Should you apply for a job if you are underqualified?

Searching for a job can be a daunting task – mainly because of how difficult and prestigious the employers make their company and the role sound. A job advert can sometimes be littered with all sorts of requirements – skills, qualifications, experience, and much more. Words like ‘dynamic’, ‘confident’, ‘professional’ and ‘specialist’ are used quite often and can make even the most experienced individuals gasp at the prospect of writing their CV. Am I worthy of their attention?

But all is not lost, and we are here to provide some fantastic tips on what you might face and how to apply. One of the most important questions you will often ask yourself during the job searching process is – should I apply if I am underqualified?

Let’s try to tackle this dilemma by looking at a few different scenarios.

You tick most of the boxes

Try to put less pressure on yourself when searching for a job. The adverts can be overwhelming and you will be unlikely to hold every single requirement. Once you realise this it can make the whole process a lot let stressful and easier to tackle.

Whether you should apply or not shouldn’t come down to your own perception or those fancy words they like to use, but whether or not you genuinely have enough of the requirements. Take a pen and paper and single out all the specific tasks that the role demands. See how many of the boxes you tick and they make your decision.

Rather than us tell you a percentage of how many boxes you need to tick, make an educated guess. It’s impossible to speculate because of how varied each role and industry is. But at least this approach will allow you to methodically pick out all the important parts and have a real good look as to what you can and can’t do.

If you tick most of the boxes then there could be a strong chance that you are not underqualified. Remember, most employers will not expect to see applications that match every single aspect – not even close. But that doesn’t mean to say that they shouldn’t list them on the advert. Every now and then an applicant will have most or all of the requirements on their CV, but there is still a long way to go before a decision is made.

Ticking all or most of the boxes is only a small aspect of the recruitment process. If you can write a fantastic CV that’s tailored around the company’s needs, then you are always in with a shot. The interview is really where you can make it count, and you can easily stand head and shoulders above the rest of the more qualified competition if you have the confidence to believe in what you’re capable of.

You can learn

Don’t rule a job out just because you haven’t done it before. Training is a part of any role, and whilst the specifications may seem out of your reach, it could be something you learn and pick up quickly. If you were to only apply for jobs that you’d done before you would be struggling to get anywhere.

This doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t have a focused career progression in a particular field, but that you should step outside of your comfort zone and learn new skills. Don’t be afraid to apply for a job just because you are worried about how quickly you will learn something. Trust in your own abilities and use your experience to learn something new. Think back over your previous jobs and consider how long it took you to work alone without any assistance. You were most likely able to pick up the basics of the role within the first week and then flying from the next after about 3 months – maybe even training other people!

You have a proven track record

Your experience alone could be enough to see you over the finish line. Not every employer chooses to hire someone based upon their qualifications and skills, and there is a lot to be gained from taking on someone who has a huge amount of experience in a working environment.

Highlight your many outstanding achievements and accolades over the years to prove that you are capable of great things. Your CV needs to focus upon what you can do rather than what you can’t. It will help show the employer your potential instead of allowing them to focus on what’s missing.

You have an inside man

If you are fortunate enough to know someone within the business you may be able to gain some insider knowledge. Someone close to the hiring manager may be able to give you more of an insight into the daily routines and what they are specifically looking for. You could also get some interview tips for if you make it further with your CV.

A few tweaks to your CV will catch the manager’s attention and could just push you through to an interview. If you know you lack a few of the required skills or qualifications, then you have to shine in the interview and make them believe you are still suitable. But first, your CV has to stand out and what better way of doing that than having some info that the other candidates don’t.

Your cover letter can explain

A cover letter is a great way of personalising your application and explaining anything that isn’t or cannot be made clear on your CV. You can get ahead of any issues the manager may have upon reading your CV and influence their decision.

Keep things brief but approach the potential issue of your lack of XY and Z. Make it clear that you don’t believe this is a problem because you are able to bring AB and C to the role. Again, try to quickly steer the focus away from what you can’t do by following up with a few positives of what you can.

Expect rejection

When applying for a job that you are potentially underqualified for you need to expect rejection. Having this mindset should help you to remove any emotion from receiving a ‘no’ so you can keep trying. Don’t take anything personally and keep pushing to achieve your goals.

Consider asking an employer why you were rejected as this feedback could help you get an interview. It could be something very simple, for example – the employer thought you lacked relevant work experience, but in fact you did have some similar roles but you failed to make that clear on your CV. Or, it could be that you just aren’t qualified enough and need more experience or education. But no matter what the employer says, if you are determined to be hired for a particular role then take that feedback onboard and do whatever is necessary to increase your credentials.

If the employer wants experience, then join a company in a lower level position to gain it. If they want a specific qualification, then go back to college or university to get it. If they require a particular skill, like Microsoft Excel – then take a course on Microsoft or read up online and do your own research and training.

Find out what is required and put the wheels in motion. With a few rejections along the way you will one day look back at your tenacity and determination and pat yourself on the back.

Demonstrate transferable skills

Finally, one of the most common mistakes a job seeker makes when writing a CV is to misunderstand their current skillset. A particular skill will rarely match another job description, and it doesn’t have to. What you need to look for when writing your CV for an employer is how your skills can be transferred to the new role.

Lots of skills are transferable if you make them more generic. Here is a list of generic transferable skills to give you an idea of what to look for:

  • Planning
  • Delegation
  • Team work
  • Communication – written and verbal
  • Research

If you are now applying for a job as a manager or supervisor but have no prior experience in that position, this doesn’t mean to say you haven’t at some point taken on managerial tasks – planning, training, delegation, support, and so on. You need to focus upon anything you’ve ever done which could be classed as a managerial task and push it on your CV.

The same goes for communication. If you are now applying for a sales position but have no prior sales experience, it doesn’t mean that you’ve never actually touched upon a sales type role. Look back at your previous roles to see if there are instances of helping customers and assisting with a sale. It doesn’t matter that your job title was not ‘sales executive’ and that you weren’t on commission – you still helped the customer and achieved a sale.

There are lots of jobs that have a sales angle to them, like these:

  • Waiter/waitress
  • Customer service advisor
  • Receptionist
  • Retail positions

When you know what to look for it can be very easy to find transferable skills. So don’t look through your experience and skills for specific examples, and instead focus on a more generic approach.

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