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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

5 Tricks to Being an Exciting Candidate for a Job You’re a Little Underqualified For

There’s nothing like that hallelujah moment when the perfect job posting makes its way to you. You eagerly scroll through the details, while picturing your shiny new desk and awesome new colleagues.

But wait (and cue the record scratch sound)—you don’t quite meet the required qualifications. You know you’ve got what it takes, but your resume tells a different story.

Whether you’re making a career change or just pushing yourself to the next level, there are plenty of times you may find yourself applying to a position you don’t fully align with. Here’s the good news, though: There are plenty of ways to paint a picture of yourself as a qualified candidate. Besides the obvious—tailoring your resume, submitting an unforgettable cover letter, really explaining in the interview why they should hire you—here are five tricks that will make the hiring manager excited to learn more about you.

1. Use Your Connections—or Make Some

A connection is how Christine Wilson, founder and CEO of MtoM Consulting, ended up hiring a financial analyst as a social media strategist for her agency’s hospitality accounts. Turns out, this number cruncher had been open with his employer, a real estate holding company, about his aspiration to move into a more creative field. So, his boss helped him make a professional shift by recommending him to Wilson.

As Wilson explains, “Getting a referral from someone who has a lot of respect and credibility can make a world of difference.”

Even if you’re not making a major career change, having that personal connection will make it more likely that a hiring manager will be willing to chat despite a few missing qualifications. If she already trusts you—or someone she trusts trusts you—she can feel more confident taking a bit of a risk.

Just make sure to make it as easy as possible for that person to recommend you. Besides being a great employee, this means having some easy materials—such as a resume in tip-top shape or a sharp personal website—that the person referring you can send along to his or her contacts.

If you don’t have a connection, well, now’s the time to start building some! Reach out to recruiters and ask if you could chat about how your qualifications might fit into roles you’re looking for, ask your existing networks if they know anyone relevant they could introduce you to, or cold email someone from the organization you’re hoping to get into asking for an informational interview. Don’t ask for the job outright, but start by building a relationship and see where that takes you.

2. Look Beyond the Obvious Skills and Experience

Despite that daunting list of specific qualifications, unique functions of your current job (or previous roles) may translate really well into the one you want even if they aren’t listed in the job description. These are called “additive skills,” career expert Sara McCord explains, and they are “something unique that you bring to the table—in addition to everything that’s expected.”

“Think about it,” McCord says, “If you’re slightly underqualified, there’s a reason why. If you spent the first two years of your career in a different sector, you bring experience from that industry.” So instead of shying away from the skills and experiences that make you different than the desired profile, find ways to spin them to your advantage!

Or, maybe a casual hobby has given you the real expertise the company is looking for, even though it’s not something you’ve been paid to do before. For example, the financial analyst Wilson hired had a talent for taking amazing photos of his adventures and had the Instagram posts (and following) to prove it. Wilson explains, “Because he used his personal work to show us that he could do what we needed, I was far less concerned that he never had a day on the job we were hiring him for. We can help him build a lot skills, but he already has an eye for the visual, and that’s something we can’t teach.”

Another awesome addition to your resume (that job seekers often overlook!) is volunteering. According to the 2016 Deloitte Impact Survey, 85% of hiring influencers are willing to overlook resume pitfalls when an employee includes volunteering on a resume—but only 30% of resumes include volunteering!  

Long story short, you may have more to bring to the table than the full-time positions you’ve been paid to do, and it’s your job to show hiring managers why what you’re bringing is exactly what they’re looking for.

3. Get Their Pain—and Show You Can Solve It

To show employers you really mean business, invest your time in their business. Putting the effort into doing work on the company’s behalf during the interview process reflects your passion and gives a sneak peek into how you could benefit the organization.

Start by doing a deep dive into the company’s online presence, keeping tabs on the key players in the news, and chatting with anyone you know who works there to identify pain points or growth opportunities—things that are holding the organization back now that you think you could help it do better. Then, rather than a typical cover letter, write a “pain letter,” outlining what you see as one of the team’s biggest problems and the solutions you would bring to the table if hired. This reinforces that you’ve done your homework and are excited about hitting the ground running.

Or, take it up a notch and do a pre-interview project that showcases your abilities in a splashier way. For example, when Nina Mufleh was hoping to get a job at Airbnb, she created a thorough report on the global tourism market with recommendations on where the company should focus next. Not only did she clearly spend time on the work, but her passion for the company and desire to contribute was infused throughout the content.

There are so many directions you could take this: prototyping a redesign of a mobile app that solves usability issues, outlining a content marketing plan that you think could help a company grow its audience, providing potential solutions to pain points in a company’s customer service experience, or anything else you feel like you bring to the table.

But whatever you do, you should consider publishing your project online, using a simple website building platform like Squarespace. Even if you don’t get the job, sharing your impressive work with the world is likely to help your personal brand (and maybe even attract other hiring managers). Mufleh, for example, shared that while her project did get her an interview with Airbnb, the ultimate value was much bigger, driving 445,000+ visits to the project website, 14,000+ LinkedIn profile views, and interviews with dozens of other high-impact companies.

4. Make Your Online Presence Shine

One place that hiring managers might go if they’re intrigued but uncertain about you? The internet. So you should make sure your online presence represents the person you want them to think you are.

Just like you tailor your cover letter and resume, you can tailor your online presence. For example, creating a personal website brings your career story to life and connects the dots for a potential employer as to why you’d be the right fit. According to Aliza Licht, founder and President of LEAVE YOUR MARK LLC and author of Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media, “A personal website is really the new resume. Of course, you should have a good LinkedIn profile that’s filled out to perfection. But a website—especially in a visual industry—is where you can share your work and park everything you have done.”

Plus, with a sleek site, you’ll look professional and legit. Unless you’re a developer, use a service like Squarespace to make a stunning site without a lick of coding knowledge. Start small with a single-page site and continue to enhance it over time.

Employers are also likely to scope out your social media profiles, so be sure that what you post enhances their perception of you. This can be as simple as making sure you’re not just posting pics of your lunch, but also sharing links to relevant industry articles or opinions on what’s happening in your field.

5. Show Your Passion

From the very first email correspondence to that final interview, if you’re really passionate about the position and the company, make sure you show it! When hiring managers can feel your excitement, they’ll be more excited to continue the conversation with you over more qualified (but less enthused) candidates.

Kristy Nittskoff, a recruiting expert and founder of Talent-Savvy, recalls making an unconventional hire when she worked at a startup. A woman with 15 years of experience in education wanted to join the team as a database developer. She took courses on the side, and her motivation to dive right in was clear.

“We weren’t necessarily looking for a junior database developer, but she wanted it so bad, had the right personality, and enough of the groundwork in place, so we decided to give it a shot.”

In short: Be genuine, be excited, and learn some ways to show off your passion without coming off too strong.

Finally, remember that if you try all of these tricks but don’t get an offer, sometimes it’s not you, it’s them.

No matter how well you clicked, how eager you are to learn, or how spot-on your skills are, Nittskoff says that some companies just don’t have the resources or structure to invest in someone who needs more training, coaching, and mentorship than they can provide. But don’t let it get you down. Look for other places where you can take your skills and grow, and make sure to stay in touch to evolve the relationship as you evolve in your career.

Photo of people shaking hands courtesy of Getty / Sam Edwards.

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