There it is: your dream job. There’s just one problem. You don’t meet all the qualifications.
It’s a conundrum. Should you channel your inner life coach and go for it? Or should you follow the rules and wait until you have the right experience or credentials? If you sit it out, you may miss a great opportunity. On the other hand, you don’t want to waste your time or, worse, alienate hiring managers by wasting theirs.
It’s a tough question, but you should almost always err on the side of “go for it,” says career expert Cynthia Shapiro author of What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here? 44 Insider Secrets That Will Get You Hired. After all, everyone has to take a job that stretches skills if they want to move ahead. Before you do, these career coaches and recruiters recommend asking yourself these six questions.
Shapiro’s rule of thumb is that you should meet 51% of the listed qualifications. That’s an arbitrary estimate, but her point is that a job listing is like a house-hunter’s wish list: You ask for everything you want and understand that you’ll likely have to compromise.
“What they’re really looking for is an intangible that they can’t put in a job posting. If you’ve got 51% of what they’re looking for, you should proudly send your resume in,” she says.
Obviously, if you lack a specific degree, license, or specialized training necessary or legally required to do the job, you need to earn that before you apply. But what if you’re lacking the years of experience or some other less objective credential? Still go for it, says Maddie Stough, HR recruiting practice team leader at LaSalle Network.
For example, if the job description requires five to seven years of experience, she says, “You should be looking at it if you have three to 10 years of experience.” Use your resume and cover letter to highlight the responsibilities held and achievements within your job that align with what your stretch job will require.
A spotty background with a year here and two years there is usually only problematic if it’s not strategic, says James Philip, managing director of executive search firm JMJ Phillip. You should be able to show that you didn’t just change jobs for the next title bump or pay bump, but that you were strategically increasing your experience and developing your skills, Phillip says.
“If they’ve just jumped jobs, there’s going to come a time when they haven’t really honed in on a craft,” he says. Be sure to highlight the career-focused reasons for making the moves you did.
First, make sure that you’re not stretching the truth on your resume to get your stretch job, Shapiro says. It’s very easy to find out if you actually held a title or hold the degree you have, and employers are increasingly likely to check references or even conduct a background check. So don’t include anything that isn’t true. But you can also show your best side without being deceitful.
When you’re writing your resume and cover letter, think of them as marketing tools, Shapiro says. Companies can usually teach job skills. Many are looking for intangible qualities like emotional intelligence, which is considered to be one of the fastest growing job skills. They also look for enthusiasm, corporate fit, attitude, and approach, which often can’t be taught, she says. Use your documents to convey how you approach challenges, look for ways to improve situations, and achieve success, she says.
Phillips says it’s usually easier to stretch into a smaller company than a larger one. Big companies may have preliminary screening that matches resumes with job qualifications. If you’re in the applicant “slush pile,” you could be taken out of the running before you have a chance to shine in person. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to land that big-company job, he says. However, smaller firms may be more willing to take a chance on someone who is a little inexperienced.
A champion can change the equation, Stough says. If you have a contact, friend, or colleague who is giving you a warm introduction or recommendation for a stretch job, you’ve got a real advantage, she says. So before you apply, scour your network and LinkedIn contacts to see if you know someone (or know someone who knows someone, an otherwise “weak” connection) who can put your resume in play with a “thumbs up,” she says. That can go a long way toward getting you in front of hiring managers so you can sell yourself.