are the requirements in job postings more like wish lists or strict requirements?

A reader writes:

What’s your take on the idea that “job postings are wish lists, not requirements”? How much wiggle room is there in terms of years of experience, educational credentials, and specific skills?

My personal situation: I’ve been doing web development for less than a year, I have a degree in the humanities, I’ve worked in three programming languages and studied a few more. If I ruled out all the job postings that wanted multiple years of experience, a computer science degree, or languages, that I haven’t worked with, there’d be nothing left. At the same time, I don’t want to waste my or a company’s time applying when I don’t have a chance at the job.

How do I filter through postings to find ones that are realistic to apply to without eliminating myself from everything upfront?

Yes, it’s reasonable to think of job postings as wish lists. People get hired all the time without matching the job posting 100%.

The requirements in job postings are a composite of someone’s idea of the ideal candidate. I’d think of them as guidelines intended to give you a sense of the profile of person who would be right for the job, rather than a rigid cut-off. If you match, say, 80% of the qualifications and believe you can demonstrate that you’d excel at the job, apply. (There are a few exceptions to this, such as in tightly regulated fields where some of the requirements might be legal ones.)

Obviously, there’s a “within reason” attached to this advice. If they’re asking for 10 years of experience and you have two years, this probably isn’t the job for you. But if they want 3-5 years of experience and you have two years, and you can write a really good cover letter and point to excellent achievements in those two years, go ahead and apply.

Also, please know that no one will be outraged if you apply for a job you’re not perfectly qualified for. No hiring manager is going to look at your close-but-not-quite application and exclaim in disgust at your presumption. Believe me, every job posting attracts tons of people who aren’t the right match. It’s part of the deal when you put a job ad out there, and there are almost certainly people in the candidate pool for the job who are less qualified than you are!

Conscientious job seekers — like you! — tend to worry a lot about this, but it’s really, really normal to apply when you’re not a perfect match, and it’s really, really normal for those not-perfect-match candidates to end up getting interviewed and even hired.

{ 217 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Daisy Steiner

    I would give more weight to the items at the top of the list – they’re more likely to be non-negotiable in my experience. When I read job ads, I tend to think of the items at the bottom of the list (unless they’re really specific, like “law degree essential”) as nice-to-haves anyway.

    Reply
    1. Frances

      Agreed. This is how we write our job postings too. The things that are really important to us are at the top of the list.

      Reply
    2. INTP

      Yes – there are usually a few non-negotiables and a few nice-to-haves. The non-negotiables will usually be at the top of the list and they’ll be a part of the core job description.

      Reply
    3. Koko

      At OldJob, where I drafted most of our job postings, I actually separated them out explicitly. “Candidates for this position must:” and a typically short list, followed by “The ideal candidate will:” and a list that is usually a bit longer.

      Reply
      1. Jack the treacle eater

        I wish all job ads were that well ordered. With many job ads, particularly those placed by recruitment agencies, I have the impression they barely understand the job, let alone enough about it to order the requirements sensibly.

        One thing I do see now and again is ‘must have … ideal candidate will’, and that seems a sensible way of going about it; the must haves are clear and it emphasises the wish list aspect of the ideals.

        One thing that occurs to me is treating the person spec as a wish list is beneficial to the employer too – it ensures that extremely capable candidates who are maybe only 80% of the ideal spec don’t self-exclude and the company doesn’t miss out on a good long term hire.

        Reply
  2. Snork Maiden

    Oh, thank goodness for this. I applied at some stretch jobs and didn’t really realize how much of a stretch they were until I saw who they hired. I felt sorry and embarrassed for whoever was reading my application that declared I thought I was good enough. At my current job sometimes we receive cold applications for my position and I try to treat them with empathy, even when they are not anywhere close to the 80% mark.

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    1. Snork Maiden

      And I should add, I would not be interested in working somewhere where they did pass around resumes and snigger at them.

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      1. Dan

        The one time I sniggered was when I saw a ten page resume from a subject matter expert in my industry… who reserved a non-trivial portion for his part-time position as a minister at his church. BTW, I don’t work in the theology field.

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      2. Lily in NYC

        Oh man, but some of them are just priceless! I would never laugh at a resume from someone who simply didn’t have the qualifications, but you would not believe some of the stuff that crosses my desk. I am a nice person, but I can’t help but laugh when I get a cover letter that is simply a two sentence motivational phrase written in all caps with a giant xerox of the candidate’s face below. Or the guy who included a recipe he created that was supposedly an aphrodisiac. I do not feel remotely guilty for laughing at that (but I don’t pass them around for other people to laugh at).

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        1. Velociraptor Attack

          Back when I was working on political campaigns, I once got a cover letter that referred to this candidate as a “diamond covered pterodactyl”. I would be lying if I said that one wasn’t passed around to a few colleagues of mine that were working on other campaigns.

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          1. overeducated and underemployed

            I hope you hired that candidate! How many others in your field can boast that they employ a diamond covered pterodactyl?! I bet none! And I really hope this was for a communications position!

            There are not enough exclamation points to express how amazing that phrase is.

            Reply
          2. Marcela

            Well, when our friends were applying to their green card, their lawyer insisted and insisted that one of their recommendation letters had to say that the husband was “not a garden variety scientist”. They finally accepted it as an idiom we don’t get, but we still laugh thinking our friend should dress for Halloween as the typical decorative gnome in a garden, because that phrase does not make sense, and it’s not used, in Spanish, at all.

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      3. Jadelyn

        Not the normal ones, no – the ones who just don’t quite meet requirements or whatever. But man oh man do I get some ridiculous ones sometimes – like one for an executive-level position that was 11 pages and included literally everything he’d ever done going all the way back to his first job as a dishwasher in some diner in the 70s. Or the one that was all in Comic Sans, multiple colors (not as in, one block of red, one block of blue, but like…switching every few words), with clipart and company logos – not companies they’d worked for, mind you, just random companies like Starbucks – strewn in the margins and along the bottom. Or the dude who applied 5 times for the same job with only a cover letter (email) and no resume, and whose cover letter included gems such as how much he can bench-press and his martial arts history – for a bank teller position.

        Most of the time, it’s a dispassionate sorting-out of the obviously unqualified, and I don’t get snotty about the people behind the resumes for their lack of fit. Hell, I sometimes wish I could reach out and offer advice to some of them, because it’s clear they need the help. But sometimes you get a real doozy and yes, I do share with my direct coworker (if only because when I suddenly start cackling at my desk, she wants to know why).

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        1. Hermione

          I often wonder if some of the more ridiculous ones we’ve gotten have been people who have been court-ordered to apply for xyz jobs per week (which happens sometimes in divorce/child support cases). I can imagine that some people who don’t really want a job, but who have been ordered to apply might submit their real resumes/cover letters to the court while simultaneously applying with this sort of nonsense to immediately keep them out of the running for jobs they might otherwise be qualified for?

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          1. OfficePrincess

            Even on unemployment you have to apply to X jobs per week and you can’t turn down an offer (except for super specific circumstances, so practically you can’t). So if you have to apply to more jobs per week but than your field and adjacent areas have openings, it comes down to apply to jobs you’re afraid to get because you would hate it more than the paycheck is worth or apply to jobs that there’s no way you’d get called for.

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              1. Liane

                I have been on unemployment and required to make X number of job contacts per week, but I still enclosed a proper resume and wrote a decent, serious cover letter, as well as followed other instructions for applying, regardless of the job.

                *don’t have to actually apply, asking a company about openings counts.

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                1. The Bimmer Guy

                  Well, we can assume that you were *actually* trying to get a job, which is why you put forth actual effort. I guess some of these characters are trying to do just the opposite.

          1. Jadelyn

            I really think that’s what it was – he was talking about being an “asset to security of the branch”. Which would be cool if we were hiring security! But I’d be afraid he’d go all Call of Duty heroics and leap over the teller counter to attack someone if he ever thought there was a threat.

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      4. Felicia

        The only time anyone on my team sniggered even a little bit at a resume, it was on pink, glittery paper, and had some sort of unicorn picture in the corner.

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        1. Jadelyn

          Glittery paper. Glittery paper? So they gave you a hardcopy resume, then to amp up the “what” factor, it was on glittery paper. I have no words.

          Unless you work at whatever company makes the Lisa Frank school supplies, I guess.

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      5. Snork Maiden

        I should clarify, I wouldn’t want to work somewhere where they passed around *my* resume and sniggered at it (and I do not have a photocopy of my face for a cover letter.)

        Reply
      6. Omgomgomg

        I hire for food service, and some of the wtf?!?! ones I’ve received include the following:

        The kid who asked me to refer to him by his DJ name
        The people who have no call/no showed to interviews, yet send me a resume virtually EVERY time I place an ad
        The guy who seemed great — albeit, a little new agey — yet never showed for his first shift (best part? His name was pretty unusual…yeah, like you’re not blacklisted, dude!)
        The people who put photos on their resumes….usually with 18 point font
        The emails that just have a link to the Craigslist ad in lieu of a cover letter (which, yes, I do require….I will happily bring someone in if they tell me “I’ve never worked in food service but am obsessed with healthy eating.”)

        The most wtf?!?!! callback I did was with a chef who calls back with a “uh, yeah, someone called me from here,”* was applying for a counter help job, had little availability, and then had the brass huevos to raise his voice at me and talk over me re: the pay rate. Yeah, homey, I don’t set the pay rate, and it would have taken NO effort to say “yeah, I’m sorry, but that won’t work for me. Thanks, no thanks!”

        * That is a ginormous job related pet peeve for me. I took the time to leave a voice mail saying, “Hi, this is Julia from Teapot Sandwiches, Inc. I recently received your resume and wanted to see if you were available for an interview on Thursday. Please give me a call back at 555-1234; I’ll be here until 3 pm. Thank you and I hope to speak with you soon!” Listen to the damn voicemail instead of that rude nonsense. (And yes, I get that people are moving to texting/voicemail is viewed as inconvenience, but I don’t really care. It’s rude and makes me automatically question your decision making and soft skills in the workplace.)

