Think You’re Underqualified for the Job? Apply Anyways

You're looking at a listing for your dream job. You meet most of the qualifications the hiring manager is looking for—but not all of them. Should you bother applying, or will it just be a waste of time?

underqualified for job

Experts say it's okay to go for it—most of the time.

"Yes, it's a good idea, unless you don't have any of them or the job bears no resemblance to anything you know how to do or have done in the past," says Alexandra Levit, a business and workplace speaker, consultant and coauthor of the upcoming book Mom.B.A.. "Otherwise, apply and emphasize the areas where you qualify strongly."

It's a little bit like making an offer on a house. If you're close to asking price, the owner might consider your offer—if you're way out of the ballpark, you're probably out of luck.

Requirement Versus Preference

So, how can you tell if you're close enough for consideration?

"You really have to look at what it means to be unqualified. If it is an industry standard or requirement to have a certain degree level or industry certification, no, it is not OK," says author and career coach, Lavie Margolin. "If it is a requirement of x number of years, but you can prove that you've accomplished more in the three years than a top candidate could in five years, that is something worth exploring." Know the difference between these hard requirements and soft requirements that are more flexible.

Overall, you should meet about 70 percent of the requirements before you send in an application, says Margolin.

Special Considerations

Another factor to take into account when you're weighing whether to apply is the industry you work in. Some industries are sorely lacking in qualified applicants, which might put you in a better position to get hired if you’re close to hitting the mark, but don't have every last qualification they're looking for.

Women in particular should consider applying for jobs that are a little bit of a reach, says Levit. "Research has shown that females will only apply for a job in which they feel they meet 10 out of 10 qualifications, whereas males only feel they need to meet about five out of 10, and often get the interview anyway," she says. This may be the case because some people are inclined to take job listings so literally they believe they wouldn't be considered at all if they didn't meet every standard.

Making Up For Gaps

If you decide to apply to a job that's slightly out of range, however, there's another hurdle to clear: telling the employer why you'd be an asset to the company, despite the gaps in your experience. If this is the case:

Promote your assets. "Explain clearly to the reader in the resume and cover letter what challenges you've taken on that are related and how you've succeeded," says Margolin. "The more that you can prove related knowledge or experience, the more that the reader will 'buy in' to you as a candidate."

Tout non-business experience. Don't forget to draw from all aspects of your experience. "You're close enough if you have work experience that can be aligned to a few of the job's key functions, even if your experience was volunteer-related or in a different industry," says Levit.

 Network effectively. A personal connection can help overcome hurdles set by recruiters and get you the consideration you deserve.

The bottom line is: if you know you're capable of performing a job well—even if you don't check every box set by the recruiter—apply anyway. Provided you can convince the hiring manager you're capable and ready to do the job—it may just be yours.

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