Should You Apply for Jobs You’re Not 100% Qualified For?

If there’s one feeling every job seeker knows, it’s the rush of hope when you discover that your dream employer is hiring for your dream job. Unfortunately, that burst of excitement is often followed by another all-too-common feeling — a sense of despair when you realize you’re not qualified for the position. But the lengthy criteria you see on job descriptions are often wish-list items rather than must-haves. A company may say it wants someone with at least five years of experience, a CPA license, and a list of technical certifications. But the hiring manager won’t dismiss a great candidate just because he or she has three years’ experience instead of five.

You Might Be a Better Candidate Than You Think

Unfortunately, candidates often self-select out of the talent pool based on the listed criteria. They assume that if they’re not a perfect fit, there’s no point in applying. But that’s usually not the case. The next time you see a daunting job listing, mentally replace the word “require” with “prefer”. This takes the pressure off and may make you feel more confident about applying. That’s not to suggest that you should pursue positions that are clearly out of your league. You should maximize your search by focusing on jobs that are realistically within reach. But taking a holistic view of the position will help you evaluate it without immediately disqualifying yourself. Read through the job functions and consider whether you’ve performed at least 50% of them in previous roles. If the answer is no, the job is probably beyond your skill level right now. But if you have experience with 50-75% of the duties listed, you could be a strong candidate.

Applying for Jobs Is an Art, Not a Science

Remember that applying for jobs is more of an art than a science. One company will build more leeway into its hiring requirements than another. But it’s worth spending time with the job description and really considering what you’d bring to the role. I’ve seen candidates shy away from positions that “require Big Four experience” or “require CPA”, and I encourage them to apply anyway. Companies sometimes consider applicants who are still working toward their CPAs but have good public accounting experience. Don’t be deterred by the terms “MBA required” or “MBA preferred”, either. The CPA is an important designation because of the work experience it signifies. But an MBA is almost always a “nice to have” because it’s an academic credential rather than an indication of experience. You always want to put your best self forward when applying for jobs. But you should double that effort when you’re not a perfect match on paper. Use the following tips to increase your chances of landing a reach job:

1.Tailor the language in your résumé to the position.

If your previous job titles don’t correspond exactly to the position, revise your résumé to incorporate words and phrases similar to what you find in the job description. Hiring managers will pick up on those when reviewing your past experience, and they’ll feel confident that you understand how to meet their needs.

2. Ask respected connections for recommendations on LinkedIn.

A recommendation from a prestigious contact goes a long way toward boosting an employer’s opinion of you. Employers know that birds of a feather flock together, so a positive recommendation tells them you’ll be a strong addition to their teams. It may even be enough to assuage their concerns over any gaps in your experience.

3. Let hiring managers know if you have connections within the company.

You never want to name-drop on a job application. But if you have friends or former colleagues who work for the company, find a way to work that into your cover letter. A line such as, “I know a number of people who work in your engineering department and they’ve told me what a dynamic work environment you’ve created,” tells hiring managers that you have references within the organization. Even better, ask your contacts to proactively mention you to the hiring manager. An internal advocate will give your application a boost under any circumstances, but it’s especially helpful if you feel the position is a reach. Pursuing a job that seems out of your league is a great way to grow. If you land the position, you’ll be learning new skills and encountering interesting challenges on a daily basis. Even if you don’t, you’ll have a better understanding of where you want to be and what you need to do to get there.

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