Getting the Job When You're Underqualified

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When you're changing careers, getting your foot in the door can often be the most difficult part. Even though you may have tons of experience in your industry, which could carry over to the new career, odds are good that you don't meet every requirement on the employer's list.


So, how can you get a job when you're underqualified?


First, it's important to know that when an employer advertises a job opening, most of their list of requirements is a wish list. They are qualifications that the employer would like to find, but they aren't set in stone. Even if you don't meet all of them, you can still apply for the job.


In order to land a job you aren't completely qualified for, you have to consider what your qualifications are. Do you meet at least 80 percent of their advertised requirements? If you were the hiring manager, why would you hire someone with your skills? The answer to these questions will help you determine how to market yourself.


Although the current job market makes it considerably more difficult to land a job when you are underqualified, here are the most important things you can do to stand out:


Write a great cover letter – The most important thing you can do is write an amazing cover letter. In it, acknowledge that you don't have all of the qualifications they asked for and explain why you still think you are the best person for the job. This is super important because if you don't explain why you're applying, your resume will most likely be thrown out. Remember, your cover letter is the place where you can make your pitch so don't overlook it.


Learn about the company – Before applying for a job you aren't qualified for, you should know a lot about the company. This means that you should have done tons of research and have a clear idea of what the company's goals are, what challenges they are currently facing and where they are heading. All of this information will make it easier for you to explain to a hiring manager why you want this particular job and why you would be a great asset to their company.


Be likable – When it comes right down to it, being likeable is going to be what makes or breaks an interview. If you're enthusiastic, have some of the qualifications they're looking for, know a lot about the company and the hiring manager really likes you, it's not unlikely that you'll be offered the job. Being likeable makes it easy for a manager to want to help you.


Show your skills – Even though you don't have all of the qualifications they're looking for, show off the skills that you have and stress how they can relate to the job. For example, if they are looking for someone who has 5 years of experience in sales, with at least 2 years of retail sales experience, having only 3 years of retail sales experience might be enough. Just make sure to clearly show that you are motivated and capable of exceeding expectations in the position.


Getting a job that you are underqualified for can certainly be a challenge, especially in a tight job market, but it's not impossible. If you are trying to change careers and want to be considered for a job you aren't completely qualified for, you'll really have to work at marketing yourself.


Have you ever gotten a job you weren't completely qualified for? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments.


