How to Get a Job When You’re Not Quite Qualified

by Sharon Elber

How to Get Job When Not Qualified

You have just come across a job post for your next dream job, and as you read through the description you notice that there are a few items on the list that you don’t have.

Maybe the job post asks for six years of experience, and you only have four. Or, perhaps you have done plenty of B2B sales, but haven’t tried your hand at direct to customer marketing.

While a conservative approach might be to pass over the opportunity and save your time for a job that you have a better chance to land, it might not be your best career move. Sometimes putting what you have (and don’t have) on the table can land you a job even if you are missing a few of the qualifications in the job description. Plus, one of the best ways to grow professionally is to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.

The rule of thumb is that you should have at least 75% of the key job qualifications listed in the job advertisement.

This is true particularly if you have relevant experiences that are close, but not quite on the money, when it comes to the job specs.

Want to learn more about if, and how, to apply for that dream job? Read on!

1) Adjust Your Mindset: 3 Myths to Let Go Of

Before you decide not to apply, make sure you aren’t undermining yourself by buying into these three common myths:

Myth #1: Hiring decisions are 100% rational and only based on qualifications.

Although qualifications certainly do and should play a role in hiring decisions, they are almost never the whole story. Hiring managers have a big picture view of their organization’s needs which includes an understanding of the right personality and attitude that will work best with other team members.

In addition, human resource professionals understand that retaining great talent sometimes means giving gifted people a chance to grow into positions where they will be challenged just enough to bring their best to the plate. If you need evidence, just look to the people turned down for a job because they are “overqualified.”

Myth #2: It’s unethical to apply for a job unless you meet every qualifications.

It is true that spending the time to apply for jobs that are way out of your league is a waste of your time and energy as well as the people tasked with choosing the best candidates. However, the same is not true if you meet most of the qualifications but lack a few specific skills related to the position.

Here is another way to think about it. If you apply for a job that you believe you have the core experience and/or education for, and the hiring team decides to give you an interview based on your honest application materials despite your lack of a few skills that made the job description, then they are the ones who have made the decision to invest time in getting to know more about you.

At that point, you can wash your hands of any responsibility for “wasting their time” and just get on with putting your best foot forward for the next stage of the hiring process with a perfectly clear conscience.

Myth #3: Job descriptions are always completely accurate.

Just like you want to make your resume stand out to recruiters, they are also under pressure to make their job postings shine in a crowded field of competition for top talent. This can result in an inflated job description.

In other cases, the job description is written by committee and ends up looking more like a wish list rather than a picture that is representative of the day to day work. In these cases, the team is likely to get quite a few applications from folks missing a few of the details. Why shouldn’t you be one of them?

2) Strategies for the Underqualified Applicant

When comes time to put your work history on paper, there are a few best practices to keep in mind if you meet most, but not all, of the required job qualifications.

Best practice #1: Highlight transferable skills.

A great resume always includes a strong emphasis on transferable skills, that is, those skills that easily apply from one context to another. This is particularly true when you are putting together a resume for a job where you may not have all of the specific skills mentioned in the job listing.

Take a look over your resume and see if you can translate the skills and responsibilities from other job experiences into more generic language that will highlight these types of common transferable skills:

  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Communication (written and/or oral)
  • Problem solving
  • Research
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Conflict resolution
  • Multitasking
  • Decision making
  • Delegating

Best practice #2: Write a cover letter that expresses your authentic reasons for knowing the job is perfect for you.

The odds are that the only reason you are reaching for a job that is a little bit outside of your comfort zone is that there is something very special about this opportunity that is meaningful to you. Your cover letter is the place to make this case. Your enthusiasm, passion and even ambition may be a chance to stand out from the crowd of other applicants.

For example, one reason many people are lacking a few qualifications for a job is that they are making a career shift to a new sector. Often, this is because of a new-found passion or ambition that can’t be satisfied in a current field. Let your enthusiasm for the job shine through and it may help you stand out above other applicants that have all the skill boxes checked.

Best practice #3: Avoid tipping your hand.

There is no reason to give recruiters a head’s up that you are feeling a little bit insecure about meeting every single qualification in the job posting. Instead, focus like you would for any other job prospect by keeping the tone and information focused on your strengths.

As long as you are honest about what you do have to offer, you are not being deceptive and do not need to apologize. Although it may be tempting, it is almost always better to avoid hedging language such as:

  • Although I am missing a few of the preferred job qualifications…
  • Even though I do not have experience with XYZ…
  • Despite having limited education in the field…

These attempts to be honest are only going to draw attention to what you don’t have, rather than keep the reader engaged with what you do have to offer. Leave it up to the hiring committee to decide if you are ready for this opportunity.

If there are one or two glaring gaps (and really, if there are more, then this job may well be beyond your reach right now) then you can cover those gaps using positive language. For example, if you do not have direct experience with a specific line of products, but do have retail experience in another sector, you can frame it this way:

My past experience in retail will allow me to quickly become an expert in your product lines, target audience and branding efforts.

3) Nail a Job Interview When You Are Underqualified

Congratulations! Someone on the hiring committee has decided that the sum total of your skills, experience, education and passion for the job are enough to get you on the short list. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back and take some confidence from the fact that those who are in the best position to gauge the most important qualities for the position have given you a big thumbs up.

Now, here are some tips to shine in the interview:

Tip #1: Be ready to address your shortcomings constructively.

The last thing you want to do is come off as defensive if your shortcomings are noticed and you are asked to explain them. While you are preparing for your interview, start by making a list of all of the specific qualifications from the job description that you are either weak in, or just don’t have.

For each qualification that makes your list, be ready with an answer to any interview questions that either highlight your enthusiasm about learning that aspect of the job or provides an alternative skill that you think demonstrates a relevant ability or personal quality.

For example, if asked about your lack of experience doing direct sales work, you can acknowledge that gap but suggest that your experience with community building in your last job has helped you develop an excellent skillset for relationship building that you are confident will be an advantage when it comes to the direct sales aspect of the position.

Tip #2: Have a list of “extras” on hand.

What qualities or skills do you have in spades that might be an advantage in this position that didn’t make the job description? These are the factors that you can leverage to your advantage in a job interview that may help you stand out from other applicants.

As part of your preparation, think through a list of these extras and make an effort to connect them to the work you would be doing in the position. A compelling story from a previous work experience that would connect to a responsibility in the new job is a memorable way to make your point.

Tip #3: Be honest.

It is critical at all stages of the job search that you stay honest with yourself and a potential new employer about your background. It isn’t going to do you any good to get a job that you just can’t do.

However, you do not have to be deceitful in order to impress the hiring team if your extra skills, enthusiasm, ambition and/or passion make up for a few technical deficits.

Don’t let minor deviations from a job description keep you from reaching for that dream job!

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