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How to Land an Interview if You’re Underqualified

Do you want a job that’s bigger than your experience? Is your dream job open, but a stretch given your lack of relevant experience?

Last week, we shared strategies on how to apply for a job at which you are overqualified. Today, we’re focusing on the reverse side of the hiring equation: How to apply for jobs if you are underqualified.

The traditional rule of thumb in reviewing job descriptions is to apply if you have 75% – 80% of the skills and qualifications asked for. While it is futile to apply for the job of a Cardiothoracic Surgeon without a medical degree, many individuals who have experience that’s “close enough” get hired and trained all the time for jobs outside of operating rooms!

Here are five strategies you can employ to reach for that dream job.

  • Before you apply, do your homework.

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for an ambitious career transition is to study the career paths of people who’ve made similar moves before — and ask them for advice. Just as you may ask for a trail map and seek out “someone who has made the trip before” prior to setting off on an ambitious hiking adventure, it pays to learn from the mistakes of others and get advice on how to apply. How to do this:Conduct an “Advanced Search” and use the Company Pages on LinkedIn to study the career paths of people you admire. If they are approachable, reach out and ask for an interview. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice on what “to do and what not to do.”You’ll find that many people are open to sharing expertise and suggestions — especially if they have a job they love or which others are rarely interested in.(Note: If you connect your StartWire account to your LinkedIn account, you will get some of these recommendations automatically.)

  • Plan your approach.

While it may not seem apparent, hiring managers are often just as challenged to find the right candidate as you are to find the right job. While recruiters and hiring managers are often put off by applications from candidates who are clearly not qualified for the job, if you meet at least 75% of the job qualifications — there’s no reason why you should not apply. Go for it, but isolate the skills and experience you want to market — fast!

  • Anticipate employer questions.

Missing experience in a key software application?  A certification or training that is essential for the job but which you haven’t finished? Be prepared to say what you have, what you need, and how you could acquire the skills and experience to get started — fast! If you have an obvious deficit, don’t cover it up — address it!Example: “I understand you are looking for X, Y, and Z. I have X and Y. To gain certification in Z, I would need ________ which would require ___ time and an investment of $___. If hired, I would be happy to pursue this further.”

  • Share your “bonus gifts.

If you have skills not mentioned in the job description — but ones that are important and could be useful in your field or to the employer — bring them out.Let’s say you are applying for a job as a Publicist. You know the job description involves Sales and Client Relations, but these skills aren’t mentioned. In your cover letter, you could say, “While your job requirement does not specify previous experience in Sales or Client Relations, I have deep experience in both. If hired, I would be happy to assist with sales and client development initiatives as you see fit.”

  • Let other people know you’ve applied.

One common mistake job applicants often make is not asking for help from others. As we’ve noted before, if you can get referred for a job, you increase your chances of getting hired from 1 in 30 to 1 in 4. (We like those odds.) Don’t be afraid to ask for a referral and get help in the application process.


Use these strategies to apply for the next job you feel a little underqualified for and — tell us how they work!


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