Break the Rules: How to Apply for a Job When You Don’t Meet All the Requirements
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- Many job seekers hesitate to apply for jobs when they don't meet all the requirements.
- But applying for a position you don't meet every requirement for can be a good idea.
- There are ways to stand out even when you don't meet all the specifications.
When looking for a new job, it can be helpful to cast a wide net — maybe wider than you think. Many job seekers only apply for positions when they meet all of the requirements listed on the posting. According to a 2014 Harvard Business Review study, this is especially true for women job seekers, who are likely to only apply for jobs when they meet 100% of the requirements. In contrast, men will apply for jobs when they only meet 60% of the stated requirements.
Statistics and hiring experts agree — applying for jobs when you don't meet all the requirements can be a risk and a reach, but it's likely to be a stretch worth making for many job seekers.
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What Are Job Requirements?
Job postings typically list a series of requirements for the candidate they're looking to hire. These requirements vary widely from job to job, but some common specifications include a certain level of education or a number of years of prior work experience.
Some jobs also require specific technical skills, fluency in multiple languages, and more. The more advanced a job, the longer the list of requirements is likely to be. Jobs with longer or more specific lists of requirements are also often higher paying.
Things to Consider Before Applying
If you're interested in applying for a job where you might not meet all the requirements, there are a few things to consider before you take the plunge. While you might already be aware that you don't meet every requirement, it can be a good idea to take a close look and figure out what percentage of the requirements you do meet.
Jen Messer, a career coach with over 10 years of experience staffing for the IT industry and host of the Working Mama podcast, elaborates. "One of the biggest secrets in the industry is that managers will almost always hire a candidate who is a 60-80% match to job description."
Job descriptions, she says, "are more of a wish list than anything, and they will happily train someone with the right personality and half the required skills."
— Jen Messer, career coach and host of the Working Mama podcast
Messer offers two tips for those looking to apply for a job where they're not a 100% match to the description requirements.
First, she says, "research and connect with people currently in a similar role at the company on LinkedIn. Find out what they are doing to gather insights on what is truly important to the role so you can tailor your resume and highlight how your experience will provide value to the team based on insider knowledge."
Then, if you've made it to the interview stage, "Tell an impactful story about your work using examples from projects you've worked on using data [and] facts, showcasing key accomplishments and results. Managers want to understand what value you bring to the table and what you've contributed in past roles." This will help you stand out from other candidates.
Pros and Cons of Applying for a Job Where You Don't Meet All the Requirements
When applying for a job where you don't meet all the requirements, you'll need to weigh the pros and cons before submitting your application. While these will vary depending on your personal circumstances, there will often be a few more general factors to consider:
- You can open yourself up to a wider range of job opportunities.
- The application process itself can be a learning experience.
- You can learn which qualifications are more or less negotiable for different types of jobs.
- If you're offered the job, you can learn new skills and qualifications while you're in the role.
- You may be asked difficult questions at the interview stage.
- You're at a greater risk of getting fewer job offers if you mostly apply for jobs that you don't meet all the qualifications for.
- You may be offered a lower salary for the job if you don't meet all the qualifications.
- If you accept the job offer, the role may prove more challenging for you than expected.
Reasons You Should Still Apply
Even though there are cons to consider, the odds are good that you should still apply for a job you want, even if you don't meet all of the requirements listed. Sarah Doody, a career coach and founder of the career counseling business Career Strategy Lab, explains that your application is likely better than you think.
"The truth is there is such a large number of candidates who apply for roles who are grossly unqualified, that even if you only meet some of the requirements, that might just be enough," Doody explains.
"The bar to stand out from other candidates is a lot easier than you think."
— Sarah Doody, career coach and founder of the career counseling business Career Strategy Lab
To give an example, she elaborates on a hiring decision she made. "Our business, Career Strategy Lab, recently got into hiring, and for a recent UX designer role we posted, we had 100 applications in six days. Of those applications, 30 were automatically disqualified because they didn't follow the directions on the application or clearly didn't read the job description."
"Of the remaining 70 candidates, only 20 were invited to the interview process. The ones who didn't proceed simply didn't meet enough requirements compared to the final 20." This doesn't mean that the 20 candidates invited for an interview were perfect matches to the job description; only that they were the best of the 70 who were moderately qualified and had filled out the application quickly and accurately.
Kali Wolken, a certified career counselor with The Lookout Point, LLC, agrees. Wolken explains that many hiring managers use an applicant tracking system, or ATS, and if you fit the key points the ATS is filtering for, you improve your odds of being invited for an interview.
"If you are applying for a job that is only a partial match, focus on the skills you have that match the position for which you're applying. If you have access to the job description, highlight keywords you can identify with, and include these in your own resume."
— Kali Wolken, certified career counselor with The Lookout Point, LLC
"I realize some may worry that if they don't match well enough, then they shouldn't even bother applying. I want to encourage you to try anyway," she says. "Employers often make decisions on hiring within the first few seconds of meeting a candidate. That alone implies that it isn't all about experience. It's about the fit of the person."
While it may be intimidating to apply for a job where you don't meet all the requirements, it's often worth it. Job descriptions offer helpful guidelines, but they're not always hard and fast rules hiring managers will use when selecting a candidate.
If you think a particular job could be a good fit for you, applying for it, even if you're not a perfect match, can be beneficial. The best-case scenario is that you'll get an offer, while the worst-case is that you won't hear back from them — and you'll have gained more experience sending in applications as you continue your job hunt.