It’s a common job search experience. You’re browsing through job postings when you stumble on the perfect position. As you read through the description, you get increasingly excited: it’s a great organization with interesting responsibilities, and the pay is awesome. It’s exactly what you want to do. Then you read the job requirements and your excitement fades.
The employer is looking for someone with decades of professional experience, advanced knowledge in an array of fields, and a valid Ghanaian drivers license. You’ve only got some of those requirements. Is it worth the time and energy to apply? The short answer is yes, you should apply anyway.
The truth is that job descriptions are often more aspirational wish lists than realistic measures of required skills. This is particularly true for new positions or when the description is crafted by an HR department, usually two steps removed from the actual job.
Most employers would be thrilled to find a candidate who meets 70% of the stated qualifications. Obviously, the fewer requirements you meet, the harder it will be to get the interview and land the job. But if you approach the opportunity with confidence and a strategy to meet the employer’s needs, you can overcome shortcomings in your resume.
Here are four things you can do to improve your chances:
Focus on the required qualifications
Every job has its core responsibilities—the tasks you do every day as part of the position. When reviewing a job description, figure out what skills are the heart of the role. These are the qualifications that are most likely to be absolute “must haves” for the position. If you meet these job requirements you have a good chance.
Some employers make it easy by explicitly distinguishing between “required” and “preferred” qualifications. Many times, however, you have to do some research (and make some educated guesses) to figure out the true requirements.
Study the organization and try to intuit the problem it is trying to solve with this new hire. Think through the skills you would need to solve this problem. Then focus on this solution-oriented skillset in your application pitch.
Another approach is to simply ask yourself if you could do the job. (Be honest and realistic with your answer, please!) This will give you a good sense of whether you meet the minimum requirements for the position.
Think about equivalent experience and transferable skills
Some jobs have requirements for which there are no acceptable substitutes. If an organization wants a certified MD, no amount of “equivalent experience” is going to cut it. You can’t apply to be a lawyer if your legal training consists of an encyclopedic knowledge of Matlock.
Other job requirements, however, are more flexible and can be met with nonspecific, sometimes non-professional, experience. For example, requirements for “X years of experience” can often be met through a mix of professional, volunteer, or even personal experience. Likewise, if a job requires knowledge of a specific piece of software, you may be able to substitute your experience with a related software program or some other complicated piece of technology.
The key here is identifying transferable skills that you’ve developed throughout your career. As much as possible, try to link your existing skillset around the requirements of the job. And don’t be subtle about it! Use your cover letter to explain exactly how your background—while it doesn’t perfectly match the job description—prepared you to do the job.
Avoid applicant tracking systems
This is a good rule in general, but particularly if you’re applying to a job where you don’t meet all the qualifications. Applicant tracking systems (ATS for short) are keyword-based software tools that automatically screen applications for jobs.
A human reviewing your resume has the ability to use discretion and make exceptions when they find an interesting candidate. An ATS system does not. If the system has been programmed to reject anyone who doesn’t meet each and every requirement, then there’s no way to work around it.
That’s why you should always look for more direct ways to apply for a job. Consider reaching out the hiring manager, HR department, or a recruiter.
Emphasize your cultural fit
You’ve seen it, heard it, (and maybe even personally experienced it) before: the candidate who is qualified on paper loses out to the one who is seen as a “better fit” for the organization.
Culture fit matters in the hiring process, sometimes weighted more than skill fit. You may be able to overcome shortcomings on your resume by emphasizing how well you’d fit into the existing office culture.
You can learn more about the culture and values of an employer through strategic networking and research on sites like Glassdoor.