Underqualified for a Job? 4 Ways to Get the Job Anyway

sign board saying 'Dream Job This Way'
Sign pointing toward a dream job | Source: iStock

You’re looking for a new gig, and you’ve stumbled across an ad for your dream job. The position sounds perfect, but there’s just one problem: You’re underqualified. Maybe the employer is looking for someone with 10 years experience and you only have eight, or all your past positions have been in marketing for the financial industry and you want to switch to fashion. Perhaps your technical skills aren’t quite up to snuff or your degree isn’t in the right field.

Don’t kiss your dream career goodbye just yet. Your skills and experience may not quite match what the employer is looking for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t apply, according to career experts.

“Few candidates possess all of the job specifications an employer is looking for, and you might have just enough to meet the minimum requirements the employer needs,” Laura Kerekes, the chief knowledge officer at ThinkHR, a provider of expert HR knowledge solutions, said. “The most important factor to consider is whether or not you are confident that you could do the job successfully if hired.”

Yet knowing you can do a job and convincing a skeptical employer you have what it takes are two different things, as many frustrated job seekers have discovered. To get a job for which you’re underqualified, you’re going to need to do some extra work, such as explaining the connection between the jobs you’ve had and the one you want and working your connections to get your foot in the door at the company where you hope to work. The effort might be greater than what’s required to land a job that’s a better match for your skills, but the potential benefits are great, and the risks few.

“If you can picture yourself working there, go ahead and apply,” Kerekes said. “There may be other jobs within the company that aren’t advertised that could be a better match. What do you have to lose?”

Want to get the job, even if you’re underqualified? Keep these four tips in mind and you may soon be getting a call saying, “You’re hired!”

1. Find out what’s really important

man using laptop
Man using laptop to apply for job | Source: iStock

A job posting could have a list of requirements a mile long, but you may not need to tick every box to be considered for the position. As a candidate, you need to suss out what skills are essential and what are merely nice to have.

“Before you apply to a job, carefully reread — and then reread — the job description,” Amanda Augustine, a career advice expert at TopResume, said. “Some job postings will include a ridiculously long wish list of qualifications they’d like the ideal candidate to possess. Your job is to identify which of those qualifications are on the hiring manager’s list of must-have requirements.”

Certain requirements, such as licenses and certifications, are going to be deal breakers, but employers may be flexible on others. Consider applying for your dream job if you have 70% of the listed skills, career coach Nancy Collamer wrote in an article for Forbes.

2. Focus on culture fit

Companies want employees with hard skills, but they’re also looking for people who will mesh with their organization. Emphasizing how well you’ll fit in with a company’s culture might help you overcome a skills deficit on your resume and get the job.

“[S]mart employers are hiring for cultural fit as well as technical skills,” Kerekes said. “If you’re light on the experience, focus on culture fit. Do your research and learn what the company values. Describe how your interests, experience, and work behaviors match the company’s culture and work values … Sell your strengths and the skills you bring to the organization, and you could win the job.”

3. Network, network, network

two men shaking hands after networking meeting
Two men shaking hands during a networking meeting | Source: iStock

Strong networking skills are key to landing a great job, especially if you’re underqualified. “Studies have shown you’re 10 times more likely to land a job when your application is accompanied by a referral,” Augustine said.

If you have existing contacts at the company or in the industry where you’re trying to get a job, now is the time to reach out with a friendly email and an invitation to get coffee or catch up on over the phone. Augustine suggests requesting 10-minute call and informational interview with someone at a company you’re targeting.

“This is a great technique to help you learn more about a field or company of interest,” she said. “Additionally, these conversations will help you identify what about your background will be considered most valuable to your target employer so you can tout those selling points on your resume.”

4. Tailor your resume

Even if you think you’re a company’s dream candidate, you should be tailoring your resume to fit the position if you want to get the job. If you’re underqualified, highlighting your most relevant skills is even more important. Based on what you’ve learned from your research and networking conversations, you can draw attention to certain skills and downplay others.

“You may want to rethink how you’re describing your previous work experience to showcase the duties and skills that are considered more attractive for your new job target,” Augustine said.

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