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      7. lowercase holly

        i once received a resume where someone listed a recent prior position as Pauly Shore’s PA, and i was like, he’s still around? which did make me laugh a little.

        Reply
    2. Dan

      I’m not underqualified for what I do, but when my boss asked me to apply for my job, I looked at the posting and said, “WTF do you want with me? I never would have applied to that.”

      So you never really know.

      Reply
    3. Jack

      Don’t feel too bad! It’s also possible they got an applicant who happened to be above and beyond what they were asking for in the posting, and that’s not a ding on you at all.

      Reply
    4. Kyrielle

      I will add that when I was helping with hiring and we received a resume that was in *no* way a match for the job (we were hiring programmers to create Computer-Aided Dispatch systems, the applicant had experience in _using_ Computer-Aided Design systems and wasn’t a programmer at all), we certainly didn’t interview or hire them…but I didn’t remember their name, either. This is not something that a sane person is going to waste memory space on, which means it isn’t likely to impact your changes in the future if you apply to something else at the company, even with the same hiring manager.

      (This is for not-matching-skills-well-enough. There _are_ things you can do to be so memorable that you have no chance there again, but none of them involve being insufficiently skilled for the job, and most of them are so obvious that it boggles me anyone does them in the first place.)

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      1. OfficePrincess

        Yes. I don’t remember much about the near misses, but I certainly remember the detailed list of one candidate’s animal husbandry experience since I hire for positions that are customer service and data entry.

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        1. Kyrielle

          Hee. I was remembering a candidate who emailed the hiring manager upbraiding the HM for having rejected them. (Ironically, this person had been the second-choice candidate and might well have had a chance at a similar position in the future.)

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        2. Snork Maiden

          I parlayed my husbandry and farm work as a rural kid into my first real job…groundskeeping. I’ll admit it’s a bit of a stretch for data entry, although I did have to keep track of cow-calf pairs in a spreadsheet.

          Reply
    5. Ad Astra

      I have definitely applied for jobs that I thought were little stretches that, based on who they ultimately hired, were huge, ridiculous stretches. But, worst-case scenario, I wasted seconds of that hiring committee’s time — which is really no harm done, if you ask me. Most hiring managers know that they have far more information about the job than an applicant does.

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      1. AVP

        Oh gosh me too. I once applied to something and didn’t hear back, only to have the position come up a few months later when they tried to recruit my boss for it (he has 15 years of experience on me). Oops.

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    6. Hillary

      My favorites were always the ones where one word of the title was the same. We posted for something like a production planner and received resumes from a wedding planner and a city planner. Umm, not the same. At all.

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      1. Jadelyn

        They probably got matched via some keyword search, and may have been obligated to apply for unemployment benefits purposes.

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        1. Decimus

          Oh good lord, unemployment issues. Ugh. I am a trained archivist with some legal background. I was told I had to apply for a university fund raising position. Why? Because it involved knowledge of legal issues, and I had legal training.

          The position was a fund raising one involving schmoozing donors. I went into archives to work in a basement with little interaction with other people. Talk about a mismatch!

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    7. INTP

      No need to be embarrassed – it is SO common for people to apply to jobs they aren’t qualified for. That’s why maybe 90% of resumes are rejected within 30 seconds, it doesn’t take very long to read someone’s job titles and see that they aren’t even in the right line of work.

      I think 80% as a rule of thumb is a bit misleading though. It’s more complex than that – how much experience do you have in the most important requirements? How many different “requirements” do they list? For example, if you apply for a position of Chocolate Teapot Developer with twenty different teapot development and chocolate mixing tools listed, and you’ve been working as a Chocolate Teapot Developer for five years but for a company that doesn’t use the same exact tools, you might meet 50% of the listed requirements and still be a good candidate. Conversely, you could work as a Chocolate Teapot Tester in a similar teapot development environment and tick 80% of the boxes and not be a very qualified candidate. I think a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “Could I do this job without more training time than their ideal candidate?” If you could, because what you’re missing is a few software programs that you could train yourself on based on knowledge of similar programs, or other minor skills, then apply. Some people will apply for any job they could be trained to do, and that’s not likely to work out.

      Reply
  3. Not a Real Giraffe

    I definitely agree with Alison, especially based on personal experience. I applied and interviewed for a job that was looking for 5-7 years of experience in a very specific part of my industry. I had 7 years of experience in the industry in general, but 0 years of experience in the specific sector they were looking for. I was able to use my cover letter and resume to show how I could translate my general experience into their specific needs, and was hired based on my capacity to learn (and was a good fit with the team’s personality). My boss later told me she chose me over someone who was especially qualified in their specific sector, particularly because of team fit. She didn’t realize that part was more important to her until she went through the candidate review process!

    TL;DR: Apply if you can make a strong case for yourself. Hiring managers may realize halfway through that some other qualification is way more important than direct years of experience anyway.

    Reply
    1. Felicia

      The last person we hired was very similar to that! Much less experience, but a great fit with the team transferable skills, and a capacity to learn. She was hired over someone who had much more specific experience but we didn’t feel would fit with the team.

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    2. Stranger than fiction

      Great point about fit, as I believe it often comes down to this. If they have one candidate that meets 99% of the qualifications, but just doesn’t seem to have the right personality, and another candidate that meets, say 75% of the qualifications but has a great personality that would really gel with the team – my money is on the second one.

      Reply
  4. Dan

    Software development is the marquee field where you don’t need to match 100%. AAM’s 80% rule is a good one, that’s what I use.

    There are two rules of job ads:

    1) They all pretty much suck
    2) You learn to decode them with experience

    The reality with “years of experience” is that it’s a proxy for responsibility. Nobody who wants “10 years of experience” is looking for someone who is sitting in the same cube for 10 years doing the same thing. They’re looking for people who have assumed a bit of a leadership role and (at 10 years) some direct client or senior management experience. They’re more or less expecting you to be able to run a substantial technical show with little oversight.

    Technology wise, people know they can spin you up on particular technologies that you don’t know. Say they want spring experience and you don’t have it, but you’ve done a lot of maven work in Java. They’ll likely interview you without batting an eye. At the same time, if you’re just a “hobbyist” programmer whose never worked in a production environment before, you’re probably at the bottom of the heap.

    Keep in mind too that tech hiring can be on a bit of a “curve” with a minimum pass/fail cutoff. If they can find their purple squirrel, they’ll grab it, but they’ll certainly hire “good enough” if they think they can get the job done.

    Reply
    1. Allison

      To me, years of experience means “years of professional, relevant experience.” So if we’re looking for 5 years of java development, we want someone who’s been a developer, working with java, for about 5 years. NOT someone who went to college for 4 years and has been working in their first full-time job for a year, not someone who’s been working retail for 5 years and just learned how to program, and not someone who worked as an accountant for 3 years and a java developer for 2.

      Reply
    2. Lucky

      Yes, this was my husband’s experience during his recent job search (he’s a web developer/programmer) — especially as he found job listings asking for a number of years of experience in a particular programming language that hadn’t been in existence for that long.

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      1. Merry and Bright

        Makes you wonder who words some of these ads. I recently saw an ad for an office manager role that said “Applicants MUST speak fluent Indian”. I’d love to know how the hiring process went on that one!

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        1. ThatGirl

          Also (not nitpicking you, but the people writing the ad) … “Indian” is not a language. In India they speak Hindi and English, plus some regional languages.

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          1. Merry and Bright

            Exactly this, which is why I wonder how some of these listings get put together and who writes them. It was put out by the actual hiring company too, as opposed to an external recruiter. The sheer ignorance (like asking for Y years of experience in a software program that’s only been around for Z years) does not present the company well!

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          2. mander

            I think that was probably M&B’s point. Whoever wrote that requirement was apparently unaware that the Indian sub-continent has multiple indigenous languages.

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        2. Courtney

          I saw one last year that wanted someone who was an expert in cricket, and spoke Hindi fluently. This was for a part time job. I’ve also seen part time jobs where you need a PhD or significant experience/knowledge of Sub-Saharan Africa.

          It bothers me when job ads are so incredibly specific, because no one is willing to train anyone anymore. But I guess while the economy is still shaky, there will be incredibly qualified people who need the work.

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    3. Bwmn

      I also think that this can be hugely relevant in regards to the kinds of questions to ask during networking meetings and within your specific sector.

      I think that many posters on AAM are very skilled in saying “in my field, these qualifications/experiences are very important and these not so much”. However, how that necessarily translates to another field may or may not apply. Sometimes it’s the case where sectors are highly specific and it can even come down to cities. I used to work abroad in a city where there were many native English speakers, but not many willing to work in my specific sector. This meant that I had a lot more wiggle room with job postings.

      Reply
  5. Anonymous Educator

    Also, please know that no one will be outraged if you apply for a job you’re not perfectly qualified for. No hiring manager is going to look at your close-but-not-quite application and exclaim in disgust at your presumption. Believe me, every job posting attracts TONS of people who aren’t the right match.

    If you’re even thinking about whether you fit the requirements or not (i.e, you meet at least 80% of the requirements), you’re already in better contention than some people who do apply and don’t meet the requirements at all (less than 30%). The hiring manager will indeed see those people and (maybe) laugh and then toss them out of the pile, but there will be no exclamations of disgust, and they won’t add you to an imaginary blacklist of unemployable people.

    Reply
    1. Turanga Leela

      Exactly. We occasionally get applicants who are egregiously underqualified (e.g. applying for “staff attorney” posts when they don’t have college or law school degrees), but nothing bad happens. We just reject them. We assume that either they didn’t read the post carefully or they’re trying to reach a quota of job applications.

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    2. The Optimizer

      True that there will be just laughs and no exclamation of disgust for unqualified applicants but there will most certainly be exclamations of disgust for even qualified applicants with multiple spelling/grammatical errors and exceptionally poorly written cover letters (run on sentences, comma abuse, misspelling the name of your alma mater, etc.) especially when one of the listed requirements of the job is excellent written and communication skills and attention to detail.

