Secrets to applying for a job you’re under-qualified for!

Have you ever come across an advert for your dream job and had cold water poured on your excitement because you fell short of the role requirements? It can be very frustrating to encounter a vacancy that you would be great at, but do not meet 100% of the job description.

Most candidates do not realise that job descriptions are guidelines. They are somewhat a “laundry-list” that contains a combination of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” for a role. Furthermore, you would be surprised how many job descriptions are patched together and compiled by HR using information from other similar roles without accurately reflecting the realities of that particular position. Job descriptions are often developed in the hope of attracting and finding that “unicorn” that will perfectly match everything on the employers wish list. Dream candidates who meet 100% job requirements seldom exist in reality. In fact, many people in their current roles are probably not meeting every criteria listed on their job description.

If you come across a job that you confidently feel you can perform – apply for it, even if you do not meet all the requirements. Take cognisance of the fact that most job descriptions have a core requirements section, where employers usually list some “non-negotiables”. This is where your focus  should be in assessing your suitability. Be less concerned with meeting the requirements stated as “preferable” or “added-advantage” – consider these part of the unicorn wish list.

Please note this does not mean making senseless applications on any and every vacancy – you must be within the ballpark of requirements. Applying for a role that requires 10 years’ experience when you have 1 year experience is a futile exercise. If you meet 60-70% of the core minimum requirements, you are likely to stand a decent chance. Know how to distinguish between being “nearly” qualified and “not even close”. If you fall under the latter, your application will just be considered spam.

Reasons to apply for jobs you are (reasonably) under-qualified for.

Here are some justifications on why you should not wait to be a 100% match before you throw your hat in the ring for a position.

  • Culture-Fit sometimes eats skills for breakfast. Have you ever come across cases where the most qualified candidate gets rejected in favour of a less-skilled one because the latter was deemed a better culture fit? Reality is, during the hiring process, much weight is given to culture fit and this sometimes outshines technical skills. Candidates who appear to be more aligned with the organisation’s environment, culture and goals, are more appealing to employers. This is because they are more likely to fit in well, function more productively and last longer in the organisation.


  • Room for growth. Applying for jobs that you are an exact match for means there is limited or no room for growth. Any new role you invest your time in should be an opportunity to develop and enhance your skills further. Do not stagnate your development with positions that will not offer new challenges.


  • The bar could be lowered. You never know what the pool of applicants for a position looks like. It may very well happen that the employer did not receive many qualified candidates. In such cases, employers may lower the “pass mark”. As a result of a weak candidate pool, you may suddenly become a strong contender for the role. If favour is on your side, you will be as qualified as everyone else who applied.


How to increase success as an under-qualified candidate.

Here are some tips that will assist you to bolster your case when you the “under-dog” for a role.

  • Preempt your shortfalls with solutions. In the event that your cover letter gets read, or if you land an interview; write or prepare an outline of the areas where you fall short on the job description. Proceed to propose a plan to equip yourself to overcome any challenges you are likely to face in the role. This is in order to preempt the inevitable questions from hiring managers pertaining to your shortfalls against the job description.


  • Get an internal referral. An internal referral, especially from a person who has credibility can help boost your application. Relationships and connections often have a large influence on which candidates move to the interview stage. A referral can also help you circumvent “minimum requirements” stipulations that you don’t meet. Be tactful in this regard and do not ask for referrals when the job is a huge stretch for your capabilities.


  • Take advantage of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Making online applications is often a numbers game. The applicant who makes the most effective use of key words wins against the ATS. Aligning your applications with high impact key words for the vacancy will increase the chances of your CV landing in the recruiter’s hands ahead of more qualified candidates who are not as key-word savvy.


  • Make speculative applications for “lesser” roles. If you feel that an advertised role is way beyond your reach, do not shy away from submitting a speculative job application for a similar position at a lower rank. You can highlight that the position which caught your attention is too senior, but you would be interested in other roles at your respective level of experience.


  • Use transferable skills to strengthen your case. If you fall short on the required qualifications and experience, demonstrate how skills you have gained in other contexts can be effectively applied within the role you are applying for. That way, you demonstrate that you are not completely lacking in the requirements, but have previous skills to build on.


To conclude, in the same way perfect dream jobs rarely exist, dream candidates are also often an employer’s fantasy. Do not be discouraged or feel intimidated when you do not tick every box on a job description, go for it if you meet between 60-70% of the core requirements. Remember to distinguish between the non-negotiables and “nice to haves” on the job description,. This will help you benchmark yourself against the role.