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.