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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

Actually, You Should Apply for Jobs You're Not 100% Qualified For

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As a career coach, I’ve heard just about every struggle you can imagine about job searching. But the challenge I hear most often is actually the one that’s easiest to fix.

More than anything else, my clients tell me, “I found a few jobs I would absolutely love, but I’m not qualified for them, so there’s no use applying.”

You’ve likely experienced this same thing. You find an incredible opening, but it asks for six to eight years of experience, and you only have four, or it’s a in a different industry than you’re in now, or there are a few bullet points in the job descriptions that you’ve never done before.

So you write it off and settle for something that you’re less excited about, but 100% sure you can do.

Big mistake.

It might seem logical to only go after jobs you’re fully qualified for, but it’s an extremely limiting (and unnecessary) mindset, and you’ll wind up cutting yourself off from potentially amazing opportunities! Not only have I given this advice to my own clients, but I’ve had HR professionals and hiring managers back me up on this. You don’t need to be 100% qualified in order to be the best candidate for the job, but you do need to keep in mind the human factor and share your enthusiasm, passion, and soft skills.

And no, I’m not in denial as to why so many people do this. After all, you’re probably thinking that if you’re not fully qualified for the job, then it’s a waste of time to apply, right? You don’t want to waste your own time or the employer’s time. That seems logical, but I don’t believe it’s the real reason we hold ourselves back. Rather, what’s really going on is two major things:

You’re Terrified of Being Rejected

The more you want a particular job, the worse you believe the rejection will feel. So if you don’t think you have a really good chance of getting the job, you’ll likely play it safe and protect yourself from massive disappointment. You may use “I’m not fully qualified” as an excuse to stay in your comfort zone.

But think about it, what if you pass over the great job because you’re not 100% qualified, and then you still get rejected by the good-enough, back-up-plan job? That’s certainly not going to feel any better! At least if you get turned down by the great job, you’ll think, “Well, maybe I just need a bit more experience and then I can try again in the future.”

On the other hand, consider the best-case scenario of applying for your dream job, even if you’re not 100% qualified—you could land it! The best-case scenario of applying for the “meh” job? Well, you have a “meh” job.

So, it’s actually more emotionally risky to apply to only mediocre jobs that you’re fully qualified for.

Your Self-Doubt Takes Over and Makes You Feel Inadequate

You assume there are tons of other applicants out there with all of the qualifications (and then some!), so you figure, “Why bother?”

Well, I’m telling you, you should bother! Why? Because you’re probably forgetting a huge factor in getting hired.

The Human Factor

Most of us forget that the people looking at our resumes, interviewing us, and making a final hiring decision are humans. And they want to connect with other capable, enthusiastic, personable humans. (Not to mention, mere humans created these job descriptions as dream wish lists for an ideal candidate who they believe may or may not exist.)

I, for one, used to unconsciously think of the hiring process as an impersonal computer algorithm that impassively compared all the resumes and spit out the “best” logical candidate.

But hiring is a much more emotional process than most of us believe, so you can’t underestimate the power of your “soft skills.” As in, the natural, innate personal characteristics and strengths you bring to the table that have no place on a resume.

This is great news because it means that who you are as a person matters when you’re applying for a job, and often it can more than compensate in areas you’re lacking.

Your natural optimism and dedication to your team can be more valuable than never having used SalesForce (they can teach you that!). Being a natural connector, up-lifter, and people-person can make you a far better leader than someone with years of climbing the corporate ladder. Proving that you’re eager to learn new skills and a self-starter is more valuable to an employer than someone who meets all the job criteria, but is unmotivated and stubbornly set in his or her ways. And yes, sharing your genuine passion and enthusiasm for the company’s mission will make a greater impact on an interviewer than being an Excel wizard.

Know this though, your awesome personality won’t shine in the interview if you never make it that far. So you’re going to have to make a real effort to bring more of your personality into your cover letter and application. Instead of simply stating that you’re an organized, detail-oriented person in your cover letter, tell a story about how your co-workers tease you for alphabetizing the books sitting on your desk.

Instead of claiming that you have leadership experience, talk about a time when you helped a colleague work through a tricky situation. And finally, instead of making your materials about you, make them about the company and why you’re a great fit. Don’t think of this as going on the defense with lines like “I know I’m missing skills but…”, but rather an opportunity to make it clear why you’re the best person for the position.

I recently coached a client who was considering not applying for her dream job because she only met 75% of the requirements in the job description, even though she knew she could kill it in that position.

I told her to apply anyway and to be completely candid about her enthusiasm and love of the company in her application and interview. (You’d be amazed how far authentic enthusiasm can get you in the interview process.) I wasn’t surprised when she emailed a few weeks later to tell me about her job offer.

And no, I won’t deny that there are some jobs that you’re straight-up not qualified for. You won’t catch me applying to engineering or accounting jobs anytime soon (that really would be a waste of everyone’s time!). But if you really believe you could be a great fit, and you’re not the most qualified, apply anyway. You’ll never know if you have a chance unless you take that chance.