You’re looking online for open jobs and your eyes light up -- you’ve found one that seems exciting! But then you scan the (so-called) requirements section and realize you don’t have every skill listed. Even though you believe you’d be good at the job, you feel you might not be qualified. I’ve written hundreds of job descriptions and reviewed thousands of resumes, and take it from me: While this can be a discouraging situation, you should absolutely still apply.
The elusive unicorn.
Given the choice, an employer would love to hire someone who has every single requirement listed, but job descriptions are written very broadly in order to cast a wide net. Employers are usually looking for a candidate who has some of the skills, not all of them.
In fact, it’s so rare to find candidates who fit every listed requirement that recruiters use the term unicorn to describe them. There are a number of ways to be qualified for a job, and checking every box on the “experience” list is just one of them -- there’s also your ability to communicate well or your proven experience picking up on things quickly, for example.
Still, if you don’t fit all the base requirements, it’s important to present yourself in your best light. There are a few key things you can do to help battle the perception that you’re not fully qualified for a role.
Create a unique resume for the job.
While you likely have a basic all-purpose resume, you should edit it for each job for which you apply. Highlight experience that directly links to what that particular company is looking for, and always list your most relevant experience at the top of your resume. Match your descriptions of what you’ve done in past roles with the job description, and it will catch any recruiter’s eye.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good cover letter.
This is your opportunity to tell a compelling story that fills in the gaps on your resume. Find friends whose writing skills you respect and ask them to help review and edit your cover letter and make sure you’re discussing everything you can bring to the company. Avoid talking solely about why you’re interested in working at a company, and focus instead on why it should be interested in you. Be confident and clear and lead with your strengths, no matter if they exactly match the job description.
Focus on personal projects.
If you are interested in a field but haven’t yet formally worked in it, it’s important to show that you’re passionate and have a basic understanding of the field. Blog posts, projects and online courses are a great way to fill in holes in your work experience and provide evidence of your skills that your work history may not be able to show.
Highlight your core skills.
Companies are always looking for employees who can grow and stretch with a role if it changes, and hiring managers generally look for some fundamental skills in addition to the requirements of a specific job. Examples include writing and communication skills, presentation skills, project planning experience and experience working in a fast-paced environment.
Google, for example, conducted an internal study that found that technical skill was the least important skill of their top employees -- above it was being a good coach and communicator, being open-minded and intuitive, being empathetic and being a critical thinker and problem solver.
More and more frequently, recruiters are being asked to assess these core skills; showing you possess them is of growing importance and can balance out other qualifications you may not meet. Employers know it’s a lot easier to teach someone how to use a tool than to teach them to be a problem solver.
A good general motto when it comes to applying for jobs is If you don’t enter, you can’t win. Never take yourself out of the running by not applying, and have confidence in yourself and your broader skill set. There are a lot of ways to be the “right” hire, and employers often don’t know exactly what they’re looking for until they find it. Play up your strengths, show you’re up to the task of learning quickly and always highlight what value you can bring to a company, no matter the job.