Image source: MorgueFile


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  • Toni M
    Toni M
    Great info! Thank you so much
  • Paul T
    Paul T
    It is true that employers use software to scan resumes. So it will be nearly impossible for an under qualified candidate to get their resume and cover letter looked at by a human. A way around this problem is to find out who the hiring manager is and mail a copy of your cover letter and resume directly to them. It may take some work to find a name, but at least your information will be looked at by a human.
  • Christopher B
    Christopher B
    What if you don't have the degree that they're looking for?
  • Ryan S
    Ryan S
    I do like your stance on still applying to the job, even if you do not meet all of the requirements. I submit that most of the recruiters are not competent to know that they can stray from the job description a little. I've met more than my share of English majors that recruit. Most do not have the training people in HR related fields have. I've also run into the fact that so many people are applying that I don't stand a chance. As someone else said, even if I do write an amazing cover letter, I'm not sure anyone is going to read it. I think this is great advice for the job market of 7yrs ago or once unemployment and under-employment for people 35 and under goes below 7%. Right now, the system is broken and companies are waiting to hire, but still put out requests for applications. Until companies stop paying executives so much and put some more skin in the game, we're out of luck.
  • Abel C
    Abel C
    Excellent Tips for an underqualified job applicant like me. I learn a lot from it.
  • William N
    William N
    4 excellent points. Add 5th - present a dynamic, achievement (what I can do for you) oriented resume with appropriate 'buzz words' for the automated search scanners.
  • Leslie T
    Leslie T
    Thank you! I am currently looking for positions that I qualify for and some i do not qualify for. This article helps me with my confidence level.I will continue to look apply for jobs.
  • wallaceB
    I've had great response when I take time to individualize my cover letter, letting the employer know I'm interested and letting a little of my personality come through the facts.
  • Jean C
    Jean C
    My frustration is positions that require a degree "or equivalent experience". I don't yet have a degree but have 30 years of experience in the positions for which I am applying (14 of which is on my resume'). How does an employer quantify "...or equivalent experience"?
  • neville s
    neville s
    I really like those advice for landing or getting a job
  • Kathi W
    Kathi W
    A few years ago I interviewed for a job, I was pretty desperate at the time. I got the job.  It was working  in collections for a gas company.  The accounts that i called for collection had pretty low balances.  I only worked there for about 3 months and then I was let go.  Collections is just not my bag.
  • Rosetta S
    Rosetta S
    Dear Ms Kennedy: I have been in the workforce for over 30 years.  About 15 years ago I would agree with all of your advise and insight.  However, 80% is no longer good enough.  I worked for a large telecom company for over 12 years and then was part of their many lay offs.  That was two and half years ago.  I have been applying to everything and ANYTHING everyday since.  While I have gotten several interviews, I have yet to get an offer.  I had a professional as part of my severance to help me with the current demands of the job market.  Networking was very new to me and out of my comfort zone.  However, I felt getting a job outweighed my hesitation.  Like I mentioned, I tried everything.  I truly feel in this job market and unemployment community, the potential employer has their pick of the litter.  They can get  100% of what they are looking for.  I have many years of experience ... not only in the telecom industry... but my skills that were utilized everyday in my previous position are easily transferred to most industries.  I feel since the employer can easily get 100% of what their WISH list is...  I honestly feel my age quickly eliminates me.  But of course they cannot legally express that.  They simply say, "we found another candidate that better fits the position" .  I will never know if that is true or not.  I have exhausted every effort... and quite frankly, I am exhausted.  I would welcome any further advise you might have.Thank you.Exhausted.
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks for all of the great comments. I can tell how frustrating this is. We all are desperate to find the right job that's going to offer us some challenge and help pay the bills.Although, as Gnaneswara and others pointed out, many companies are using Applicant Tracking Software instead of reading each resume themselves. Please know that it that's the case, you just aren't going to get those job and that's okay. Since you can't know how they do things before you submit yours, all you can do is have a great cover letter that explains why they should hire you, in spite of your under qualifications and submit it anyway. So many people want to argue that cover letters don't matter and that it's just know how employers do things anymore. While that may be true in some cases, here's my point:You aren't going to NOT get hired because you included a cover letter that no one read. Maybe the hiring manager will read your cover letter and still toss your resume in the trash. Whatever. You weren't going to get that job anyway. But, you don't need to get every job, you just need ONE. Just one break. Just one company to take a chance on you. So, write your cover letter and do all that you can to market yourself in hopes that the one manager that will look beyond your qualifications will see it and understand who you are and what you're trying to do. That's the person you're writing your cover letter to. You just have to send it to everyone in order to be sure that person sees it.I hope that makes sense!
  • Linda J
    Linda J
    I think all of that sounds great. What about the fact that most companies are using recruiters that are trained to ask a few key questions over the phone and suddenly rule you out before you get an opportunity to speak, or when you do they act as if they have to stick to a script. If I could get a chance for a face to face I know I could sale myself.
  • Michele B
    Michele B
    Thanks for the info.  I did all of what you suggested for the over 100 jobs I applied for - with maybe 5 interviews to show for it.  Unfortunately I am under qualified in new job skills yet over qualified because of my old job skills and MA degree.  Another difficult obstacle I could not overcome is everyone wants you to know a different software CMS or LMS, or other program.  Not an easy task to fake or overcome.
  • Tamara B
    Tamara B
    Too often I've applied to some of those jobs that you mentioned...And I always get a 'No Thank you.'Its disheartening to constantly get the door shut in my face.  some days I feel like its a waste to even try.So I go else where and keep plugging away.
  • Zackary S
    Zackary S
    Many companies are using filter questions right after or during the application process. If you answer no to a qualifying question you are immediately rejected. IT does not mean you should not try to apply but be prepared for a possible immediate rejection.
  •  Audrey P
    Audrey P
    Melissa, to piggy-back your comment, I would like to add that the candidate must also be willing to learn.  In a previous position, I was excellent at learning new program applications.  When the engineer who specialized in a particular application left the company, I was approached by his manager and asked if given the opportunity, could I learn and master this program.  Although I had never done any work using this application, my response was yes!  I became the subject-matter expert for this application within the US and Mexico for the organization, which propelled my career to another level.
  • theresa a
    theresa a
    This was very helpful to me. thank you.
  • Linda M
    Linda M
    This info is very helpful and true.  I'm changing career fields and when I had my interviews I felt I really had to sell myself by providing examples of when I exhibited those skills the employer was looking for.  Having people skills and being able to establish rapport with interviewers is extremely important.  Employers need team players.
  • Teresa B
    Teresa B
    I thought the information was helpful. I am changing my career at 59, no easy task. I will use the advise in my job search.
  • Caroline C
    Caroline C
    Thanks, Melissa.  I, too, am in similar boat-that-hasn't-left-the-dock as Rick H., as well as Thomas Joseph.  I have so much experience, write a great cover letter, am every enthusiastic, and my resume seems to fall into the black hole of online applications.  The killer is that I apply for a position that really fits and then  I avoid applying for others while I wait and wait and wait.  Ugh!
  • Peter B
    Peter B
    This article never really answered its own question. Instead, it reinetpreted the question to read, how to show off your best skills. There are many jobs out there for which we are truly under-qualified. If it is a federal job and you do not meet the eligibility requirements - that's it - as far as I know.
  • Sabirah A
    Sabirah A
    What about when you have all the requirements for the job,years of experience in similar position,and the hiring manager tells you that you don't meet the minimal requirements for the position?
  • Gnaneswara T
    Gnaneswara T
    Nice artcle Melissa, but few things still dont strike to mind about short listing of candidates. I have recently forwrded my cv to various positions recently, and it is so evodent that too many candidates applying of the position, even if it is in hundreds, shortlisting may not be so easy for hiring officer.  In such cases, do they really have time to go through each profile including cover letters. Now a days they are relying in software systems to analyse the high volume , but not cover letters. In such case, only the one who false portrayed himself based key words of advertised content will have higher chances to get short listed. How to takcle this situations. For eg. 2 years back our company recruited one implementer with skills of datawarehousing. But later(after his selection) we realised that he just added key words relevant to datawarehousing, but never worked in datawarehousing, and doesnt have any idea about implementation except some theory of datawarehouse.

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