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How To Apply To a Job You’re Not Totally Qualified For

Don't let imposter syndrome hold you back from taking the leap.

Image courtesy of Gwengoat/ Getty Images

By Linda Le Phan

Job hunting and career development today is much different than it used to be. Back in the day, it was very common for employees to become “lifers” at a company – meaning they would stay there long-term until they retired (for life, basically). This was partly due to the types of jobs that were available, the number of jobs available to go around, and the fact that pensions still existed, just to name a few big reasons.

Nowadays, however, American workers hold more than 11 different jobs by the time they reach age 48, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some job transitions are necessary because of a termination or layoff, some are lateral moves because you might like the job but not the company itself due to a bad company culture fit, while others are complete leaps into the unknown.

No matter what the case, you might find that in order for you to make your work-life better in the way that you really want to, you have to start trying to reach for jobs that are sliiiightly out of your exact experience range. If you’re finding a job or two that you don’t perfectly fit the requirements for but you really want to pursue them anyway, here are some things to keep in mind:

“Unqualified” is a matter of degree

The first step in making a major career transition is to be honest with yourself about your abilities in relation to the job you seek. Is this a “stretch” position that you’re not technically qualified for but feel confident that you could succeed at? Or is it a totally unrealistic move? For example, if you’re currently a maintenance worker and want apply to become a C-suite executive at your company, you’re not likely to make the cut.

At the same time, beware of selling yourself short. 70% of workers experience imposter syndrome, that feeling that you are a fraud or unqualified for the work you do. Feeling unqualified is no reason not to reach for an awesome position that excites you. The worst that can happen is that you’ll hear “no.”

How to apply to a job you’re not qualified for:

Research, research, research

Even more than a regular job application, applying for a “reach” position requires you to do extensive research. Make sure you understand the organization and the larger industry inside and out. Reading online review sites is a smart way to ensure you understand the company culture. With the average corporate job opening attracting 250 resumes, demonstrating your thorough knowledge of the company is a great way to stand out.

Be flexible

Particularly if you are switching industries, it is important to demonstrate that you have transferable skills. Rather than worrying that your specific experiences do not translate to the new position, think about your skills from a wider perspective. For example, perhaps you have not managed a team before, but you organize your company’s annual charity gala. This demonstrates your ability to make decisions, problem solve, communicate, and manage resources effectively. Tweak these broad skills to fit the specific job description.

But keep in mind that you must back up your transferable skills with real life examples; saying that you’re a “good communicator” or “skilled leader” without showing examples of the actual situations that called for your communication or leadership skills isn’t all that impressive to hiring managers in the end.

Tailor your application

Make it easy for the hiring manager to see the fit between your background and the job position. Highlight any skills that match the job description, using the same language (or a close paraphrase) wherever possible. Hiring managers spend six seconds looking at a resume, so the more you use keywords, the better your resume will stand out. But just remember not to stretch the truth too much – chances are they’ll catch you in the lie.

Tell a story to sell the fit

Too often, applicants use a cover letter as an opportunity to rehash highlights of their resume. That’s a missed opportunity, particularly if you’re applying for a job that is not a clear fit with your background. Instead, illustrate why you’re the best candidate for the job by highlighting strengths or skills that do not easily shine through on your resume. Tell a story about why you want the job and how you will quickly meet the job demands and fit into the new organization. Forming a cohesive narrative about where you’ve been and where you want to go will show the hiring manager that this isn’t an out-of-left-field decision for you.

Demonstrate a growth mentality

If there is a glaring gap in your resume — for example, the job description asks for a candidate proficient in Python programming but you have no such experience — solve the hiring manager’s problem for him or her. “Although I have not used XYZ system previously, my 5 years of experience using ABC and my ability to quickly master Technology Q in my current position demonstrate that I am able to efficiently and flexibly adopt new platforms. Furthermore, I plan to take Specific Program/Course to develop my skills with XYZ.”

Leverage your network

Your professional network is particularly important when making a big career transition. Prep your references by giving them specific points to highlight to ensure they sell the match for you.

This article first appeared on Kununu.

More from Ladders

Linda Le Phan is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.

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