      But maybe that’s just me ;-)

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      1. OfficePrincess

        Or “excellent verbal and written communication skills in languages X &Y” but the resume randomly shifts between languages within the same line

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      2. Koko

        I actually found that I felt a mixture of confusion and sadness/pity for poorly-written letters. Confusion that someone who had such poor writing skills would even be interested in a job that involves so much writing (all the jobs I hired for did), and then sadness that the person probably really wanted this kind of job but hadn’t mastered a key skill, and either was completely oblivious, or had tried but failed to write a better letter, and either way probably wasn’t going to get the kind of job they wanted. Which is sad :(

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        1. Jadelyn

          I’m like that, too. I read a bad one and am like “oh honey no, that’s…really not how that should be spelled/written/formatted.”

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      3. MsChandandlerBong

        My mom and I have a fundamental disagreement on this issue. I once reviewed the application of a phlebotomist who spelled phlebotomist wrong throughout her cover letter and resume. She even went to phlebotomy school for 9 months! My mother thinks it’s terrible that I would disqualify someone for that, but there were other qualified candidates who *didn’t* spell the job title wrong about 10 different times.

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  6. Chrissie

    In my field, job ads often state qualifications (required) and (desirable) or something like that. I am a big fan of that. Lets me know instantly whether I should apply.
    I would be curious whether there are serious drawbacks, ie. why not every hiring manager does it like this.

    Reply
    1. Turanga Leela

      I think it’s a nice practice, but it can be confusing because even “required” qualifications are not necessarily literally required. If the ad says five years of experience are required, and you have three or four but are exceptional in other ways, it’s still worth applying.

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      1. overeducated and underemployed

        Also, if you have part-time or non-consecutive experience, for a federal application you really do have to translate that into years of experience based on a 40 hour week…but for most job applications, I actually think it would be weird to say “I’ve calculated that I have accumulated 3 years and 9 months of full time experience over the last six years.” My way around this is to say that I have been working in the field since 2011, and it’s pretty clear from my resume and conventions of the field that many of my jobs were part-time or term limited.

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        1. CMT

          Government jobs are totally the exception to this rule. If they say it’s mandatory, it’s mandatory. Even if they require 3 years of experience and you have 2 years and 11 months.

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          1. Lady Kelvin

            This is what I am running into now. Government jobs are the worst. I’m applying for a job that is specifically what my PhD is in. I have spent the last four years developing the exact skills they want while also being hired as an subject matter expert for international contracts, and I don’t get the job because I “don’t meet basic requirements”. Those basic requirements? I am 4 credits shy of “zoology” classes that count towards their education requirement. Never mind my bachelor’s in biology, masters in oceanography, and phd in fisheries. those 4 credits automatically take me out of the running before anyone who is actually doing the hiring sees my application. I have some colleagues who currently work there and their reaction when I told them I got through was “That’s ridiculous.” But I’m not bitter. Really. Ok, maybe a little bitter. But not with them, just with the whole government job application process in general.

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            1. Courtney

              I’m in a similar boat. Trying to apply for government jobs, but it really seems like a waste of time. The problem is that the people reading over the applications have literally no clue what the job is really about. They just have a list of things, and if they can’t find all those things on your resume, then you’re out. And they’re not in your industry, so they aren’t going to know that, say Teapot Engineer Supervisor work is pretty closely related to Teapot Quality Control work. So unless you have not just the right experience, but use the exact same vocabulary, no one sees your resume.

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          2. overeducated and underemployed

            Oh absolutely. But the good thing is that they make it Very Clear that it is mandatory, to the point of asking “hours per week for number of weeks” for every single job.

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    2. Noah

      That is what I’m familiar with as well. We have required and then preferred qualifications. Generally the required ones related to regulatory or industry standard minimums.

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    3. Jadelyn

      At my org, it’s about flexibility. If we indicate that something is a hard requirement, we’ve cut ourselves off from hiring anyone who doesn’t fit that specific bullet point, even if they’re a much better fit in other ways, or else we stand at risk of conveying that we have an unfair hiring process – that we’ll show favoritism and bend the rules for some people, but maybe not for others, which sets the stage for potential discrimination complaints from rejected applicants (unlikely, but possible). So we treat all our requirements equally and make no distinction between required/preferred in our postings, in order to give our hiring managers flexibility to choose the candidate they feel fits best.

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    4. F.

      I do this. There are certain certifications that are non-negotiably required in my industry and certain other certifications and education that are preferred. Despite being this specific in my ads, a large number of resumes that I receive are from applicants who do not have even the minimum required certifications. Years of experience in finish carpentry does not mean you are in any way qualified to be a bridge construction inspector.

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    5. Meg Murry

      I am also a huge fan of this kind of breakdown (requirements vs desired qualifications) although I would say that if you are close on some of the required qualifications, especially if the list is very long, you should also go ahead and apply (if you are otherwise meeting 80% of the requirements but only have 4 years experience instead of 5) but then put it out of your head and assume you aren’t going to get it until you get a call one way or another.

      The only reason I could see that people might avoid the “required vs desired” qualifications is that (maybe) it could be fodder for a legal suit [but IANAL] – for instance if you turned down an interviewee that had all of the “required” qualifications but hired someone that didn’t meet all the “requirements” but had other skills that weren’t even listed on the description – but I doubt that would hold up unless there was some other kind of blatant agism, racism, sexism, etc involved.

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    6. hermit crab

      We do that. We’re subject to a lot of specific requirements because of our government contracts, so if we say that X is required for a position I think we may actually be prohibited from filling that position with someone who doesn’t have it. So we only put bright-line things in the requirements section, and the stuff that describes our ideal candidate (or what we think that idea candidate would be…) goes somewhere else. Often the years of experience line goes in the “somewhere else.”

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    7. Newbie

      My employer lists both required and desirable qualifications in job ads. The first step the hiring committee does is ensure the candidates meet the required qualifications before candidates are moved forward in the process. Then there is some wiggle room in the desirable qualifications.

      For my employer, the drawback to applying these standards consistently is that if there is a candidate that is strong in the desirable but doesn’t quite have all of the required, that candidate is automatically eliminated from the search. We have absolutely no wiggle room on the required.

      Reply
  7. Allison

    That said, there ARE hard-and-fast requirements in that list. Don’t think that if you match a certain number of the things listed you’ll definitely get an interview. Typically, when I’m working on an open job at my company, there are skills that a candidate needs to have in order to warrant an interview, and they’re usually the top 3-4 things listed. If I do go through applications, I don’t get angry with people who apply when they’re not qualified, but if we’re looking for a UI developer with 1-5 years of front-end development experience, and someone’s been working as a system engineer for 20 years, or someone has a degree in marketing and only has retail experience on their resume, I’m going to wonder what they were thinking when they applied. Were they spamming the job boards that day? Were they hoping to get some visibility in the hopes that we’d have an opening that’s perfect for them we just don’t tell people about?

    Reply
  8. Tammy

    This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, because one of my first projects in my current role (I was promoted in December) has been to rewrite the job descriptions and career paths for the team I manage. In so doing, I tried to be clear and transparent about which skills and requirements are essential (“3-6 months of vanilla teapot experience required”) and which are nice but nonessential (“experience with chocolate or butterscotch teapots desired”).

    More than that, though, I’m looking for someone with the right talents – in my team’s case, analytical skills and the ability to think through problems are more important than whether you have specific experience with the Teapot Fabricator 7.2 software. Like a former manager of mine once said, “if someone has the right talents, capabilities and mindset, you can send them to a training class. If they don’t, there’s nothing much you can do for them.” So I personally am always willing to talk to a candidate who has those talents and abilities but might not check all of the boxes on the job description. But I’d expect that person to be ready to talk to me about why the missing boxes don’t represent a barrier to them excelling in the role.

    Reply
  9. boop

    I’ve been stuck at a job for 8 years because I want to break out of food service, but it’s been too long (I guess?) to be considered for entry level retail, and entry level office/reception requires 1-2 years experience (when I have 0). Though I find it hard to believe that so many applicants with 2 years experience are going to be looking to start over at minimum wage entry-level jobs, so who are those ads written for anyway?

    Reply
    1. AndersonDarling

      My husband worked in food service for 15 years, took a few classes in mechanics and changed careers. So there is hope. He was applying for positions that wanted 2-3 years experience, but he only had a few short term jobs that would be relevant. He just got a call back form a company that is interested because he has so many years in customer service working in the food industry. Even though he is light on the mechanical side, they realized what they really need is a people person and they can teach the mechanical skills.
      Don’t give up hope! A great cover letter and resume can get you in, and the recruiters may change their minds in your favor.

      Reply
    2. plain_jane

      I hired someone from food service for an entry level position because they knew how to work on a team, and had experience with time pressure and unhappy customers. I could teach most of the other parts. To be fair, they had gone back to school for a professional course in my industry (the course is worth roughly 2 years of experience), but I selected them from the pack because of the food service experience.

      For entry level office/reception, I think you could argue transferable skills around customer service, maintaining standards, organization, team work, and fast turnaround.

      Reply
    3. Anna

      I don’t think anyone is trapped in a specific field because they’ve worked there for X number of years. It may take a bit more work and creativity to move out, but I don’t believe it’s a feudal system where once you’re a miner you can never be a farmer.

      Reply
        1. Stranger than fiction

          I did it! I somehow parlayed my customer service background into an admin role. I realize you may not want to be someone’s assistant but I was just that tired of dealing with customers and my role isn’t a typical admin role, I run reports most of the day which are very valuable to management. But I’m sure there’s other things you can transfer your skills into.

          Reply
      1. seisy

        I feel that way. I feel like I have “non-profit” branded on my head. I’ve had lots of interviewers get weird about it. And I’ve gotten allllll the way through very long interview processes only to get the axe because while I’ve got all the right experience, that non-profit work doesn’t quite count because there’s like this deep suspicion around it.

