You’re scanning the career sites online and come across your ultimate dream job. It’s perfect, and you want it. Bad.
But wait—they’re looking for someone with 10+ years experience who’s managed a large team, and they prefer people with MBAs. And while you have great experience, you definitely don’t have those things. Should you apply, or would it just be a waste of everyone’s time when you don’t have what the position is really asking for?
The short answer is, it depends.
To Apply or Not to Apply: That Is the Question
First of all, it’s important to reflect on just how underqualified you are. Companies make this tricky sometimes. On the one hand, don’t assume you need to fulfill 100% of the requirements—these are often created simply to weed out people who are totally inappropriate. The supposed requirements also help give candidates an idea of the position’s general level of seniority.
But look around—a lot of people in their current roles wouldn’t fulfill every criteria that’s listed in the job description, so take it with a pinch of salt, and definitely go for it even if you’re not a cookie cutter fit for the description. I’ve seen a lot of instances when a job will be flexed up or down to fit a great candidate. Of course, every company is different with this sort of thing, but don’t rule yourself out of the race unnecessarily.
If, on the other hand, the job would be a huge jump up (they’re looking for 10 years of experience, you have two), your energy is probably better spent on positions that are a closer fit. Or, you can try a different approach altogether: Instead of directly applying for the role that’s posted, send a speculative application to the company.
Acknowledge that the position that caught your eye is geared toward someone more senior, but explain your interest and say that you’d be interested in joining the team in another capacity. No, it won’t always work, but remember that up to to 80% of jobs filled are not advertised, so don’t underestimate this strategy in your job search.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
If you’ve decided to apply, great! But whenever you’re putting yourself forward for a role that’s a bit of a stretch, you have to put in some extra legwork. If this truly is a job you’d love, though, and it’s something you think you could be great at, it’s worth it.
Here are a few ideas to try:
1. Bridge the Gaps
If the description includes a long list of requirements that you’re concerned you don’t have, identify the different areas—knowledge, skills, or experiences—and consider what other things you bring to the table that will help put you on an equal footing. For example, maybe you haven’t managed people at work, but you did manage a team of volunteers through a charity you’re involved with. Or maybe there certain things you can get started working on right away. (It’s never too late to become an Excel pro, for example!)
Find ways to highlight these skills and experiences in your resume or cover letter so that the hiring managers know you understand the position and what they’re looking for.
2. Don’t Tell Them You’d Be Great, Show Them
An even better way to let the hiring manager know you’d excel in the position is to show exactly what you can do. In addition to your cover letter, write a memo that outlines what you think the major challenges of the role would be and how you’d tackle them. Or, create a slide deck with ideas that you’d bring to the role to grow the business. This above-and-beyond effort won’t only show off your skills, it’ll show you’re serious about the role—and force the hiring managers to look at you as a serious candidate.
3. Find a Connection
Finally, don’t forget the power of networking: See if you have a contact who can make a personal introduction to someone at the organization. If that’s not an option, you can try a cold approach, too.
For instance, see if the hiring manager is speaking at an upcoming event, and make plans to attend and introduce yourself. Or, if the company’s founder was featured in a newspaper article recently, reach out with a question or comment and see if you can connect with him or her to start building a relationship.
Next time you see that dream job that seems just out of your reach, don’t write yourself off. Getting an interview is as much an art as it is a science—so start strategizing, and give it what you’ve got.
Photo of person on computer courtesy Marcy Milks/The Muse.