Laszlo Bock says he wasn’t qualified to be the head of people operations when Google hired him for the job in 2006.
“I was like 33, with three years of HR experience, and had never worked in the tech industry,” says Bock. “There were a lot of signals to suggest they should not have hired me.”
Bock even wrote a three-page memo describing why he was declining a job with what he saw as a “still pretty young and unproven” company but ultimately decided not to send it. Instead, he accepted the position.
In the decade that followed, Bock would become known as the architect behind Google’s innovative human resources practices, which have been replicated throughout the technology industry and beyond. During his time at Google, the company received over 100 individual “top employer” awards, and in 2010, Bock was named “Human Resources Executive of the Year” by HR Resources Magazine.
“Posted job requirements are much less important than they used to be, and companies make way more exceptions to the posted requirements than they used to,” adds Bock, who has written multiple best-selling books about his approach to human resources and founded Humu Inc.—a startup that aims to improve employee experience—since leaving Google in 2016. (He’s also a Fast Company contributor.)
Employers may have once taken the minimum requirements they listed seriously, but now 84% of companies are willing to hire and train a candidate who lacks required skills, according to a recent study by Robert Half. The study also found that 42% of applicants to a given job listing don’t meet skills requirements, but 62% of employees have been offered a position for which they were not qualified.
“Based on the research and based on the study, you should apply even if you feel underqualified,” says Paul McDonald, a senior executive with Robert Half. “Companies are challenged with finding qualified individuals who meet 100% of the job description, so they’re hiring individuals who meet a portion.”
While companies are more open to underqualified candidates, there are a few ways those who don’t fully meet the requirements can improve their chances.
Apply, apply, then apply again
Both Bock and McDonald believe that with the ease of submitting an online application, there’s no reason for candidates to avoid submitting one for a job they don’t feel qualified for.
“Based on the survey and what we’re seeing from Robert Half in the marketplace, if you meet part of the qualifications, don’t hesitate to apply,” says McDonald. “As an applicant, it’s absolutely worth it to take a shot every single time, because it doesn’t cost you much,” adds Bock.
Those who are submitting applications without receiving responses may become discouraged over time, but Bock believes there’s no reason to stop applying, even if you’re not receiving any feedback. “Apply and reapply periodically,” he says. “Maybe once a month, resubmit your résumé to have it float back to the top of the stack.”
Mention relevant brands, not just key words
Applicants are often advised to repeat job description keywords in their applications, but Bock says they should also be sure to mention key brand names, especially when they don’t meet all the requirements.
“When recruiters inside companies go through résumés, they often will look for people who have worked at specific companies,” he says. “If as a candidate you have not worked at any of those companies, you should still find a way to work those words into your résumé.”
Bock explains that candidates can include the prospective employer’s key customers or competitors by describing any work they’ve done with them in any capacity.
“For example, if they’re a customer of the company you work at, or if you’re a consultant to those companies, or if you’ve gone to events with those companies,” he says. “That will make your résumé pop up when they get searched.”
One of the best ways to get noticed when you’re not qualified is through a personal recommendation. Bock believes applicants should always look for connections within their network whenever they apply for a job. “Nothing beats trying to find somebody who can put in a good word for you,” he says. “At the end of the day, having a human being who can put their thumb on the scale can get you noticed.”
Lean on your soft skills
Job listings are no longer followed to the letter thanks to a growing emphasis on personality and cultural fit. Candidates who don’t meet all of the technical requirements can instead win over employers by demonstrating some of their more intangible skills.
“Applicants need to make a strong case by highlighting their past results, transferable skills, and a willingness to learn,” explains McDonald. “That is critical.”
According to Monster career expert Vicki Salemi, candidates can highlight their soft skills by demonstrating how seemingly unrelated roles gave them relevant experience.
“At the end of the day, they can teach you a technical skill set, but it’s much harder to teach someone to have a positive attitude or be a team player,” she says. “These aspects are very important, so as a job seeker, you can highlight why you’re the right fit for the company.”
When it comes to applying for jobs beyond your level of qualification, Salemi believes it’s most important to be honest about the skills you have and those that you don’t.
“If the job description says that they need someone with five years of experience, and you don’t have five, don’t say that you have five,” she says, adding that candidates should instead emphasize the qualifications they do meet. “Let’s say there are five primary things they’re looking for, and you only have three—emphasize the three without pointing out that you don’t have the two.”
If candidates never applied for jobs they weren’t completely qualified for, nobody would be able to advance their career without a direct promotion from their existing employer, says Salemi. She explains that today, most career advancements happen when a candidate is hired for an advanced role they never held previously, and candidates shouldn’t consider it an impossibility.
“The whole point of looking for a job is to reach and go outside your comfort zone, advance your career, and go for something that does make you a little uncomfortable–and find a way to grow and succeed in it,” she says.
Bock adds that far too many candidates avoid applying for jobs they feel they’re unqualified for when they could have made a strong candidate.
“Just believe in yourself, because most people who end up getting jobs are not actually fully qualified,” he says. “You’ve got to keep pushing and fighting. Don’t give up, and don’t get discouraged; it’s just a numbers game.”