You see a job posting that looks great to you. It’s in your field, it’s what you want to be doing, and you meet most of the requirements. Most, but not all. So even though the company is awesome, the job sounds great, and you think you bring a lot to the table that could be helpful in the position, you don’t apply. This is self-selecting out of a job you want, and you should never do it. The only way you know you won’t get that job is if you don’t try.
I understand why you’d choose not to apply to a job if you didn’t meet all of the qualifications. Job searching can be a long and arduous process. Tailoring your resume and cover letter for an individual job can be a time-consuming process. So if the listing asks for 5-7 years of experience, and you only have three, it seems like it would be a waste of your time to go through all that hassle when you imagine your resume will just end up in the trash. To understand why that isn’t true, you have to understand how job postings are created.
Job postings are often not crafted only by those people who will be making the hiring decision. Many times job listings are created by committee—either official or ad hoc—and the job posting may contain everyone’s ideas of what an ideal candidate should have. The qualifications in a listing created by committee will likely not line up with the qualities that the decision-maker actually values; they may have been thrown in by someone who will have no further input on hiring that role. Sometimes the HR manager may add a qualification just to limit the pool of candidates—making his or her own job easier. I’ve even heard of requirements being added to a job listing just because the listing seemed “too short.”
You should also know that some things that end up in the “requirements” section of the job listing may not be 100% “must-haves” but are instead “nice-to-haves” or even “if-we-lived-in-a-perfect-world-and-could-create-the-perfect-candidate-in-a-lab-maybe-they-would-haves.” Don’t look at the requirements as an all-or-nothing affair: that if you don’t meet all of the requirements, you won’t be seriously considered. This is especially true of the requirements that appear further down the list. If there are six or seven requirements listed, it may only be the first two or three that are hard “must-haves.” The last few requirements listed are likely not as important to the company as the first few.
This advice isn’t to say that you should just ignore the requirements listed in a job posting. If the role is for a senior manager and you have no management experience, by all means, don’t waste your or anyone else’s time by applying. You should always read the entire posting and think about whether your experience and skills are a good match for the job, even if it’s not perfect. You can use your cover letter to address some of the job qualifications where you don’t quite measure up and explain to the company why you’d be great in the role despite these gaps.
As the saying goes, you’ve got to be in it to win it. So if the job listing looks good to you, and you think you could look good to the company, go ahead and throw your hat in the ring. You may prove to be more of an ideal candidate than you initially think.
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