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  • 04.26.17

How To Apply For A Job When You’re Underqualified

Sometimes it’s worth pressing “apply,” even if you don’t quite fulfill the job description.

How To Apply For A Job When You’re Underqualified
[Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images]

You’re dying to apply for a killer job you just found. It looks nearly perfect. But there’s one tiny problem—you’re underqualified.

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Do you go for it, or let it pass on by?

It depends. And while there’s no perfect answer or formula for this, here are a few instances in which you should (and shouldn’t) take a run at a job that looks amazing, even it feels slightly out of reach.

Should: You’re Just A Bit Shy On Years Of Experience

The job description asks for seven to 10 years of experience. You have just under six, and a little more if you count the (entirely) relevant internship you took on while finishing your degree.

Dear heavens, go for it. Now, you’ll want to make sure and make it clear that you’ve got the knowledge, business acumen, and maturity of someone with that seven to 10 years of experience (your cover letter is a good place to strongly hint toward all these things), and you may want to include that internship (just in case they’re officially doing the math), but don’t let a small shortage scare you away.

Shouldn’t: You’re Not Even In The Ballpark

Now, if you’re only a year or two into your career, you may be wasting your time going after a role that requires several additional years. Is it impossible? Maybe not, but it’s improbable, especially if you follow the “normal” application process of uploading your resume through an online portal.


Related: I Built A Bot To Apply To Thousands Of Jobs At Once—Here’s What I Learned


Instead, I’d consider working to uncover a similar, but maybe earlier stage opportunity at same company or, if you are hell-bent on taking a run at it, find a direct “in” at that organization. You’re going to need an opportunity to state your case directly with a human decision maker (because the resume-scanning software will more than likely rule you out).

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Should: You Lack A Degree, But It Doesn’t Say “Required”

The education section of a job description is an important one to examine. Most companies are quite clear on their minimum requirements, as well as their stance on considering candidates with an equitable mix of education and experience.

If the description doesn’t say the degree is a must, then it’s fair to assume that the potential employer will consider a highly qualified candidate without it. Not sure? If you can uncover a contact at the company of interest (if no one’s listed on the job description, start with their talent acquisition or HR team), you may want to do something many of your competitors won’t—pick up the phone and call.

(Gasp!)

“Hi. I see that you’re looking for a senior project manager. The job description suggests that you are considering highly qualified candidates that do not have a bachelor’s degree. Can you confirm this?”

Done.

Shouldn’t: The Job Description Makes It Clear That Degree Is Mandatory

Some companies have hard and fast minimum degree requirements. It’s hard to get around this, and may be a waste of time if you apply to a blind mailbox (or through an online portal) without that piece of paper. Also, realize that a bunch of other candidates who apply will have the degree, so when a blob of resumes comes in through the system, whose do you think will be reviewed first?


Related: Can Using Artificial Intelligence Make Hiring Less Biased? 

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That’s right, the ones with the mandatory degree.

If you feel very strongly about making a case for yourself, you need to get directly to someone of influence on the inside and state your case, rather than relying on the scanning software.

Should: You Lack A Preferred Credential (Or Two), But Have Almost Everything Else

You do realize that most job descriptions are giant wish lists, yes? Few people are going to match every single qualification. That’d be like making a list for Santa and waking on Christmas morning to discover every last item you requested under the tree.

Right.

That said, as long as you’re at about an 80% match to the job requirements, in most instances you should take a run at it, especially if the ones you’re lacking are listed under the “preferred” section (as opposed to the “required”).

Shouldn’t: You Lack A Required License Or Certification

Now, if you’re at 80% (or even 90%) yet lack a required license or certification (e.g., real estate license, registered nurse designation, lawyer who has passed the state bar, etc.), you are more than likely wasting your time.

In some fields, you just simply cannot be hired without certain credentials. So your choice is to either go get those credentials, or select another path.

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Should: The Job Description Says, “Local Candidates Only” And You’re Moving To That Town

When you’re preparing to relocate to a new city, it’s completely natural that you’ll begin sleuthing out opportunities there, even if you’ve not yet established concrete timing for the move.

If the plans are already in motion—and you’re expecting to cover moving costs on your own—don’t be discouraged if you come across the phrase, “local candidates only.” More often than not, this is code for, “We’re not funding your move,” not, “If you didn’t graduate from the local high school, forget about it.”

You’ll need to make it clear in your cover letter that the move’s imminent, of course, but don’t let this phrase dissuade you.

Shouldn’t: It Says, “Local Candidates Only” And You Expect A Relocation Package

Again, this phrase is your blaring announcement that they’re not paying to move someone into town for the job, probably not even if they love you. Relocations are expensive, adding an easy five figures to any new hire.

If you’re looking to move on a company’s dime, it’s probably best to steer away from job descriptions that (kindly) state “forget about it” right there in the job description.

Are there exceptions to these rules? Sure, sometimes there are (outside of jobs that require certain licenses—you won’t get around that one). But don’t count on being the anomaly. It will likely waste your time and theirs, and leave you feeling unnecessarily frustrated.

Instead, apply for jobs that align pretty well with your background and aspirations and—when you know you’ll only make sense to the decision makers if you have opportunity to explain—then find a way to get to them directly.

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