Job Search Tips

Should you apply when you don’t meet all the job ad requirements?


Ever come across a job you’re keen on but decide not to apply because you couldn’t check off every item on the requirements list? Many of us (women especially, according to internal research by Hewlett-Packard) tend to shy away from putting our resumes forward if our qualifications are less than perfect for a role. And while some explain this away as a confidence issue, a survey reported on by Harvard Business Review showed that a good 41% to 46% of people don’t apply for positions they’re not 100% qualified for because they believe that the listed job criteria are set in stone, and they don’t want to waste time and energy if they don’t have a chance.

But the truth is, it’s not often that hiring managers will insist that every requirement is met. In fact, field experts will tell you that a job description is usually just a bold act of optimism and wishful thinking on the part of a recruiter, who doesn’t honestly believe that such a dream candidate even exists. It’s much like the search for a romantic partner: we’d all like to find someone who ticks boxes X, Y, and Z, but we’d probably settle for a match with just X and a little Y.

So, should you apply for that role that doesn’t quite align with your experience? It depends, but you definitely shouldn’t dismiss the possibility too quickly. To decide whether it’s worthwhile applying when you don’t meet all the requirements, ask yourself these questions. And if the answer to most is “yes,” go for it. (And if you think you’ll need help revamping your resume to the job ad specifications, consider putting  a free resume builder to work.)

Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re Missing a Few Qualifications

  1. Do I satisfy the non-negotiable criteria?
    There’ll likely be a lot of fluff in the job description – “bonus” requirements, you might call them – but there’ll also be certain must-haves that are key to a candidate’s ability to do the job. Figure out what these essentials are, and if you’re confident you possess them, then go ahead and apply. Remember, you can always grow into the nice-to-haves.
  1. Am I confident I can do the job?
    Read the posting carefully and try to envision what the successful candidate would do on a daily basis. Based on this, think about whether the role is one you genuinely believe you can take on, and whether you’re confident you could quickly fill any gaps. You’ll know deep down whether you’re capable despite your shortcomings or whether you’re aiming too high.
  1. Am I a good overall match?
    Answering this one also requires some thorough research – into the company culture, the hiring manager, and the team you’d work with. Employers regularly hire candidates that feel like a good fit, even if they don’t satisfy all the criteria. So, if you can clearly communicate why you’re an outstanding match based on the business’s values, goals, and working environment, you could potentially make up for the fact that you’re wanting in other departments.
  1. Does the job genuinely excite me?
    It’s important to be realistic here – no matter how much the prospect of being a pilot thrills you, you’re not going to get the job if you’ve never flown a plane. But if you’re more or less qualified and you’re really enthusiastic about the job and the organization, this will hopefully come across in your application and help to compensate for the few qualifications you lack.
  1. Do I have transferable skills relevant to the role?
    These are competencies you developed in former roles that transfer well to new (unrelated) positions – soft skills, for example, like the ability to communicate clearly and work well in a team. Analyze the posting and make connections between your skillset and the strengths they’d like a hire to have. If you can show that you possess many of the required abilities, even if you have insufficient technical knowledge, you have a higher chance of being considered for the role.

Planning to Apply? Keep These Tips in Mind

So, you’ve answered “yes” to most of the above, and you’ve decided to apply. Follow this advice to up your chances of landing an interview.

Perfect your cover letter

If you’re thinking about applying when you don’t meet all the requirements, then you’re going to need a strong cover letter. Use it to highlight your transferable skills and the unique value you could offer, rather than focusing on what you lack. Be sure to also convey your passion for the position, your confidence in your ability to do the job, and your commitment to hitting the ground running.

Use the right keywords

Take note of the kind of language that’s used in the job ad and pepper your resume and cover letter with identical industry-specific phrases (while still being honest). This way, you can work the system to your advantage and get your application through keyword-reliant applicant tracking systems (ATSs) and into human hands.

Connect with an insider

When the odds are stacked against you, your best chances at success lie with having the right connections. Don’t know anyone at the company? Check LinkedIn to be sure. Still nothing? Then research relevant names and reach out to them to ask (politely) if you can send through a few questions – or better yet, meet over coffee. Once you’ve established a connection who can make introductions, you’re a lot closer to securing your dream position, and it starts to matter less that you don’t meet every requirement.

LiveCareer offers assistance to jobseekers at every step of the journey. Access free resume templates and resume examples, plus a cover letter builder and advice on how to answer interview questions of all stripes.

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