Underqualified? You May Want to Apply Anyway


Most people have had the experience of coming across a job they really want but are unqualified for. This is especially common when you are searching for your first job out of college or making a big career change.

Think back to a time this happened to you: You read the ad and loved what you saw — but then you realized you didn’t meet all of the requirements. Did that stop you from applying?

For many job seekers, the answer is yes. When a person sees they don’t meet the requirements, they usually decide against applying. Sending in a resume would just be pointless, right? You’re certain to be rejected.

But let me tell you about a job I took right after college. I didn’t realize it when I applied, but the role specifically asked for an MBA. It wasn’t optional — it was a must-have.

I didn’t have an MBA back then, but I still advanced through the first round of screening. I learned I was competing against two much older candidates who did have MBAs. The process was incredibly intimidating. Much to my surprise, however, I ended up receiving the offer. I had performed better in the interviews than my competitors — and, to be totally honest, I suspect I was the cheaper choice because I didn’t have an MBA.

All of this is to say that you must understand how hiring managers write job descriptions. They throw together a laundry list of qualifications, skills, and experiences they’d like to see in a candidate. It’s essentially a wish list, and your future boss doesn’t really expect to find someone who matches every single requirement, no matter what the ad says.

Where does this leave you? Clearly you don’t want to waste time applying for jobs you can’t actually do, but there is a difference between not meeting all of the requirements of a job description and being able to do the job.

The next time you come across a role you like but for which you seem unqualified, ask yourself: “Do I think I can do this job successfully?” If your answer is “yes,” apply right away. If the answer is “maybe,” evaluate how much of the job you can do. If you believe you can successfully complete 80 percent or more of the requests in the job description, you should also go ahead and apply. And, of course, if the answer is “no,” move on to find another job for which you are better suited.

That said, when you don’t meet every qualification in a job ad, the online application process may be stacked against you. The company’s applicant tracking system may filter you out of the running because your resume is missing certain keywords. To overcome this, look for opportunities to connect directly with the hiring manager. Search for your future boss and/or colleagues on LinkedIn and at networking events.

If you feel you simply cannot overcome your lack of experience, explore opportunities to grow your skills. Search for classes you can take. Look for smaller businesses that might give you a shot or another hiring manager who is more flexible in their requirements.

At the end of the day, you don’t know for sure you won’t get the job unless you take the risk and apply. It is much better for an employer to turn you down than to eliminate yourself from consideration by never taking the chance.

A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at Copeland Coaching.

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