Employers have reported that in some cases as many as 75% of the applications they receive for a job are from candidates who aren’t remotely qualified for them. That is a dangerous game to play. It can give you a false sense of accomplishment that you’ve taken some action in your job search with the ‘long shot’ application.
In reality, you could be doing your career prospects more harm than good. Most employers will ignore or rapidly delete unqualified applications, considering them spam. A recent survey of 1,500 recruiters and hiring managers found that for 10% of them such unrelated applications were actually their biggest candidate pet peeves. (And of that group, 43% said they would go so far as to ‘blacklist’ those candidates from any other jobs as well – by suppressing their names from even coming up in future searches.)
So you don’t want that. From our internal research, Workopolis can see that only one third [32%] of candidates spend over a minute reading a job posting before moving on or deciding to apply – most make the call in less than half that time.
This is more consideration than employers give resumes – most initially review them for mere seconds. Still, 30 seconds to a minute is not usually enough time to carefully consider the full range of credentials and experience required to win the job – and more importantly, connect these specifically to the qualifications that you are bringing to the table.
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: you don’t increase your chances of getting hired by sending out more applications. You increase it by sending out better ones.
So, should you only apply for those roles where you meet 100% of what is asked for in the job posting – or fear being blacklisted by the company forever? No, not remotely. There is such a thing known as credential creep where employers are asking for more and more advanced experience, degrees, and certifications than the job actually requires. Often this is done as a filtering method, simply to receive fewer applications.
How to get a job you’re underqualified for
Only apply for jobs that you know you can actually do. Make sure that you understand the nature of the role, the industry, and the specific challenges a person in that job would face day-to-day. Then write a resume that demonstrates how what you have learned, accomplished, and experienced would allow you to be an asset to the company in that role.
Think about your transferable skills that can apply across industries, such as project management, communication, research, and relationship-building. Are you a skilled and effective writer or public speaker? Have you led a successful team or taken a project from plan to fruition? Can you manage a budget or schedule multiple tasks for a team of people? All of these are highly in demand and not specific to any one industry.
What accomplishments do you have that demonstrate how you are able to generate successful outcomes? Describe them as examples of what you can achieve in your targeted field.
Aside from highly technical skills that require years of study and advanced education to acquire, anything else can be learned. Showing that you are a stand-out candidate who has consistently accomplished what others might not have in previous roles will get employers attention.
One thing that can trip you up right out of the gate are the keyword filters in applicant tracking systems. If your resume doesn’t include the relevant keywords that the employer has targeted, it will never even be read by human eyes. Make sure that you read job descriptions for postings in your targeted field carefully, and include the most relevant keywords employers are looking for in your resume.
Here are the keywords most commonly sought by employers in resume searches for ten hot sectors.
Above all, write a resume that shows how you can do the job – and be prepared to back this up in the interview. Employers want to hire someone who can deliver on what they need accomplished. In most cases specific credentials are less important that the clearly demonstrated enthusiasm and ability to excel in the role.
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Most job seekers encounter the following scenario at some point in their career: you’re not the typical worker bee; you have diverse experience and have performed a variety of functions in your career. Any employer should welcome your skills, but when you apply for your next job, the company wants at least ‘10 years of direct work experience’ and couldn’t care less about your eclectic background. So you’re not even considered for the position.
It’s pointless to ask if this is fair. The burden is on you to demonstrate why you’re a good hire even if your qualifications aren’t a perfect match for the position. Here are 4 tips for getting past this hurdle and landing the job you want:
Fill in the gaps in your cover letter
Cover letters, once a staple of job applications, have become passe. With a large volume of job applicants to review in today’s online world, most human resources professionals just scan through resumes with a cookie-cutter checklist by their side.
That doesn’t mean, however, that a brief, well-crafted note won’t attract the attention of a conscientious reviewer. In fact, if you can make a succinct case for why you should be hired, you will actually make the reviewer’s job easier and differentiate yourself from the pack. It shows initiative and thoughtfulness on your part.
The key here is to tell your story and use it to demonstrate your value: how have you evolved as a professional, what specific skills have you gained from your various experiences, and how will those things add value to the company. Tell that story convincingly, and you should at least get an interview.
Be honest — you’re not perfect
Conventional wisdom encourages us to highlight the positive and stay away from the negative. That makes sense but the flip side of that coin is that if you don’t address your obvious weaknesses proactively and show an employer why they don’t matter (or how you will get around them), they will likely be held against you and eliminate you from the race altogether.
Using the above example, if a job requires 10 years of direct work experience but you only have 5, you need to acknowledge that discrepancy but explain why you believe you can do the job just as proficiently as someone who meets that criterion. Otherwise, human resources will simply throw your resume into the ‘no’ pile without a second thought.
This is yet another reason a cover note is so essential. Even most standard online applications allow you to make a personal statement in a comment box, so use that to help the reviewer understand why your track record, no matter how diverse or indirect, has honed you into the type of professional they’re looking for. If you lack some particular skill, acknowledge it and explain why it won’t be a problem (perhaps you’re taking a course at your local college).
And don’t assume that the skills you have can’t be applied in a particular job just because the description doesn’t say so.
Connect the dots for an employer
When applying for multiple jobs, it’s natural for candidates to become fatigued and start cutting corners. The temptation is to leave it to the company to figure out how valuable your skills are. That’s fine if you meet all the requirements for a job but can hurt you if your story isn’t straightforward.
Make it easy for the reviewer to follow your career trajectory, both on paper and in person. That means don’t just state facts but spell out what those facts mean. For example, if you started your career in media investment banking at Morgan Stanley, then moved to an operations role at Disney, and now want to join Google in strategy, explain how your banking experience taught you about the business aspects of media and got you the operations job at Disney, which in turn showed you how traditional media is changing in a digital age and positions you to help Google with business strategy.
Make a promise
The one quality that a resume can’t capture is motivation. Even if you lack a particular skill required for a job, promising that you will make up for the deficiency through hard work, dedication and willingness to learn will help your chances. Motivation isn’t a guarantee of success, but it’s a strong indicator. And making a sincere promise that you will do whatever it takes to excel at your job will give your potential employer comfort.
S. Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has worked in technology, media, and telecom investment banking. Kumar does not own shares of the companies mentioned in this article.