        See also: the attitude that non-profit work is for lazy, touchy-feely types who couldn’t make it in the real world and don’t know how to work hard.

        Sigh. Very discouraging. I’ve been looking for work for a year. Lots of interviews, lots of interviews that went through multiple rounds of interviews, and no job.

        Reply
        1. Prismatic Professional

          Non-profit workers are lazy and couldn’t make it in the real world?! ahahahahahahahahaha *laughs hysterically*

          Reply
    4. BRR

      I think when entry-level retail jobs ask for experience, the hope is that you have some customer service and cash handling skills.

      Reply
    5. pomme de terre

      There are tons of food service skills that can transfer to retail and office work! Maybe find a friend who works in your desired field(s) and ask them to work on your resume together.

      Also, you might consider concentrating on tangentially food-related jobs, like an office job at a big catering company or event space or hotel, or a retail job in a grocery store or liquor store. I’ve had decent luck in my career making moves that foreground the secondary skills from Job 1 into the primary skills of Job 2.

      Reply
      1. Stranger than fiction

        I did this too! (really). Food service gives you customer service and sales (upselling) skills among other things, like multi tasking. Eventually I landed an entry level receptionist position which turned into customer service then I moved on to account management which included a little sales…then got burned out after about 12 years of dealing with customers and now here I am an admin.

        Reply
    6. Nicole J.

      I would’ve thought you’d have a lot of relevant experience from food service that could translate to retail – customer service, stamina, payment handling, teamwork etc.

      Reply
    7. Courtney

      I have 3+ years’ experience in my field and just got an M.A., but a recruiter last week told me I should be looking at entry level/assistant jobs, and anything above that was unrealistic. I think it’s just the state of the economy over the last decade has created this situation where people are willing to take jobs they’re overqualified for, because it’s all there is. I know things have improved, but it doesn’t feel like it on an individual level. And I know that job recovery numbers don’t really reflect the number of people who are underemployed, or working jobs below their actual worth.

      Reply
  10. Lily in NYC

    Oh how I wish people actually followed Alison’s advice on this one. I cannot believe how many people just completely misread or ignore job requirements. When we post for a “project manager”, we are very clear that it’s for management consulting and we get extremely detailed about the level of experience and skillset required (our is not a wish list at all, if we say 2-3 years experience, we mean it). But we still get tons and tons of resumes from project managers in IT or construction. Or even better, from a barista or receptionist with no degree even though the ad says an advanced degree in a very specific field is mandatory. I wish we could somehow block applications that come through Monster.com.

    Reply
    1. BRR

      My friend hires for “research analyst” positions in the fundraising department of a top university. He has the same problem where candidates don’t even take a quick look.

      Reply
    2. Spondee

      I hire medical writers and get this all the time. We clearly state in the first sentence of the ad that the job is for a writer in an ad agency, and yet every time I post a job I get dozens of PhD candidates looking for regulatory jobs in a pharmaceutical company.

      Reply
    1. Anonymous Educator

      Get some?

      My spouse and I have done several career switches each, and it’s usually either on-the-job training (official or unofficial) or going back to grad school.

      In one non-grad-school case, I was trained in X and had experience in X, but they wanted to hire me for a combo X/Y position, so I ended up learning some Y, too. When I wanted to switch out of X years later, I got a Y-related position at different organization.

      In another non-grad-school case, I was doing Y work officially but also helping out voluntarily with Z, because the Z department was severely understaffed. The person in charge of Z eventually saw the good work I did and pulled me up to work full time in Z. I later got real official jobs at other organizations doing Z.

      Everything I’ve done, however, has been either directly related to, tangentially related to, or inside of schools. I think if I wanted to do something super drastically different, I might have to go back to school for it (that’s what my spouse has done).

      Reply
      1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.

        Well that’s the problem. How does one get experience when every job, even entry level jobs, want 3-5 years experience? I can’t afford to take a part time internship even if it is a paid one, and most seem to want you to be still in school anyway. I could volunteer but I don’t see how volunteering 10 hours/month is going to equate to 3-5 years experience any time before I’m retirement age.

        Reply
        1. Skippy

          It depends on the field, but often “3-5 years experience” doesn’t necessarily mean, “3-5 years experience doing exactly this job.” The job I just started in wanted two years of experience and I had none in this field, but I did have 10 years of experience in a variety of positions and some of the skills I picked up in those jobs applied to things I do here.

          Reply
          1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.

            OK, thanks. That makes sense. I have 15+ years of working experience. I’ll have to look at it a different way I suppose! :)

            Reply
        2. Anonymous Educator

          In my experience (and, again, this is limited mainly to education), what you really need is someone willing to take a chance on you. If they say 3-5 years, and they get candidates who have 3-5 years, why would they prefer you to those candidates?

          Sad to say it, but it’s often because they’re desperate. For example (once more looking at this from a school context), if you have a teacher who has to leave suddenly in August to move cross-country because his wife got a tenure-track professorship, then the pool of available teaching candidates to replace him will be lean, and you won’t necessarily be able to get the 3-5 years’ experience. Or, if your school is known to underpay and overwork its employees (moreso than peer schools), you may not be able to attract the kinds of candidates you want on paper, so you may have to “settle” for otherwise excellent candidates who don’t have the official credentials you’re looking for.

          There may be analogous circumstances for the field you’re trying to get into.

          Reply
          1. Elizabeth the Ginger

            I got into my role as a maternity leave replacement! I don’t think I would have been interviewed if my predecessor had just decided to leave, but because it was a short-term position I got my chance. And once I was there I was able to prove myself over the year before my predecessor decided not to come back after all.

            Reply
            1. Anonymous Educator

              Yes, a similar thing happened to me as well (not exactly a maternity coverage, though). My first “real” full-time job at a school was officially a one-year position, which I was sad about, because I thought that meant I’d have to look for another job right afterwards. When I got there, I talked to another teacher there who said, “It’s not a one-year job. They just say that. If they really like you, they’ll find a way to keep you.” And they did, so I stayed there for several years.

              Reply
    2. Skippy

      I think you have to find ways that your current skills would apply to the new field. I just made a pretty big leap from one field to another, but luckily I had some skills that definitely helped me, as well as the proven ability to learn fast and succeed in new challenges.

      If you want to move from something not super skilled to something very skilled, I think that would involve schooling.

      Reply
      1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.

        Yeah, I got schooling, thus far hasn’t helped much but based on your other comment, I’m going to look at things again.

        Reply
      2. pomme de terre

        Second this — I mentioned upthread that I’ve had good career experiences taking secondary skills from Job 1 and applying them to Job 2.

        I got the idea from when I was a writer looking to up my freelancing work and I attended a workshop. There was a guy who was a computer programmer who wanted to become a political pundit. (WORST CAREER PATH EVER.) The instructor said he probably couldn’t get hired to appear on Meet the Press tomorrow, but he COULD pitch himself to small pubs that cover tech policy, which a lot of reporters don’t understand. Then he could eventually establish himself as a reliable tech policy reporter and move up to larger pubs and more general political assignments. The guy was a dummy who wanted to be Wolf Blitzer tomorrow, but I thought it was great advice. I edged my way from a sports reporter into health coverage into science/tech coverage into corporate comms for a tech company, which pays better and is more stable than media. It took a while but it worked.

        If you’re a lawyer who wants to be a movie director, concentrate on legal jobs in entertainment and see where it takes you. If you’re a Wal-Mart greeter who wants to be a fashion designer, concentrate on moving into higher end clothing retail, then once you’re there, see what the next step to designing would be. (A buyer? I don’t know that industry.) If you have SOME skills, no matter how mundane, you can likely be of use in some tangential way in your chosen industry. Then take baby steps towards your ultimate goal with each job.

        Reply
        1. AnotherAlison

          I agree with this 100%. I’ve worked in the same general field for 15 years, but I’ve taken a couple positions that were off-the-beaten-career-path from what my peers did. I was able to convince the hiring manager, that I knew X and Y from my other experience and education, which would benefit me in this job, too, and also that if I did job Q, I could easily learn job P (due to the same type of analytical mind needed or whatever).

          FWIW, I looked at our required qualifications for an Admin Assistant, which is our most basic entry-level job. There are no formal requirements. You have to have communication and organizational skills, and be able to get along with people. If you’ve had a job before, you can probably make a case for having these skills. They’re looking for more than a warm body, but as long as you can convince someone that you can do the job, your formal credentials aren’t a big deal. The newest admin in my department was a nanny before this. We’re a F500 company, and people can move up from administrative roles.

          Reply
          1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.

            Ha. Yeah. I have 11 years experience as an AA. Oddly enough when I apply for internal AA roles, I’m told I don’t have enough experience. We’re also F500. Technically 250.

            Reply
            1. AnotherAlison

              I suppose it could be valid. If you were required to be some kind of SharePoint superuser in the admin role, and you don’t have the experience and can’t convince anyone that you have the aptitude to learn, sure. I obviously don’t know your personal situation. Here, some of our exec admins are mostly managing calendars, setting up meetings, filing expense reports, etc. Other project admins are doing a lot more database work and things that require more specific software skills. I do think some people get pigeon-holed and can’t get internal roles that go to seemingly less-qualified external hires. If you were a nanny, I don’t know that you definitely can’t navigate a database. If you have a couple three-month stints as a data analyst, it might work against you because I’d wonder why you aren’t working out in that role.

              Reply
            2. Hermione

              In this case, I’d theorize that they don’t mean you don’t have enough experience generally, but rather that the positions you’re looking at require specific experience doing x tasks in y software or running z projects which you don’t have in your current role. Given that it’s internal, I wonder if there’s any possibility to ask your manager or colleagues to throw some projects your way to expand your experience with that type of work, and make you a more appealing candidate in the future?

