You’ve been scouring job boards for the perfect role at the right company and finally found a serious contender. This opportunity is in your ideal industry, features all of the compelling responsibilities you’re ready to take on, and it includes a company mission you’re genuinely enthusiastic about.
The only problem? The description states that the organization is specifically looking for applicants with at least two years of experience.
This is the ultimate catch-22 of job searching: As a recent graduate or a professional looking to make a career pivot, you’re targeting entry-level roles, but even these require at least a couple years’ of industry work.
How on earth are you supposed to get any exposure to the field if you can’t even land a position at the bottom of the career ladder? If an entry-level job is one that’s designed for people with no prior experience, what’s up with the explicitly-stated requirement? Why do so many employers include it in the listing? (Insert exasperated sigh here.) I know this is an incredibly frustrating conundrum, but I promise, it’s not quite as futile as you might think.
In most cases, you can think of job descriptions as a hiring manager’s wish list. You’ll typically find all kinds of details about what your potential future boss would consider an ideal candidate—from personality traits and work style (i.e. proactive or independent) to specific knowledge or skills (i.e. understanding of CRM databases or familiarity managing social media pages)—they’ll generally also choose a certain number of years in the field based on expertise level they’re seeking. But most of the time, it’s more of a “nice-to-have” than a “must-have” point.
I’d be lying if I said that some recruiters don’t use the “two years” benchmark to screen candidates out. Some do. Especially when they receive a high volume of applications, as it’s an easy (albeit kind of oversimplified) way to narrow down the applicant pool. But, if you’re able to convey your knowledge in a way that makes it easy for a prospective employer to see how your unique abilities would complement their needs, you stand a decent chance of surviving this initial test.
Here's the deal: If you meet at least 80% of the requirements listed in a particular posting, don’t overthink it—just apply.
Not quite there? That’s OK, too. If it’s something you’re really excited about, and you realistically think you can handle the job, give it a shot. But don’t forget to stack the deck in your favor by drafting a customized cover letter, updating your resume, and using your network to get in touch with people who work at the company you’re pursuing.
You’d be surprised to learn what can qualify as “relevant experience.” Muse writer Lily Zhang says to focus on transferable skills, clearly stating your “ability to contribute directly.”
Internships, projects you completed while earning your degree, or jobs where you were charged with similar responsibilities all count—especially if you’re targeting entry-level opportunities. It’s really pretty simple: If it’s in the description and you’ve dealt with it in some capacity, be sure to include whatever “it” is on your resume.
How do you know if you’re wasting your time? By keeping it real. If you don’t have any transferable skills (unlikely unless you’re doing a major transition) or if the number of years outlined in the posting is way more extensive than anything close to what you’ve experienced in your career thus far (like 10 years when you only have one), you may want to think twice about dedicating time to that particular application.
Ultimately, whether or not you qualify is more about the full package you offer, not some arbitrary period of time.
Most hiring managers are going to be way more excited about an applicant with a clear passion and demonstrated exposure to some of the key elements of the role they’re trying to fill than a candidate who has the exact number of years they decided to include on the listing. Don’t let the fact that you don’t meet every single criterion in a job description hold you back.
Photo of person applying for jobs courtesy of Lulabelle Brightly/Getty Images.
Jaclyn Westlake worked as an agency recruiter and an HR manager in the startup, tech, and finance space for nearly 10 years before branching out into resume writing, freelance recruiting, and career advising. These days, you can find her sharing job search insights on The Muse and blogging about boat life on The Wife Aquatic. She's also an avid paddleboarder, proud plant-based eater, and doting dog mom to a 10-year old dachshund mix named Indiana Jones.More from this Author