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How to get the job when you’re underqualified

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Have you ever come across a job advert that gave you an immediate rush of excitement? It might be for a company you’re desperate to work for or a role you just know you would excel at. Or both!

But then you carry on reading and your initial enthusiasm fades.

The job advert states that the company requires someone with 5 years’ experience in a similar role but you only have 2. Or they want experience of using a specific computer program you have never used.

Suddenly you are faced with a dilemma.  Should I bother to apply or not? 

The answer is - it depends. For some roles, experience and qualifications really are essential (for example, in engineering, law or the medical professions) so if the company want 10 years’ experience and you only have 2, then you’re unlikely to be successful. In others (such as, dare we say it…American politics?) the listed requirements for the job aren’t always the be all and end all. 

In these cases, if you’re confident that you can add value to the company and perform the role to a high standard, then it might still be worthwhile submitting that application. However, you will need to be prepared to put in some extra effort and work harder than your competitors to get in front of the hiring manager. Here are 6 steps to follow to increase your chances of success.

1. Don’t simply submit a CV like everyone else

If you simply send over your CV it’s highly likely to get rejected if you don’t immediately match the criteria the hiring manager is looking for. This particularly applies when you are applying for a very popular role. Sometimes hiring managers simply do not have the time to look at every CV and will use an automated computer system that filters out CVs that don’t contain specific key words.

2. Get noticed

Some jobseekers have gone to great lengths to stand out from the crowd (such as these examples).  Occasionally this approach can pay off.  However, it’s a bit trickier when the job for which you’re applying isn’t a creative role or is within a very traditional firm. 

So how do you stand out from the competition? One top tip is to find out who the hiring manager or recruitment consultant is and call them. Try to build rapport over the phone. Ask them a few questions about the role that aren’t already included in the job advert and then sell yourself to them.  Relay your enthusiasm for the role and tell them why you would be good fit for the company. How does your past experience relate to the job? That way, when they receive your CV they are more likely to remember you and at least consider your application.

3. Focus on your strengths

However tempting it might be, it’s NEVER a good idea to lie on your CV. If you are lacking in a particular skillet, don’t pretend this isn’t the case.  Instead, use your CV and cover letter to highlight the skills and experience you do have and how these transfer to the role you are applying for.  For example, if the job requires working knowledge of a computer programme you have never used before, highlight similar programmes you do know and talk about how quickly you pick up new skills, value training and are keen to learn. 

Where possible, it could be worth signing up for an online or evening course that covers the skills or qualifications you are lacking. For example, many marketing roles ask for a CIM qualification – if you are already studying towards one but haven’t completed it yet, this demonstrates your commitment to learn so will be looked upon favourably.

4. Sell yourself and be confident

Confidence is key when it comes to landing a role you are underqualified for. The hiring manager may already have doubts about you, so if you are seen as lacking confidence in your own abilities this won’t reassure them.  Don’t be arrogant, but do speak positively about yourself and your abilities. Back up your claims with specific examples of your past successes and explain how these relate to the skills your hiring manager is looking for. Shift the discussion to focus on your strengths rather than highlighting your weaknesses.

5. Be prepared to put in extra effort

To stand a chance against more qualified professionals, you’ll need to go the extra mile.  Research the company beyond what is written on the company website.  Showcase your in-depth knowledge about the industry they operate in and think about what you can do to add value to the firm and solve their problems.

For example, if applying for a marketing role you could put together a presentation outlining where the company stands in the current market in relation to competitors and pitch your ideas for future campaigns that could generate revenue and achieve competitive advantage. If you are applying for a role in web design, put together a presentation or even make a microsite to showcase ideas on how the company’s current website could be improved.

6. Make connections

As the saying goes, it’s often not what you know but who you know that can make all the difference.  A recommendation from someone who currently works in the firm you are looking to join will certainly get the hiring manager’s attention. That’s why it’s so important to continually build and nurture your professional network.  Try to help people as much as you can, you never know when they might be able to return the favour in the future.

As the Presidential Elections in America have clearly demonstrated, while qualifications and experience can certainly provide an advantage, it’s not always the most qualified candidate that lands the job.  If you want it badly enough and are prepared to put in the effort, then it might well be worth applying for that dream role. The results might surprise you. 

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