              If you’re still getting a lot of no’s for an internal move, I would also take a hard look at your specific situation – is it possible that a boss who relies heavily on you might be blocking your move? Are other people with your levels of experience being allowed to move around? What is your honest reputation at the company – is it as someone who is a quick-learner, team-player, tech-savvy, reliable and trust-worthy (and other things they may be looking for in these roles)? Sometimes there comes a point at which you may have to move onto another company to find the growth you’re looking for.

              Reply
              1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.

                I’ve gotten to the point where I’m looking externally. I don’t think either of the two managers I’ve had while looking have blocked anything. I’m not sure what’s going on.

                Reply
  11. Serin

    When I helped hire a church secretary to replace me, we got some serious mismatches — multiple variants on a resume showing no experience but dental hygienist accompanied by cover letters saying, “I think I’d be terrific for your dental hygienist position.”

    A person with 2 years’ experience when we wanted 4, or an associate degree when we wanted a bachelor’s, wouldn’t even have been all that noteworthy.

    Reply
    1. Jadelyn

      I think my favorite mismatch I’ve seen was someone who sent me a cover letter saying how excited they were for the airline flight attendant opportunity.

      I work in a credit union.

      (Actually we ended up interviewing them anyway, because we are human and understand that sometimes people attach the wrong file or send the wrong email to the wrong person. They didn’t get the job, but it didn’t totally disqualify them, either.)

      Reply
      1. hbc

        I had a hairstylist apply for a technical sales position. I’m open-minded enough that I would have considered her if she had bothered to put together a cover letter and explain why her people skills transferred and how she’s a whiz at fixing the broken blow dryers or something.

        Seriously, OP, if you match 10%, you’re not going to stand out. And even with the total mismatch ones, I don’t remember their names. We actually did have a former stylist for a while, now that I think about it…maybe we did end up hiring her for a more appropriate position.

        Reply
      2. Adam

        Reason #37 I should not be a hiring manager: when that interviewee came in I would have smiled and asked for my complimentary peanuts.

        Reply
      3. Skippy

        When I was unemployed last year, I KNOW I sent at least one resume out with the wrong job title in it. It’s because I was sending out five-10 resumes a week trying to land something.

        Reply
        1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.

          I know I’ve done this too. I’ve opened my cover letter to edit it and realized that the last time I sent it out I used the wrong information. No wonder I didn’t hear back! Oh well.

          Reply
        2. Jadelyn

          I’m pretty sure we’ve all done that at least once. It all gets blurry after a bit when you’re sending that many!

          Reply
        3. Stranger than fiction

          I once used a resume template I downloaded and didn’t realize til after I sent the first resume that there was a header and footer with someone else’s name on there! I think it was like Rebecca Jones or something. So I’m positive they thought I just used someone else’s resume entirely! Oops

          Reply
  12. Kathy-office

    For web dev, the requirements are often WAY more of a wish list. When it comes to requirements, it’s more about what it tells you about the company than what they want from you. When you see “3+ years of experience” that means “we will not train you, you need to come in knowing what you need to do”. When you’re junior, up to 3 years is fair game to apply, anything over 5 they usually mean to be more senior.

    But for web dev, if you can show samples of your work that match what they’re looking for, that will count for a lot. And any general work experience signals to them you have experience working in a professional environment. Also networking can be a good way to find out about junior positions; if nothing else you get to know someone that can keep you in mind when a junior position opens up.

    Reply
    1. ali

      This. if you can show samples, you’re golden. Which often means building fake sites on your portfolio. But if you’re a web dev and don’t have a portfolio at all, I’m probably not going to interview you. If you have a portfolio that has even half the stuff I’m asking for, you’re going in the “take a closer look” pile.

      It’s tough with a junior position. You’re going to have to do a lot of stuff for free/pro-bono or just fake example sites to build a solid portfolio. But if it makes you feel any better, I’ve been a web dev for 20 years and still build fake sites whenever I’m learning something new just to show I can do it.

      Reply
      1. OP

        This is good to read. One of the reasons I wrote in was that I feel pretty overwhelmed by all the different ideas people throw at me on how to get an advantage in the job market, all of which are good individually, but trying to do all of them tends to spread me out too thin. (I have an anxiety disorder and have to structure my projects really well so I don’t get overwhelmed.) So I’ll focus on the portfolio stuff and look for jobs requiring under 3 years.

        Reply
        1. ali

          I get that. Like I said, I’ve been doing this 20 years and I am looking at senior level jobs and definitely feel overwhelmed at all the different ideas. But if you can show me you can do any kind of programming at all, I know you’ve at least got the capacity to learn it. And for junior level jobs, that’s really all I can ask.

          Reply
      2. blackcat

        Yeah, a good friend of mine in web development just has a really badass personal website. You can view it in multiple formats/styles. You can play a game based on how is not-programming STEM degree led him to this career path (it’s actually kinda fun). You can interact with a database of info drawn from the US department of labor…

        It’s nifty. Sure, he has a portfolio of stuff he’s done for other people (which you can find on that badass personal website), but the personal website is really fun.

        Reply
  13. 27540

    YMMV…but I work for a large multi-national company and our hiring software will automatically screen out people that don’t meet the basic qualifications for the job based on questions you answer when you fill out the application. Not sure if everybody else is like this, but hiring managers can’t even see those applications.

    Lying about qualifications wouldn’t get you far either

    Reply
    1. StellsBells

      In my experience this is less common but is becoming more popular as companies try to make their recruiting departments more “lean”.

      General rule of thumb for applicants would be that if the online application asks you specific questions about your experience (how many years have you been doing X or do you have a valid Y certification ) then those are deal breakers and wrong answers will filter you out like 27540 describes. The good news about this is that if you don’t qualify, you’ll know almost immediately and the software automatically filters you out so even the recruiter doesn’t see that you applied.

      If you don’t have to answer any specific questions, a human is going to look at your cover letter and resume and make a judgement call.

      Reply
    2. Spondee

      Only candidates who meet our minimum requirements land in my queue, but I can view all applications if I really want to. It’s a pain to wade through all the files, but I sometimes do it if the applicants being sent to me are not that strong, or if I know a coworker recommended someone but I never got the application.

      Reply
  14. Ad Astra

    Some companies are good about specifying which qualifications are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves. I always appreciate that. And a well-written description of the position’s duties can give candidates a better idea of whether it’s worth applying.

    I very much wish companies would pay me to translate their insane, jargon-ridden job ads into English.

    Reply
    1. StellsBells

      My last company had the WORST job postings, and they knew it. My team was constantly trying to get them to put together a team (or pay a vendor) to clean it up for them but they really just did not care. The general mentality was “we’re getting a ton of applicants and finding what we need, so why bother?”

      Reply
  15. Stephanie

    I work at a public university. We list both required and preferred requirements. We are not allowed to interview anyone who doesn’t meet the required list, but we have plenty of flexibility with preferred.

    Reply
    1. Anna

      I appreciate this. I’ve applied to positions at community colleges that were easy to decide if I should bother or not for this reason alone.

      Reply
    2. Jennifer

      In my experience with this, they’re really looking for 100% of the qualifications. I can get an interview if I have 95% (both on required and preferred), but I still can’t get hired and keep being told I’m just not good enough and they want everything.

      Reply
      1. Hermione

        FWIW, that hasn’t been my experience at all. I myself have been getting interviews with 80-90% of the qualifications, and we hired a colleague who only had 75% but who was a great fit for our team and showed a strong capacity to learn that which she was missing.

        I’m a bit confused why they would interview someone who is obviously without full qualifications if they’re not willing to compromise – is the extra 5% not immediately evident in your materials? What sort of positions are you looking at/what is the missing 5% that is so vital?

        Reply
      2. Jurassic Carl

        Exactly this.

        I had one place actually design their job description based on my resume in my presence.. but then after a great chat, one of them sighed and remarked to my face that they might just add a few more things to the wishlist and hold out for the purple squirrel. Then they blew me off. Never even thanked me for traveling from out of town to meet them.

        Lovely people.

        Reply
        1. Stevie Wonders

          I interviewed at a defense contractor, got no offer, then they reran the ad after lifting keywords off my resume! 6 months later still not filled.

          I’m not seeing much flexibility on the requirements section either. Seems they want all 100% and the preferreds as well. Hard to do when the requirements alone are 15-25 bullet points.

          Reply
    1. Jennifer

      Yeah, but think of it this way: thanks to sexism, a woman REALLY REALLY has to be outstanding to get hired, compared to a man. I think that’s just reasonable thinking, honesty.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        That isn’t really true though. Plenty of mediocre women get hired. Statistics about discrimination are about aggregate data. It doesn’t mean that every woman will face it in every hiring decision (and it’s really damaging for women to believe that’s the case!).

        Reply
        1. Anonsie

          This is true, but I also think that (also speaking in the aggregate) a 60% qualified man is more likely to be hired than a 60% qualified woman in general.

          Reply
      2. overeducated and underemployed

        I don’t think that women should shoot ourselves in the foot by not even trying in anticipation of others being biased against us, though. Especially since if we only apply for things we’ve already done, instead of positions with new responsibilities and potentially higher pay and titles that men at our level are aiming for, we might wind up taking the stairs so slowly we don’t even come close to hitting a glass ceiling.

        Reply
        1. Almond Milk Latte

          “Especially since if we only apply for things we’ve already done, instead of positions with new responsibilities and potentially higher pay and titles that men at our level are aiming for, we might wind up taking the stairs so slowly we don’t even come close to hitting a glass ceiling.”

          Thank you for that. It’s just the message I needed to hear today.

          Reply
        2. Hermione

          Agreed. The takeaway for me wasn’t “you’re doomed, be more realistic about your chances and only apply to safety positions,” but that women just need better information about how hiring processes really work. You’re not wasting your time by applying to jobs that are a slight reach for you; don’t let the fear of failure hold you back or become a self-fulfilling prophecy (I won’t get hired anyway, so I won’t apply… ergo, I was not hired).

