Raise your hand if you’ve ever applied for a job that you thought you weren’t exactly qualified to do. And raise your hand again if you’ve ever interviewed for a position that made you wonder if the company misread your resume and thought you were more experienced than you were.
If you’re anything like I was before I became a recruiter, you probably wonder how closely employers try to match a resume to their list of requirements. And I bet you’ve skipped a few opportunities because you thought your resume would make a hiring manager say, “This is ridiculous. How could this junior-level person even consider herself eligible?”
Before you pass on submitting an application for a job that seems “out of your range,” here are a few things I used to discuss with hiring managers when we found candidates who were just a little under-qualified.
1. Is This Person’s Previous Experience Relevant to the Role?
Sure, my job would’ve been much easier if candidates worked for the exact number of years we “required” on our listings. However, I quickly learned that I needed to be a bit flexible about that piece of the puzzle. If an applicant had three years of experience, but we were looking for five, I’d still bring that person’s resume to my boss.
Why? The truth is that even when candidates didn’t have the amount of experience we were hoping for, many of them did tasks that were far more advanced than the number of years they worked might have otherwise suggested. We knew that if we ignored people whose previous work was relevant, just because they didn’t have a specific number of years under their belts, we’d potentially miss out on someone amazing.
So, to make sure we didn’t whiff on a qualified candidate, we’d have very long discussions about contenders who had done a good amount of relevant work in their previous role.
Long Story Short
If you check off most of the boxes for the job and just happen to be a couple years short of the “required experience,” go ahead and throw your hat in the ring.
2. Is This Person Motivated to Keep Learning?
While it was always interesting to discover how much initiative each candidate took to learn new skills, it was an even more important talking point whenever we considered a slightly under-qualified candidate. In fact, I had a bit of a soft spot for people who might not have had the ideal profile, but had long track records of seeking out learning opportunities to get to the next level.
Sure, there were a lot of things we considered (more on that in a bit). But, if a resume came across my desk and I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was looking at someone who was incredibly motivated to get better, it was hard to deny that person at least a phone screen to learn more about his or her future goals.
And if that person also had a track record of previous successes in relevant jobs, it was even harder not to bring him or her in to meet the rest of the team.
Long Story Short
If your next career step feels out of reach, show you’re willing to learn (fast) by taking online classes. And then, of course, list them on your resume the right way.
3. Can We Support Someone Who’s Not Senior Enough?
Further along in the interview process, I often ran into a tricky dilemma. It wasn’t unusual for us to find ourselves incredibly excited about a candidate who we knew would need more support to grow into the role than the hiring manager anticipated providing.
Before I took part in any of these behind-the-scenes recruiting conversations, I assumed that if someone brought me in to interview for a role I was totally not qualified to do, the company would chalk it up to making a terrible mistake and send me a canned email rejection as soon as possible.
However, that’s not always the case. In fact, I can think of a handful of instances when we met someone a little too junior who we just couldn’t let back onto the open market. Sometimes we’d discuss how we could support that person and ensure his or her success in making the leap from an associate to a manager. Or, we’d just create a brand new role that fit that person’s profile—and develop a plan for him or her to grow into the senior version of the gig.
Long Story Short
If you’re an awesome candidate, companies want you! And if they can tweak (or create) a position to make it possible to hire you, they will.
Applying for positions that you’re technically not qualified for might seem crazy at times. It’s easy to look at a job listing that’s too advanced and say, “That would be nice, but I have to pay my dues first.” And while I’m not suggesting that you should apply to be a CEO if you’re currently a coordinator, there are plenty of jobs you’re perfectly qualified for, even if your resume doesn’t exactly match the descriptions you’re looking at every day.
In fact, most recruiters know they won’t always find the “perfect” match just by reading a resume—so you have nothing to lose if you’re short in the “years of experience” column by a year or two.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author