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Underqualified? When Should you Apply and When Should you Skip It

You found the perfect job on paper! It’s the right next step for your career. The responsibilities and most of the skills match your background, the location is ideal and the pay scale is inline. But they are asking for requirements beyond what you have. Should you still apply if you’re underqualified? If so, how do you compensate for the missing pieces?

Sometimes yes.

At times, it makes sense to apply for a job when you don’t meet all the qualifications. Job descriptions are often written for the absolute ideal candidate, with a handful of the requirements being in the “nice to have” but not the “must have” column. At times you will need to dissect a job description and determine if applying for the role makes sense. For example, you have six years’ experience and the position calls for ten, it might be worth it if you can show consistent growth and success in the time you’ve been at it.

Sometimes no.

What’s the harm in applying for an interesting position, regardless of being underqualified? Job seekers who apply for roles out of their range can become deflated from the frequent rejection and lack of response. In addition, applying for reach jobs steals time, energy and focus from a more realistic job search. While it seems harmless to apply for every appealing job, I recommend using restraint.

The college selection approach.

Find the right balance by taking your cue from high school seniors applying to college. Apply for jobs that line up ideally with your background and qualifications. Sprinkle in a few “reach jobs” and even add a “safety” or two, depending on your situation.

If applying for a “reach job,” look for core areas where you can leverage a skillset. Avoid applying simply because you want it. For a company to consider meeting you, let alone asking you to join the team, you need something to offer.

Take inventory and take action.

An effective way to compensate for lack of experience is to get more experience. Put your resume through a rigorous self-analysis and compare it to the jobs you want. Then spend the next six months or so acquiring the skills you lack – ideally, make this happen in your current job. Talk to your manager about ways to increase responsibility. Your manager will appreciate the initiative. Be sure to identify areas where you are adding value at your current company while simultaneously expanding your skillset. This strategy could also help you fall in love with your current job and even advance within your company.

Maybe the reason you are looking for work is because it’s not possible to acquire those skills at your current company. The next best thing? Obtain them on your own with a side job. In my industry, software engineering, side projects building software is an ideal way to build your skills and beef up your resume.

Wow them with your soft skills.

Aside from a perfectly matched resume, there are other ways to win a role when you are underqualified. After a near-perfect fit, the next most attractive profile is a “rising star;” someone who possesses some but not all of the skills – but has most of the desired intangibles. For example, candidates who are ambitious, confident and aware of their short-comings.

What’s your story?

Stories resonate well in interviews, so tell your story! When preparing for your interview, recount specific examples of times you got wrapped up in a project and went beyond what was asked of you. Explain when you made a big contribution or did something to aid a teammate. To demonstrate confidence, recount times you picked up a skill you didn’t have due to your determination and ambition. Speak with facts rather than shrouding yourself in glory. Avoid going too far or coming across as over-confident or not a team player.

Applying for a role you are underqualified for is worth the effort if you are strategic, selective and smart in your approach.

Photo credit: Canva

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