When a desirable job posting catches your eye, it can be tempting to immediately click “apply now” in excitement. However, many soon-to-be applicants stop themselves short after thoroughly reading the job description, realizing they do not meet 100% of the required qualifications. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among women in the workforce. According to research, women are 16% less likely than men to apply for a job after viewing the job posting, often because they do not fully meet the listed criteria. Additionally, women on average apply to 20% fewer jobs than men overall. This application gap persists despite the fact that men typically apply to jobs after meeting only 60% of qualifications. So why are women holding themselves back? Imposter syndrome and a lack of confidence are likely major factors. However, much of the initial criteria provided in job postings, especially regarding years of experience for entry-level roles, are negotiable. Rather than counting yourself out, you should view these postings as a starting point for determining your fit. With proper preparation and a compelling application, you just might land your dream job, even if you don’t check every box.
Do Your Research
When you come across a job that interests you but you don’t quite meet the minimum experience requirements, take some time to research the company and role before deciding whether or not to apply. The initial criteria provided are not necessarily set in stone or absolute requirements. The hiring manager may be flexible regarding certain qualifications depending on the strength of the rest of your application and alignment with the company’s needs. Investigate the priorities and needs for the role as well as the company culture. You may find that you can make a compelling case for your candidacy based on skills, perspectives, and experience you do bring to the table. Rather than focusing on what you lack on paper, emphasize the unique value you can contribute if given the chance. Your research will help you tailor your application accordingly.
Craft a Strong, Personalized Cover Letter
While cover letters are optional, they represent a key opportunity to explain why you are an excellent fit despite not meeting the minimum criteria on paper. Your resume will showcase your skills and background, but the cover letter is your chance to provide context, focus on strengths relevant to this specific role, and clearly convey your passion. Use the cover letter to expand on aspects of your candidacy that may not be obvious from your resume alone. Thoroughly describe how your experience, both professional and personal, equips you with the perfect foundation to take on the responsibilities of the role. Provide examples that characterize your work ethic, problem-solving abilities, relationship building skills, or other qualities prioritized in the job description. Keep it targeted and concise, personalized to the company and role. The cover letter is your chance to make a compelling case for why they should take a closer look at your application despite the lack of years of experience.
Use the STAR Method to Demonstrate Your Capabilities
The key to overcoming the experience gap is demonstrating how your existing skills and accomplishments are applicable to the role at hand. This is your opportunity to reassure the employer that although you technically may not meet the minimum criteria, you are capable of excelling in this position. When describing your qualifications and background in your resume, cover letter, and interview, rely on the STAR method. This involves outlining the Situation you faced, the Task you needed to complete, the Action you took, and the Result of your efforts. Select relevant examples that exemplify skills listed in the job description such as project management, relationship building, problem solving, leadership, communication, and other areas of expertise they require. Although your experiences may not have been in the same industry or role, you can draw clear parallels that reinforce your ability to adapt and thrive.
Brush Up on Your Knowledge
In addition to soft skills, most job descriptions list required technical capabilities or industry-specific expertise. Make sure to refresh and strengthen your knowledge in those areas. Spend time learning about the company’s products, services, clients, and competitors. Read industry publications and take online courses related to the field. Although you may not have years of direct experience to draw from, you can develop an understanding of the technical skills needed to succeed in the role. Then, reference your knowledge and motivation to continue learning in your application. This will help reassure the employer that you have the foundation to quickly get up to speed.
When an exciting job opportunity catches your eye, muster the courage to apply, even if you do not meet 100% of the required criteria. Do your research to determine areas of potential alignment and value you could bring to the role. Craft a strong, personalized cover letter that frames your experience as an asset, despite the lack of years on your resume. Use the STAR method to compellingly demonstrate how you have built the foundation of knowledge and skills critical for success through past experiences. While you may not look like the ideal candidate on paper, have confidence in your capabilities and potential. With the right preparation and pitch, you just might convince that hiring manager to take a chance on you. Apply strategically and highlight the unique perspective you offer. Don’t allow arbitrary experience requirements to limit your potential without even giving it a shot. You are capable of far more than a checklist of criteria can capture on paper.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.