          Reply
      3. Triangle Pose

        Hmm…my takeaway from the study is totally opposite from yours – if anything, this makes me more motivated to apply for reach jobs – institutionalized sexism in the workplace may be the _reason_ that more underqualified/mediocre men apply than women, but it should not be taken as a self-defeating maxim. If you constantly focus on having to be must more outstanding than a similarly situated man to get hired, you’ll miss out.

        Reply
    2. Liza

      I was thinking of that too–I’m glad you linked to it, Ashley. It’s why, when I recently posted a job, I made sure the requirements *are* requirements, and the rest is in the “useful but not required” section.

      Reply
    3. Anonsie

      There’s a really interesting study (that’s in peer review but they made their results and chunks of their data publicly available already for discussion) using a massive amount of GitHub data to examine the rates at which pull requests are accepted for men and women when gender is known by other parties versus when it is not.

      One of the really interesting notes was that under certain parameters, chiefly when gender was not known, women were (statistically) significantly more likely to have their pull requests accepted than men. The reasons for this specifically weren’t examined, so of course researchers have suppositions, starting with that women submit fewer requests of higher quality– but one of the big ones that I found really interesting was the possibility that women tend to submit pull requests only to parties they already know or in groups where they are already trusted. They suspect women were more likely the self-select for situations where they were most likely to be taken seriously and/or be successful in the end: in places they trust to be evaluated fairly, with low volumes of high quality work.

      This was sort of a side note in their presentation but it stood out to me because, being a woman in the sciences, I know I absolutely do this. I would guess that female programmers will have had a lot of the same experiences as I have and might adapt the same patterns as a result. I’m really interested for someone to investigate this, now…!

      Reply
  16. Pickles

    Government can be an exception to this as well. Some career fields won’t accept anything but certain degrees. The career field is specified in USAJobs postings under “Series/Grade,” which is the career field/pay. a quick google search will pull up the OPM (Office of Personnel Management) site and list the degrees accepted. For instance, the information technology career field would accept degrees in computer science, math, statistics, and computer engineering, among others.

    Also, some jobs are open to multiple similar career fields; if so, it’ll be listed in the same series/grade section.

    That said, there are also ways around this. For instance, if the OP had formal training in those computer languages, it might be enough to count. Experience helps, too, but on the job training or self-study of programming languages probably wouldn’t. It’s ultimately up to the robot or person who reviews the candidates, and sometimes the decisions are…unexpected.

    Reply
  17. Xarcady

    Some of the way off applications are probably people on unemployment who need to apply to a certain number of jobs each week. It’s a delicate balance–you have to apply for the jobs, but you are also required to accept any job that is offered to you.

    So I know people who apply for the jobs they are qualified for, but there may only be one or two job postings a week for those jobs. And they have to apply for 5 jobs a week. So they apply to something that is sort of related to what they do, so they won’t get questioned about why they applied to that job, but which they know they won’t get any serious consideration for, so they don’t have to worry about getting a job offer for something they really don’t want to do, or that doesn’t pay enough or whatever.

    And sometimes, it is because the job posting isn’t written very well. I’ve seen this at companies I’ve worked for, where they don’t stress the required elements enough, or they make too big a deal out of a “preferred” element. Or the ad is just so poorly worded that the main focus of the job is not clear. When you get many, many translators applying for a strictly sales position, it might just be the ad at fault, and not the reading skills of the translator. Just sayin’.

    Reply
    1. hbc

      We have one in the works right now that is a disaster. As in, I don’t know what they mean by bullets 2-5, and I’ve literally done every job here at some point. How is someone external supposed to read this job ad and figure out if they can do it and if they want to do it?

      I don’t have any power over the people putting it together, but they’ve been warned that I will have zero sympathy for them if they don’t get a good candidate pool.

      Reply
      1. OfficePrincess

        Agreed. The worst part was when I accepted a position but the start date was about a month out since they hired for specific training classes. In order to continue receiving benefits, I would have had to keep applying to jobs because I couldn’t get through to anyone to point out how little sense that made. In the end, I ended up covering every shift I could get my hands on a the restaurant I had been working weekends at.

        Reply
  18. BRR

    I think they are wish lists in a way. The most likely hard line I can think of is if the employer is asking for a bachelor’s degree.

    Reply
    1. Jadelyn

      Unless it’s a super-technical position and they want a degree specifically pertaining to the job, the bachelors degree is one I regard as very flexible tbh. Especially for something like customer service or administrative work. College does not teach customer service, nor does it teach the core skills of admin positions, so I feel like requiring a degree is more for form’s sake in those cases.

      Reply
      1. Colorado CrazyCatLady

        Agreed. I regularly get interviews for jobs requiring a degree (sometimes even a Masters!) and I have no degree.

        Reply
        1. Another Lawyer

          Same for my mom. She’s a very experienced admin (old enough to have gone to secretary school), and her most recent job wanted a BA and she beat out applicants with Masters because it’s really more about fit for those jobs.

          Reply
  19. Mockingjay

    I think a lot of job listings are cut and pasted by HR staff or remote Managers who may not be familiar with daily duties or project specifics.

    My company manager in another state just sent me a job requisition to review. He based it on my position description (technical writer) – we have to do one annually to show the company job title meets the government labor category on the contract. He’s not very familiar with our project, so what he listed as responsibilities were actually personal experience I had gained in previous different roles (not technical writing).

    I revised the requisition to provide a realistic description of what the technical writer will actually be doing – especially Meeting Minutes – and the required skills and experience. He promptly shot it down. He says we can address these in the interview. Surprise, dear Applicants!

    Reply
  20. SM

    I got hired at a job that wanted 5-8 years relevant experience (I had 3.5 years at the time), and wanted knowledge of a specific program that I’d never even looked at before. I was able to prove through my cover letter and interview that although my literal number of years was lacking I had the same skills they expected of someone with that level of experience. As for the program, I was honest about not knowing it, and they liked me so much they sent me to a 2 day training course to learn it.

    I think Alison was spot on: the list forms a profile of the type of person they want. If you fit that profile, but maybe not every specific, you still have a very good chance!

    Reply
  21. Observer

    The key, in terms of not wasting everyone’s time, is knowing the norms of your industry and position and being within reason as Alison says. Of course, good screeners probably won’t waste too much time on really inappropriate resumes, but you will wind up wasting your time by applying.

    I have not seen anything that matches the doozies I’ve read about here. But, some more mundane examples of time wasters that I’ve see: application for a level 2 computer support tech from someone just out of school, no work experience. Or from someone whose resume is pure text – the file had a txt extension, and the text was plain courier. The “bullet lists” used asterisks. I saw a couple like that for an office manager / receptionist position. Also (a few years ago) someone who couldn’t email for that position in a computer services company.

    Reply
    1. De Minimis

      I just saw one for a new position working with our grants and contracts department. The applicant’s key qualifications were “translating the Bible into Esperanto…”

      Had to be a joke or a quota filler. Thankfully, our system makes it pretty easy to deal with applications, so no big deal.

      I’ve been seeing some weird stuff from the student applicants–this weird t-account chart in the cover letter that has the job description on the left side and the ways the applicant meets the qualifications on the right.

      Reply
      1. overeducated and underemployed

        That is weird. Maybe they have been told that in your sector (government or higher ed, was it?), their application will be tossed if they don’t show that they meet each qualification in their cover letter, so they just decided they can’t do that via a narrative letter of normal length?

        Reply
        1. De Minimis

          It was really just one person, they had it as part of the body of their cover letter. I’d guess that someone told her to do that.

          Reply
      2. mander

        I’ve actually been advised to take a similar approach for applications here in the UK — construct a table with the requirement in one column and a STAR example for every single thing on the person specification in the other.

        In fact I used that format for the last three contract jobs I got, which also happened to be the first jobs I’ve gotten in over 3 years of looking. So maybe it works. But then again I was trying (unsuccessfully) to change fields before, so it might just be that I’ve been applying for things in the field I studied.

        Reply
  22. Adam

    Before I found AAM I thought job postings were like recipes. If I didn’t match what was in the description to the letter I was going to end up with a culinary disaster and may have set off the fire alarm in the process.

    Now I consider job postings like To Do Lists. The more things I can tick off the better, but so long as I check off most of the important items I’ve had a productive day.

    Reply
    1. aebhel

      Really, job postings *are* like recipes in the sense that you don’t have to follow the whole thing to the letter, but you should have some idea of how it all goes together before you start substituting in willy-nilly.

      Reply
      1. Adam

        Analogy clarification: if I’m cooking then I feel very comfortable winging it once I have the general makeup of the dish down. If I’m baking things are measured to the gram while wearing a labcoat and goggles.

        Reply
          1. Adam

            I’ve been meaning to read that famous book on cooking and chemistry, but even then I’ll leave the experimental stuff to the adepts.

            Reply
            1. Shell

              On Food and Cooking! I love Harold Mcgee.

              Having read some about the chemistry behind the foods does not in any way mean I’m a great cook, though–as with anything, it comes down to practice. (My chemistry degree be damned!)

              Reply
  23. Mimmy

    I hear this advice all the time but I just. can’t. make myself believe that there may be some flexibility in requirements. For example, if I see a software program that I don’t really know or have never heard of, I pass up the ad. Yet, I’m always willing to learn new programs!

    Reply
    1. Adam

      Don’t be afraid of mystery programs! Every job I’ve ever gotten has required to me learn a program I didn’t know existed until I got there. Every organization is so specific to what they need their computers to do you’ll almost assuredly have to learn it anyways.

      Reply
    2. ThursdaysGeek

      I addressed that in a cover letter once, when their main programming language was one I had no experience in. I said that whoever they hired would have to learn a lot, because any new employee would have to learn the particulars of their business. I pointed out that I had a lot of experience in other languages, and learning another one would just be more of that initial learning that any new employee would go through. It was a language I wanted to learn.

      They hired that attitude, and I learned another language (or three).

