4 Steps To Getting Hired When You Aren’t Completely Qualified

Don’t meet all the requirements for the next move in your career? No matter. Here’s how to get to the next step regardless.

4 Steps To Getting Hired When You Aren’t Completely Qualified
[Photo: Flickr user Michael Dougherty]

This news may come as a surprise, but if you’re in the market for a career move, you don’t have to limit your search to positions you totally qualify for.


The truth is, those job descriptions are the ideal, and often no one expects for candidates to meet these high expectations. Hiring managers always start by seeking proven candidates for the role, and then gradually lower the bar based on who they find in the marketplace.

A lot of variables affect the hiring manager’s openness to interview candidates who don’t qualify on paper, including competition from other companies, the pool of available talent, salary targets, and geography, among others.

So how can you maximize your chances of getting an interview–and convince the interview team that you are a viable candidate–when you don’t yet meet all of the qualifications?

1. Stack Your Odds

Start by focusing on the following few scenarios where your chances could be higher:

  • When the hiring manager knows you from another professional context.

  • When no other fully qualified person is available for the role.

  • When there’s a team in place that supplements the missing pieces in your experience. For example, if a company needs a director of human resources with strong talent acquisition skills, you have a shot as a senior recruiter, especially if they already have a person strong in benefits, compensation, or other functions within the human resources umbrella.

  • When you can offer other advantages to the company, such as a big network of potential partners or customers.

2. Plan Your Move Way Ahead

Try to identify your next career goal far before you start searching so that you can systematically plan how to build your resume for the role and easily identify and pursue opportunities to grow your skills. Don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibility when there’s a chance. For example, an online marketer who wants to become a director of marketing can ask to either handle branding or press and analyst relations or work closely with a person who is managing those functions to learn from them.

You can also look for opportunities where you can set a mutual intention between you and the company to broaden your role over time. If, for example, you identify a company where the head of marketing is near retirement age, taking a role reporting directly to her and developing a positive work relationship, you can increase your chances of becoming her successor.


With some luck, you can find a role where you are specifically groomed to become a successor, or can at least be mentored by someone already in that role. If you can’t find that mentor inside your own company, don’t be afraid to find one outside of it. Network with people who already have the jobs you want, and see if you can find a suitable mentor in that group.

3. Be Honest But Positive

If you are invited to interview, don’t lie or mislead the hiring manager about your experience. Instead acknowledge your shortcomings, but then highlight examples where you’ve managed to overcome similar challenges.

Plan your answers to difficult questions in advance and practice telling your story until it flows concisely and eloquently. Demonstrate how you will make a positive and measurable impact on the company or function. Do your homework on the company: Know their products or services, competitors, financials, and the names and backgrounds of the key team members. If possible, demonstrate your strategic skills by identifying a possible new partner, market, or process improvement opportunity for the company.

4. Know When To Walk Away

Finally, don’t accept the right role at the wrong company. While it’s okay to be flexible on compensation, geography, or reporting structure, you are better off in a narrower role at a growing company than having the top role at a struggling company. Working at a successful company will open bigger and better doors for you than being one of the leaders of a train wreck.

Jeff Epstein is an operating partner at Bessemer Venture Partners and a lecturer at Stanford University, specializing in marketplaces, cloud software, and advertising technology companies. He is the former executive vice president and chief financial officer of Oracle, one of the world’s largest and most profitable technology companies, with a market value of over $150 billion.


Miia Laukkarinen is a vice president of talent at Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP), where she works closely with BVP’s portfolio companies to provide strategic counsel and tactical support on talent initiatives. Prior to joining BVP, Miia spent over a decade filling VP and C-level positions in venture-backed consumer Internet and software companies.