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How to Get the Job, When You’re Underqualified


When companies put up job descriptions for open positions, they are essentially trying to do two things: 1) get applicants excited about their company, and 2) get the right candidates to apply for the role. The idea is to communicate clearly the role, responsibilities, and expectations from the position. But, quite often, job descriptions are more of a wish-list for the ideal candidate than a checklist of traits every possible applicant must possess. Just like in real life, ideal scenarios are rare.


(Photo Credit: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash)

If you feel you are not qualified in a few of the listed areas, but know that you would be able to do a good job, you may be right. Go ahead and apply. But because you don’t fully fit the bill, you may have to make some extra effort to get your foot through the door of the interviewing room. Here’s how.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

1. List out all the skills and qualifications you think you have from the job description. These are going to be the areas you can highlight in your cover letter.

2. List out skills and qualifications you don’t directly have, but may still be able to do, because of your transferable skills. As Lily Zhang writes at The Muse, “This approach shifts the conversation away from relevant experience and more toward whether you can do that job or not.”

3. Connect with someone working at the company to get insights into the role and learn from their experience working in the company. Hopefully, you can also have them refer you into the company. An internal reference is one of the most effective ways of getting your resume seen by someone in the organization.

4. Do some in-depth research beyond what is available on the company website. Set up alerts to gather more information about the company and stay updated. This research will help you connect the importance of your role to the company’s future plans. You can use this in the cover letter, too!

5. Write a cover letter to highlight your transferable skills. The cover letter creates a clear connection between the skills that you possess and how that will be beneficial to the role that you are applying to.

6. Focus on the positive. Zhang advises job seekers to stop apologizing for skills they don’t have and to turn the focus on to skills that they do have. “I’m eager to translate my success in this administrative position to a more client-focused role” instead of “While I only have work experience doing administrative tasks…”

7. Highlight experiences where you may have used the skills – volunteering experiences, part-time jobs, grad school experiences (if you are a recent grad).

8. Work on your resume too. Customize it as much as possible and make it relevant to the job. The Applicant Tracking System is going to screen your resume for keywords, and making the resume in line with the requirements will help.

The bottom line is, the requirements listed on job descriptions are not sacrosanct – they are just good to have, so that shouldn’t deter you from applying to the job, if you realistically feel you have the skills and the capability to deliver to expectations.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you applied to a job when you were underqualified? What was your experience like? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Padmaja Ganeshan Singh
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