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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

This Is What Makes Hiring Managers Fight for Under-Qualified Candidates

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Remember the last time you read a job opening that was practically made for you? The description was a perfect match based on your interests, and after doing some research, you deemed the company culture a good fit, too. You were on cloud nine—or, at least, you were, until you scrolled down to the list of qualifications.

Sure, you could check most of the boxes, but by no means could you check all of them. There’s no sugarcoating it—as an applicant, you’d be considered a little under-qualified for the job. But that doesn’t mean you should give up hope.

I recently reached out to Muse recruiter Amanda Corrado, former executive recruiter, Jaclyn Westlake, and HR expert, Dorianne St Fleur to find out the best ways for under-qualified candidates to capture their attention.

According to all three, there are plenty of ways you can make an impression without being 100% perfect.

Show Genuine Enthusiasm for the Role

Hiring managers are looking for team members who truly care about what they’re doing. That’s why it’s so important that you show genuine enthusiasm, both for the position as well as the company at large.

“All things equal, given the choice between a candidate who is totally qualified yet unenthusiastic and a candidate who is less qualified but genuinely excited about the opportunity,” Westlake explains, “I’ll probably go to bat for the less qualified person.”

Not sure how you can really make your excitement clear? For Westlake, this can show up differently depending on the applicant, and can include “asking lots of great questions, demonstrating in-depth knowledge about the organization, sending prompt thank you notes, responding to interview requests in a timely manner, or taking classes or attending seminars to grow their industry knowledge.”

Emphasize What You Do Bring to the Table

For Corrado, one key thing to do throughout the process is to make things personal, starting with your cover letter. According to her, that means focusing less on “how great you are in general,” and more on “what you see in the job description, emphasizing that although you don’t have the exact background, you’ll still provide tons of value in the role.”

If you really do your homework and interpret the needs of the role, then you can articulate how your unique skill set can fulfill—and maybe even surpass what’s being asked for. (For example, bring up your additive skills early on.)

Even if you’re not an exact match on paper, Corrado explains why applying’s worth the effort: “I find that it’s easier to sell a candidate [to the hiring manager] who has done his research and thought this through,” as opposed to someone who’s a match on paper but isn’t prepared or knowledgeable about the role and company.

Focus on Potential for Growth

There are plenty of reasons you should apply to a job you’re not qualified for. One of those is your ability to learn and grow in the position, and that definitely matters to a recruiter.

“The best hires often happen when managers go through the process focusing on a candidate's potential—not just what’s written down on a resume,” St Fleur explains.

And, if you’re genuinely serious about soaking up new skills, and advancing fast, in some cases that can be enough to put you over the top. “One of the best hiring recommendations I’ve made was for a job seeker who had less on-the-job experience than we wanted and who didn’t necessarily have the right academic background,” she recalls. “What she did have though, was a genuine interest in what our company did and a clear hunger to come up the learning curve as fast as she could.”

The lesson here is that your current skills are just as important as your future ones. If you want a reason to apply to your dream job, and you’re just this close to being the perfect candidate, St Fleur has some winning words for you: “Motivation and genuine interest trumps skills on a resume—every time.”

Of course, you might still want to take this with a grain of salt. For some positions, it will be crucial for your skills to match up.

Present Your Best Self

Sometimes personality is all it takes to make a lasting impression. According to Westlake, “Plenty of less qualified candidates win over a hiring manager by simply being engaging and interesting to talk to.” That’s why certain moments that feel like a given, like small talk at the beginning of an interview or those final questions at the end, can mean everything.

“Ultimately, managers want to hire people who they will enjoy working with,” she explains. “If you’re asking thoughtful questions, taking your interview off script where appropriate, and highlighting your willingness to learn and accept feedback, you'll probably have a good chance at edging out someone who is slightly more qualified.”

If you focus on the positives, there’s no reason missing one or two little details could throw you out of the running. And if that sentiment has you feeling pumped up and ready to apply for that next big opportunity, here’s a great resource for actually applying when you don’t meet all the requirements.