      Reply
    3. Kyrielle

      My first job out of college, with basically no work experience (a couple summer jobs along the lines of ‘grading math worksheets’), required 3-5 years of experience in C under Windows (I had done C++ under Unix in college). They hired me anyway. It does depend in industry, but tech changes often enough that I think ability and willingness to learn is often more important than exactly matching the requirements. (That said, I can’t imagine I’d have had any luck if they’d wanted 10 years experience – that says they’re looking for someone senior, which I wasn’t.)

      Actually…other than a couple temp jobs during college, I don’t think I’ve met all the qualifications for any job I’ve been hired for.

      Reply
    4. Hattie McDoogal

      Ditto. I see something like “master degree in X preferred” and I think, “Obviously they’re going to get at least *some* resumes from people with that master’s so they’ll be at the top of the pile. Why bother?” Couple that with the fact that most of us get shot down a lot for jobs for which we *do* meet all of the requirements and I have a hard time believing anyone will consider me without those “preferred but not required” things.

      Reply
    5. AFT123

      Don’t be afraid! Job postings are frequently kind of ridiculous in my experience – when a coworker who does the same job I do left and the posting opened up, I read it, and it seriously seemed like it was for a different job. A much more complicated, technically focused, senior level job. I couldn’t believe it – I was one of the top people in that position in the company and if I’d have seen that posting, I would have guessed I’d matched maybe 10%. They hired someone with similar qualifications as mine… so the position hadn’t changed at all… and lo and behold, they were flabbergasted at how different the position than what they were expecting.

      Reply
    6. Jennifer

      Yeah, but these days, do they want to train you in using said programs? That’s something I’m running into trouble with–being told they already want you to know everything without training.

      Reply
      1. Hattie McDoogal

        Yeah, I find this advice is kind of contrary to everything else you always hear about hiring (no one wants to train any more, job openings get hundreds of applications, having all of the requirements definitely doesn’t guarantee an interview, etc).

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But there are people all over this thread talking about experiences that aren’t in sync with that. Yes, of course, that happens. But “X sometimes happens and it sucks” is different from “X is all that happens” or even “X will probably happen.”

          Reply
    7. Jadelyn

      My current job is in HR and a huge part of my work involves our HRIS. In the interview, they asked if I’d ever worked with databases before and if so what programs had I used? I was like “well, no, but most software/website interfaces are pretty similar, so based on my experience in [unrelated programs] I’m fairly sure I can translate my skills to any new software.” They called me back to make the offer that afternoon, and I’ve been here for a little over 2 years – and I’ve just been given added responsibility as the official HRIS system administrator for my subsidiary part of the company. Don’t shy away unless it’s super-technical, like programming languages or something!

      Reply
    8. SusanIvanova

      Do you know related programs? I got my current job, which wanted a language I was just starting to learn, by pointing out that I had 4 years at the company that invented one of the major influences on that language.

      Reply
    9. Tinker

      When I was looking for a job after grad school, I saw a listing that called for proficiency in several things, one of which was a program I didn’t recognize and that I could only find some scattered references to online. I applied anyway. They interviewed me. We mostly ended up talking about amusing anecdotes (“and then the output pipe exploded and the electrical room started filling up with water” type thing) from my job writing control software for pump systems (the job in question was for testing conferencing system software). After I got the job, I found out that the program in question was an internal testing tool.

      Thing I figure, especially having been involved in the sausage-making process, is that “write the description for that one job posting” is the sort of thing that you do real quick because you need that posting up right away so you can get interviews so that you can hire the other person to do the work that you now have to go off and do. And then the description that you wrote originally in part for internal recruiting ends up on the careers website for a local college and a bunch of confused students are going “I do Python, but… what is GOATPIG? I’ve never heard of GOATPIG! Am I inadequate???”

      Reply
  24. NK

    I absolutely agree that if you think you’re in the ballpark, apply! I work at a large company where there are probably 100 people who have the same role as me, and I would say very, very few of us (maybe none?) meet all the qualifications listed in our standard job description for this role. It’s kind of silly, but it’s more like a serious stretch list in our company’s case.

    Something else to consider: when I was part of an interview panel recently to hire into this role, I noticed that our female candidates were almost exclusively quite a bit stronger than our male candidates. I was discussing with a friend, and she noted that men are more likely than women to apply for what they feel is a “stretch” role. Not sure if you’re male or female, OP, but it’s something to consider – you don’t want to hold yourself back unnecessarily when your competition isn’t.

    And to address someone’s point above, we never laughed about underqualified candidates or said “why the heck did they apply?” If someone was clearly unqualified, we’d just pass them over, move on, and were unlikely to remember them at all.

    Reply
    1. OP

      I’m a woman. Yeah, I’d heard various statistics about men holding themselves to a lower standard in judging if a job is right for them. I’m not really scared about people laughing at me, but for whatever reason writing job applications is really hard for me and I want to focus on ones that I actually have a chance at.

      Reply
      1. Skippy

        A great phrase for women in the workplace to remember is “What Would a Mediocre White Man Do?” What does Mediocre White Man think he deserves? Would Mediocre White Man ask for a raise? Would Mediocre White Man apply to that job he’s not 100% qualified for? If the answer is yes, then you can do it too.

        Reply
        1. overeducated and underemployed

          There was an article going around sometime last year saying that in one survey, women only applied for jobs that they had 100% of the qualifications for, but men applied with an average of a 60% match. And often, men GOT those jobs! I read that and thought, “hey, I’m missing out!” because there aren’t a lot of jobs out that that I’m a perfect match for , so I was spending a lot of time applying for very entry level stuff, but not even attempting a lot of stretch jobs that I was at least 60% qualified for.

          Since then, I’ve stopped applying for receptionist/assistant type positions, and have been applying for more of the stretch jobs even when I feel unqualified, because if a MAN would do it, I might as well! And of course, those are the ones where I’ve been actually getting the interviews, as well as two offers in the last year (neither of which I took, for reasons). Sometimes the title sounds intimidating but the department or organization is actually so tiny that it doesn’t involve management, so my experience actually is enough; sometimes it’s a newly created position where they may not actually have a perfect idea how this position is going to work, so if I can tell a compelling story in my cover letter and interview about how I would approach the work, I have a chance; sometimes being able to tell stories about how you learn new things and find out what you need to know can be enough to get them to take a chance.

          So try! For feminism! And use that cover letter to make your case!

          Reply
          1. SusanIvanova

            There’s a reason I picked the username I did – false modesty is not one of my attributes. :)

            Helps that in software, being adaptable is an edge; you may not have X years of language Y, but 2X total years of many languages means picking up language Y should be no problem.

            Reply
  25. Megs

    I’ve been trying to find work in the legal field for a few years now – started search while in law school, continued search through two years of clerking, now a year and a half doing temp work. It feels like there are so many lawyers out there with all sorts of low level experience that even entry level jobs seem out of reach if you don’t check off the desired qualifications with some unpaid internship or pre-law job or something. I don’t know how much of that is my perception, but’s deeply discouraging and I’ve largely given up on applying for anything that doesn’t look like a 100% match because I wasn’t getting interviews for anything but great matches.

    Of course, now I don’t seem to get interviews for anything at all, but so it goes.

    Reply
    1. Triangle Pose

      Yes, the legal field is super saturated, but don’t lose hope! I am a lawyer in BigLaw and I know many people in your position and can’t emphasize enough the benefits of networking – are you a member of the local bar association or affinity bar association/young lawyer divisions? Attending events have really made the difference in getting connections – if you approach these organizations with the desire to help and be useful, I really think it can give you some perspective and help with your search! Do you have law school classmates, clinic partners or the supervising attorneys at your temp work places who could help you out?

      Reply
      1. Megs

        Thank you – the encouragement is greatly appreciated. I have social anxiety and have always hated networking, though I know how vital it can be in our industry, even for the behind-the-scenes state jobs I’d prefer. I’m afraid I’ve gotten into a loop where I convince myself that networking won’t help because I’m no good at it so I use that as an excuse not to do something that terrifies me. I have tried to reach out to contacts of mine and my husband has done the same on my behalf (he’s also a biglaw attorney) but it always feels so uncomfortable and when it doesn’t pan out, I see it as confirmation of what I’ve believed/wanted to believe all along about networking being no good. My temp work has been through an agency so I don’t interact with any of our client law firms, but I should really suck it up and join a bar association. It just feels so humiliating to think of meeting new people and explaining, why yes, I did have a very promising resume for a couple of years there, I just haven’t been able to turn that into anything and kind of gave up for a while.

        Reply
    2. MsChandandlerBong

      My best friend is going through the same thing. Graduated from law school in May, has a loan payment of $750 a month, and had to take a job doing tax prep at Liberty Tax for a whopping $8 per hour. She was on law review and dean’s list, clerked for a judge, and did a prestigious internship, but she can’t seem to gain any traction.

      Reply
  26. ThursdaysGeek

    No hiring manager is going to look at your close-but-not-quite application and exclaim in disgust at your presumption

    (Which made me start to dream…)

    Hiring Manager 1: Look at this one! We asked for 2-5 years of experience, and he only has 22 months! Fail!
    Hiring Manager 2: Oh, and we said we wanted experience in 3/4 ton semi-sweet chocolate drill presses, and this one mentions half ton and 7/8 ton milk, white, and semi-sweet chocolate drill presses, but obviously doesn’t have the 3/4 ton experience. Let’s toss this one too, and never hire her.
    Hiring Manager 1: What are these people even thinking?!

    Reply
  27. knitcrazybooknut

    Governmental institutions can be a large, slow moving exception to this. I worked in HR for a corporation for over ten years, and now work in HR at a medium sized state university. I had to hire a team member, and was completely discombobulated by the hiring process. I received over 80 applications for an entry-level position, and had to justify every single elimination based on the job description as posted compared to the applicant’s submitted materials. For each requirement on the job description, I had to discern whether each applicant had that required experience or skill. If they were amazing, but they didn’t document every requirement on their application or resume or cover letter, they were out. I was floored.

    OP, you’re fine doing the estimate or coming close if you’re applying to private companies. But governments are always going to be the exception.

