertise their pay. If that's your institution: what is the background here? Do you find it affects the size or quality of your candidate pool? What are the regulations that prevent you from giving applicants an idea of what the compensation might be? Are you at an institution that doesn't advertise the pay for other reasons? Want to explain or defend your practices? I'll take out your name & institution and post an explanation on your behalf if you need to be anonymous. Send me an email.
For those that give pay ranges, you can generally assume that they're going to be hiring closer to the bottom end of it. In some cases that top number looks really nice, but that may not be a hiring range. At one place I knew, that was the top wage for the job scale: that is, that it would take you about 20 years to hit that number and then you were topped out, you'd never get a raise above that. Some will let you negotiate for a point in that range, some won't. I haven't yet figured out a way to tell which is which. If anybody out there reading this has, please share?
Got any other intangibles or not clearly defined requirements you've seen in an ad? Want me or the other blog readers to take a stab at them? Let's see them. Hit comment below and type away. And in that line, Jamie is still waiting for an answer from the Background posting comment that asked about the NARA presidential library requirement: "Knowledge of the recent history of the United States, the Presidency and the Federal Government, and the organization and functions of the White House staff and Executive branch." Anybody know what would meet this one? I guessed maybe modern US history or poli sci courses might cover it, but I really don't know. Anybody?