Career Advice Job Searching Tips

How to Apply for a Job That You Feel Unqualified For

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By: Kaylyn McKenna
Sep 15, 2020 • 7 min read

How to Apply for a Job That You Feel Unqualified For

Sometimes applicants get intimidated by an impressive-sounding job title or a big name company. So take a minute to ignore those two items and go back through the job description line by line. Are you really even unqualified? Also, note down what qualifications they listed that you do possess, including any listed as preferred rather than required.

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Use Your Cover Letter

This is your opportunity to sell yourself to the recruiter or hiring manager. A lot of people skip this step, but if you feel unqualified for the job, you should absolutely make use of a cover letter. Express your enthusiasm for the field, the role, and the company. Set yourself apart by researching the company and addressing why you are interested in working for them. Share how you would be a good fit for their culture and why you connect with their mission statement and values. A lot of hiring managers place significant value on cultural fit and enthusiasm. A job duty or software program can be taught, but commitment and work ethic can not.

Highlight Relevant Coursework

Often employers will consider a combination of education and experience, so if you have completed a certificate course or college classes directly related to the duties listed, be sure to highlight those. Also, mention relevant projects you’ve done even if they took place during school rather than work.

Focus on What You Have To Offer

There is no need to draw attention to the unmet qualifications. Instead, focus on what you can bring to the table. Make your cover letter positive and focus it on your strengths. Instead of referring to yourself as underqualified or outright mentioning something that you don’t currently have, emphasize your willingness and desire to learn and grow in the field.

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Draw Parallels

Did the job posting ask for 3 years of experience with a software you’ve never used? This can be intimidating. However, if you’ve used other software in the same category (Paychex instead of Paylocity for payroll, Hubspot instead of Salesforce for CRM, etc.) let them know. If you used a similar software and understand the processes used, you’ll likely pick up quickly on the one they use.

 Highlight Skills

Also, highlight related skills to the ones you may be lacking or less experienced in. Retail experience is a form of customer service and sales experience. This is true even if it’s not the exact type that they are looking for! A lot of entry-level roles are also more of support roles and administrative in nature. So, if you have office experience, highlight it! An entry-level HR or Marketing Assistant may do a lot of the same general duties as a work-study office assistant just focused on different areas of the business.

Attach Additional Documents

You’ve written a killer cover letter, but you still feel like your application is a bit weak? Think about what else you can add to sell yourself further. If you have earned a degree in a highly relevant field and earned impressive grades, transcripts can help show your potential employer that you have studied many aspects of the role even if you haven’t utilized some of them in a job setting.

 Letter of Recommendation

A letter of recommendation can help support the fact that your work ethic and enthusiasm will help make up for being a bit underqualified. If you are a recent graduate and early in your career, a letter of recommendation from your past internship(s) can help. Including internship experience on your resume is great, and it can count towards the required years of experience listed in job ads unless specifically mentioned. However, not all internships are created equal. It can be hard for hiring managers to know how to evaluate intern experience. Some interns are simply used for basic filing and support tasks. Others are assigned projects that they can assume ownership of. A letter of recommendation can give credibility to the fact that not only are you a hard worker, but also to the kind of work you produced and to the relevance of the internship to this particular job.

 Link a Portfolio

Lastly, consider linking to a portfolio or relevant submitting work samples. Writing, design, or social media post samples can be shared with potential clients if these are skills that you would use in the role. If you aren’t qualified on paper, let your work speak for itself.

Utilize Referrals

Reach out to any connections that you have at the company and have them put in a good word for you. LinkedIn is the easiest way to keep track of whether any former coworkers or classmates work there. Former employees of the company may also be able to provide referrals, assuming they left on good terms. Referrals can pull your resume out of the stack and ensure they are reviewed thoroughly.

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Reach out to the Hiring Manager

Often, especially at larger companies, resumes are first screened by technology rather than a human recruiter. If you don’t meet the qualifications or possess all of the required skills, this system can cause you to be filtered out without anyone actually taking a look at your resume. The way to get around this is by using referrals, as discussed above. Or, reaching out to the recruiter or hiring manager directly.

 Connect 

Find them on LinkedIn or locate their email on the company’s website. If you can’t find the exact person that you are looking for, sending a message to a general email or the generic human resources inbox can still work. Often those will be forwarded along to the right contact. If they see your message, they may look up your resume in the system. This may allow your application to be screened by a decision-maker rather than technology. This doesn’t guarantee you an interview. However, it gives you a better shot. 

Be Confident

If you do all of the above and get an interview, make sure that you’re confident. Never go into an interview believing that you are unqualified or that you definitely won’t get the job. The hiring manager saw something in your application that sparked an interest!

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