    Reply
    1. Anon College AA

      And academia as well, at least positions controlled by a union, that I’ve seen. Where I worked in the past, in order to interview external candidates, first all internal candidates had to be eliminated as “not qualified for reason X that is spelled out in the job description” and you couldn’t interview any external candidates that also didn’t have reason X.

      For instance, one of the common things that happened was that the job description called for either “X years of experience” or “experience developing web pages”. If there were internal applicants that the department didn’t want to hire, saying “we don’t want to hire this person because they don’t have X years of experience” was a valid reason – but it meant that you could NOT even interview external candidates without X years of experience (but you could interview someone with X years of experience but that didn’t have Y skill on the job description).

      I saw more than one department accidentally shoot themselves in the foot over this – they would eliminate a crappy internal candidate because they wanted to hire in an awesome temp (who was considered an external candidate) only to find out that since the temp didn’t meet the qualification they had eliminated the other person for they couldn’t hire the temp either without risking a union grievance. All because they weren’t allowed to say “no, we don’t want to hire Crapzilla who has zero people skills and has only been here for 3 years because no one is willing to jump through the hoops to try to fire her, we want to hire Superawesome Temp who has been doing the job for 6 months and we wouldn’t have to retrain them”.

      Reply
    2. Argh!

      The job market is so tight in so many areas that there will be people who can tick off every box. Someone could be “amazing” but who wants to train them in the area they don’t know when there are candidates out there who can hit the ground running?

      Reply
        1. Megs

          *hug* That feels like the box I’m in. Plus hitting the old expiration date, i.e. employers used to interview me for entry level positions when I was a year or two out of school, but now that it’s been longer and I’ve got a couple of years of irregular/temp work on the resume, they no longer seem interested.

          Reply
          1. Skippy

            That was me as well. 12 years out of college, and a resume that looked like a patchwork quilt. Luckily I knew someone who told me about an entry-level position at her company and handed my resume to her boss. They brought me in and said, “You’re okay with entry-level?” and my response was, “I don’t have a lot of experience in this, so I know I have to start at the bottom and I’m totally fine with that.” But it took three months and about 70 resumes sent out before that happened.

            Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        That’s where the personal connection card comes in. I know my husband specifically will hire someone he knows who he thinks can learn the job before he’ll search for someone else who might have more experience. He’s got a phobia about posting an ad and dealing with the whole thing (super small biz), so he just puts out feelers in his network to find someone. (I don’t necessarily agree with how he does this, but I think we get locked into analyzing the situation with our own mindsets and need to consider that other people can have a different process.)

        Reply
  28. AnotherAlison

    I did notice that our current ad for what would have been my entry-level position back in the day has the wrong company name in it. We changed our name over a year ago. Sooooo, while candidates are agonizing over every little phrase in the ad to determine if it’s a match or not, keep in mind, the ad poster may not have taken the same painstaking care in writing the ad. If you want the job and think you could do it, go for it.

    Reply
  29. Argh!

    You should be at least close, or you’re wasting your own & the hiring officials’ time. I have participated in job searches where people with almost none of the required qualifications sent in their resume. I have seen people with a good track record of learning on the job get a job they’re not 100% qualified for, but if you are early in your career, you should take the requirements seriously imho.

    Reply
    1. QA grump 42

      > if you are early in your career, you should take the requirements seriously imho.

      That should be pretty much the worst time to take the requirements seriously. If your career’s already begun, you just have to wait and your 1 year of experience will become 3 so you can possibly afford to wait before trying to increase your income by switching to a new company, but if you’re looking for a first job in your field and only apply to jobs matching your experience you may well never get started at all. I’m more or less in the OP’s position except with zero experience instead of one year, and I can count on one hand the postings I’ve seen that don’t require any experience.

      Reply
  30. Bowserkitty

    Being told to consider it a “wishlist” is hands-down the best advice I was ever given at the beginning of my job hunt. I saw jobs I thought I could be qualified for but was missing out on 5 years of experience when I only had 3, and I thought I was disqualified for that immediately.

    Reply
  31. Regina 2

    How can you excel at a job when you don’t have all the experience? I consider myself good at something only when I can do it all and have had so much experience I can think of multiple scenarios/paths we could go down. Only then am I truly doing a good job. If I don’t know everything, I’m going to make mistakes that may have implications (hopefully minor). But that’s still not as good as a person who can do it all from day one.

    I suppose I’m a bit more extreme (I’ve been working for a decade, and still think I’m underqualified for jobs that ask for 3-5 years of experience), but I still don’t understand how you can know you’ll excel at something when you haven’t done it.

    Reply
    1. Megs

      I don’t think I’ve ever had a job in my life where I didn’t have to learn as I went. And many of the jobs I’ve done, especially clerking positions in and just after law school, have consisted of “here’s the question, if you don’t know how to answer it, teach yourself how.” That’s not to say that the legal industry doesn’t have a real issue with overspecialization (which sucks for someone like me who loves generalist work), just that it’s very possible to excel in many areas without experience in every area (or any area, in some instances).

      Reply
      1. Megs

        In many *jobs* without experience in every area, I mean.

        Plus, experience isn’t everything, as others have mentioned. Someone might check every single experience box but still be a mediocre employee because they’re not driven/creative/excited about their work/pleasant to be around/etc, right? I’d guess the enthusiastic, pleasant, driven candidate with less experience but an ability to learn would more likely to excel every time.

        Reply
    2. Miles

      Let’s say for example you work in a group, with all of you doing similar work, and while you know less than the others, your personality brings out the others’ strong points quite well, increasing their performance, maybe even more so than a new hire who’s not as good of a cultural fit. An observant manager is going to want to keep you despite the apparent lack of skill because the accomplishments of your team go on their own performance report as well. And if I was that manager I would strongly consider training you to replace me for whenever I moved up in the company or moved on.

      Reply
    3. Anonymous Educator

      How can you excel at a job when you don’t have all the experience?

      I think it really depends on the kind of work you do and how quickly you learn.

      For example, when I was a teacher, I was horrible, and then through years of experience, I worked my way up to mediocre / half-way decent. And even the absolute best teachers I’ve ever seen weren’t at their optimum until 2-3 years in. There are just little nuances and tricks that you have to pick up along the way and can’t know simply from reading about them or from your own intuition. I have yet to meet a teacher who was amazing on day one.

      That said, almost every office job I’ve had I could have done with zero experience… and one of them I really had zero experience at (I mean, zero, really—think Teapot Maker, and I’ve only drunk tea, not made it, let alone the pot that holds the tea). I’m not going to lie… that was a terrifying trial by fire, but I ended up being an amazing Teapot Maker and my boss was sad to see me go after I’d spent several years making teapots. Now that I’ve left that job, I’m confident I was still a better choice than many (not all, obviously) people who had had three or four years Teapot Making. I think they just paid too little to get someone who actually had the on-paper qualifications.

      And even at my current job, I had, in theory, all the general knowledge I’d need to do the job, but I spent many months trying to pick up all the institution-specific logistics and procedures that the actual experience I had served me only part way.

      Experience doesn’t mean you’re a drop-in replacement for someone who’s left. You’ll always need training, whether it’s hands-on instruction or just trial and error.

      Reply
    4. Observer

      How can you excel at a job when you don’t have all the experience?

      By that definition, you can never truly excel at a job, no matter how smart, qualified and experienced you are and no matter what your other qualifications are. There simply is no such thing as “all the experience.”

      Also, excellence is actually a relative term. In some situations, for instance, the rate of mistakes is key, others rate of extra touches is key, and in others it’s a delicate balance which varies from place to place. For some situations, it’s enough to be able to do the basics well and quickly and know enough to hand off the more complex jobs to someone else, and sometimes you need to be the person who deals with the weird situations.

      Reply
  32. Miles

    I’m so glad you posted this because I had forgotten. And this just when the major hiring season for my field & situation begins.

    A recruiter I spoke to this morning mentioned something similar but I don’t think I trust him enough to have taken his advice in the way he presented it.

    Reply
  33. Milton Waddams

    You are assuming that HR is a healthy field, that hiring practices are part of some sort of formal methodology with a lot of research behind it, and that companies have access to skilled HR people who do the hiring. None of that is true.

    HR has not had a “basic research” field since sociology radicalized in the 70s and stopped doing business-focused research. These days it is far far more common for someone to just accidentally end up in HR by moving sideways from a secretarial position than that they intentionally decided to go into HR the same way someone decides to be a lawyer or doctor.

    As mentioned, applicants who have job quotas that ignore the hiring practices of their field enjoy pie-in-the-sky job postings because it allows them to hold out for career-track work a little longer.

    However, companies themselves also enjoy them because it lays the groundwork for pushing for work visa employees (“No suitable domestic candidates, see how badly our job ad performed!”). Work visa employees are desired because they are often significantly cheaper and more obedient (as you’d be too if getting fired meant getting deported and your own country had a truly terrible economy), even if they aren’t necessarily any more suitable than domestic candidates hired using realistic job ads.

    And of course HR itself enjoys these type of ads because of the “principle / agent” problem that tends to plague larger companies, where what is best for the representative of a company and what is best for the company itself are no longer the same. What’s best for an HR person is to keep their job and avoid blame. Let’s say they hire 4 “underdog” candidates, 3 of whom significantly out-perform and 1 of whom loses the company a lot of money and gets the HR person fired, as the hiring was their call. What they did for the company was a net benefit, but what they did for themselves was not. On the other hand, let’s say that they hire only by the book and get 4 very well credentialed but mediocre candidates. The company does OK but not great, and the HR person keeps their job and maybe accrues seniority. What they did for the company was not a net benefit, but the results were good for themselves.

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  34. KH

    I avoided applying for jobs for an entire field because I thought I was underqualified based on the job descriptions. I ended up interviewing for a job with a really great company because a recruiter sort of pushed me in to it. I not only got the job, but get frequent feedback that I’m hitting the ball out of the park.
    APPLY!

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