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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

The Mistake That'll Sink Your Chances of Landing a Job That's Slightly Out of Reach

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Job searching’s a balancing act.

You have to find time to hunt, while doing your job. You have to come off as enthusiastic, but not desperate. And you have to pull off sounding confident, but not arrogant.

Many aspects can feel a bit like walking a tightrope, and writing about your qualifications in your application is no different.

You want to speak highly of your abilities and make it clear that you’d be a value-add right from the outset. And especially if you’re going for a role that’s slightly out of reach and discussing transferable skills, you may feel the need to “sell yourself”—and even exaggerate.

After all, what’s the harm in saying you personally oversaw a company accomplishment? Or writing that you’re able to do something you have no direct experience with (but are 99% sure you could figure out)?

You see it as using finesse to show why you’re the right fit, because you know you have the skills to do the job.

However, this strategy can backfire—big time.

Just ask the applicant who took credit for something their team did, but then had their reference tell the story a bit differently. Or, the person who was asked a specific question about a process they said they knew inside and out, only to have no idea how to respond.

In each of these cases, the job applicants only exaggerated things they were planning on brushing up on if they landed the position.

But, if the hiring manager “catches” you, causing you to backtrack and explain the misunderstanding, it calls your credibility into question—and that’s not an impression you want to make.

The good news is that there’s a right way to go about sharing the experience you’re so close to having. It’s best to be honest about your qualifications—and then add on a sentence about how you’re immediately ready to build on it.

When discussing a company accomplishment, Muse writer Adam Saven suggests you, “…ask yourself two questions. Would you be comfortable talking about that bullet in detail in an interview? Would your bosses vouch for what you’ve written on your resume?” Saven points to the difference between saying you “assisted” versus you “ran” a social media campaign. While you’d use percentages to quantify impact either way, using the first verb will help you avoid overstating and make it clear you contributed as part of a team.

And if you have no direct experience with one of the duties listed in the job description, explain how your transferable skills qualify you by connecting the dots. Use the formula, “My experience in x provided me with the exact skills I’d use to do y.”

For example, “My experience managing volunteers directly prepared me for this admin role, because I’m used to supporting a team of people.”

Often, people will overstate their experience because they’re afraid their qualifications won’t be quite enough at face value. But, truth talk: If you don’t have the skills to land an interview, odds are the job would be more than just a bit challenging. So, quit exaggerating and stick to explaining why you’re worth taking a chance on. It’ll save you time (and frustration) when applying to stretch roles, because you and the hiring manager'll be on the same page.