What to consider when you apply for jobs you feel underqualified for

You can accelerate your career growth by taking on a job that stretches you–but be mindful of these things before you hit “apply.”

What to consider when you apply for jobs you feel underqualified for
[Photo: Serrah Galos/Unsplash]

You spot your dream job, but it’s a reach–a reach beyond the next step in your career. It’s two steps or three steps or 10 steps removed from what your next job should be–and so, you stop just short of applying. But you should apply anyway. Why? As career coach Hallie Crawford says, “reaching is a way to grow as a professional and achieve new career goals.”


Before you submit your resume and cover letter, however, there are at least seven things you should know about applying to a “reach position.” These insider tips and tricks will help you stand out from the crowd and score your dream job. Read on to learn more.

1. You’ll have to battle hiring managers’ assumptions

It’s all but a fact: “Hiring managers will make assumptions based on your resume and cover letter,” warns millennial career expert Jill Jacinto. So, “it is your job to connect the dots for them before they place your resume in the no pile.” How can you do that? It’s easy, Jacinto promises. “Give them a clear understanding of not only why you are applying for this role but how your current skill set is a complement to the work that you will be doing,” she says.

2. Transferable skills will help you stand out in the right way

You may not meet all the requirements of your dream job. But rather than focusing on what you’re missing, highlight the skills you have that will help you succeed in any position–and you’ll catch a recruiter’s attention in the best way, says Crawford. “Maybe you don’t have a specific qualification, but you’ve already been using the skills the qualification demands in another way,” she says. “Make those your star stories to show you’re up for the challenge.”

Related: How to prepare for an interview when the job is a stretch 

3. Hiring managers want people open to learning new skills

You may believe it or not, but a willingness to learn what you don’t already know can be just as valuable as already having the knowledge when it comes to applying to a reach position. “Employers know that it will be almost impossible to find someone who can tick off all the boxes on their checklist,” Jacinto explains. “Instead, hiring managers are looking for people who are open to learning new skills.” In your application, “clearing highlighting the fact that you have been trained in other roles, have used new technology, or gone back to school to excel in a certain area helps show that you would be a good fit,” Jacinto says.

4. Sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know

Before you apply to a position that’s a couple steps above your current paygrade, consider setting up an informational interview with someone who already has your dream job. “Find out what else is needed to be successful at that position besides the qualifications you are lacking, such as soft skills,” instructs Crawford, who adds, “this will help you feel more confident in an interview [as well as help you] to showcase what you do bring to the table.”


Related: Changing careers? here’s exactly what to put on your resume

5. You can’t avoid the fact this is a reach for you

As much as you might like to do so, it’s not prudent to sweep the fact you’re “reaching” for this position under the rug. So, “don’t hope that the hiring manager doesn’t notice that you don’t meet all of the qualifications, especially if they were listed in the job description,” says Crawford. Instead, be proactive and “bring up the fact you are aware that you don’t meet all of the qualifications on paper, but also that you are ready and able to take on the position.”

6. Some hiring managers don’t know what they want–until they meet you

Don’t count yourself out just because you don’t meet all of the qualifications a job requires, encourages Jacinto. “Hiring managers often do not necessarily know 100 percent what they want in a candidate until the right one walks in the door,” she points out. So, “use this as an opportunity to sell your background, skills, connections, enthusiasm, and references during your interview and within your cover letter.” And speaking of having references…

Related: Three job interview mistakes you think you avoided but actually didn’t 

7. References really matter

What you may lack in experience or previous job titles you can make up for with glowing references. “References are always important, but they’re especially important in this case,” says Crawford. “If a hiring manager is considering you despite your being underqualified, you want to make sure that your references will sing your praises.” Be sure to prepare a list in advance of your application, and don’t forget to reach out to each potential reference to make sure he or she is willing to provide a very positive review of your performance.

This article originally appeared on Glassdoor and is reprinted with permission.