should I apply to jobs I’m not fully qualified for?

A reader writes:

I’ve gotten advice from a lot of other blogs, friends, and family that I should be applying to jobs even if I’m only about 50-75% qualified, and I was wondering what your opinion was.

I’ve been applying to jobs that I believe I could do, but for which I don’t have all the qualifications (it calls for a masters but I’m still writing my masters, or it asks for experience with one database but I have experience with a similar but different one), but I feel like I’m wasting my time. I haven’t gotten one phone interview from these kinds of jobs out of the 20+ applications I’ve sent out in the past month or two. One additional detail; I’m applying to jobs in a niche field within nonprofits/universities, and I know that my specific field has a problem with over-education and under-employment. Is the situation in my field affecting my chances, or is this just bad advice overall?

It depends on the specific qualifications and how important they are.

It’s absolutely true that people get hired all the time without being perfect line-for-line matches with the qualifications listed in job postings. Sometimes ads are more like wish lists, where an employer is describing the dream candidate but would be willing to settle for most of what they listed rather than all of it. In other cases, the qualifications they list truly are requirements and they’re not going to consider candidates without all of them. In still other cases, employers think they’re in the second group (they don’t intend to compromise on any of the qualifications they’ve listed) but they end up hiring someone who doesn’t have every qualification because (a) they realize their original list was too rigid and they can find great people who will excel at the job with only some of those qualifications or (b) they realize their original list described a unicorn. And in still other cases, there’s a disconnect between the person who wrote the ad (often HR or a recruiter) and the person who’s doing the actual hiring, who really doesn’t care if you have a particular degree or eight years of experience with a software that’s only existed for five years or so forth.

Of course, you can’t know from the outside which of these situations you might be dealing with.

The best way to think of the requirements in job ads is that they’re intended to give you a sense of the profile of the type of person who would be right for the job. Instead of starting by measuring yourself against each line of the qualifications, step back and look at the qualifications as a whole. What’s the picture they’re painting of the person who they envision in the job? How close are you to that picture?

Then you do need to get more granular, of course, and look at how well you match up each of the listed qualifications. If they’re asking for 10 years of experience and you have two, that job isn’t for you. But if they’re asking for 10 years and you have eight and believe you can point to evidence that you’d excel at the job, it probably makes sense to apply.

In general, a good guideline is that if you meet 80% of the qualifications and you can point to evidence showing you’d excel at the job, go ahead and apply. The exception to that is if one of the qualifications you don’t meet is clearly a really key thing they’re looking for (like a teaching certificate for a teaching job or a science background for a science writing job). In that case, refer back to what I said above about getting a sense of the profile they’re looking for. If you’re missing a really core qualification, you’re not that profile. But if there’s a long list of 15 qualifications and you’re missing one or two that don’t seem central to the work of the role, go ahead and try.

But the people telling you to apply for jobs where you’re only 50% qualified … that’s too optimistic and is likely to be a waste of your time. Plus, when you’re in a highly saturated field with lots of under-employment, it’s easier for employers to find candidates who check off everything on their wish lists, which means that your success rate at even 80% is going to be lower than in a field where that’s not the case. That doesn’t mean you should stop, just that it’ll be harder.

{ 172 comments… read them below }

  1. BPT*

    I feel like OP should also be looking at the quality of their resume and cover letter though, if they’re not getting interviews. If you don’t match the qualifications exactly, then your application needs to be as good as possible to start out. And isn’t looking at your resume and cover letter the first bit of advice given when someone isn’t getting interviews?

    1. MsM*

      If it’s that much of a niche field, then it might be a case of who you know being more important than either qualifications or cover letters.

    2. Elizabeth Proctor*

      Yes, but OP sent this letter in at Alison’s request after they posted the question on last week’s open thread. I think Alison specifically wanted to address the qualifications piece.

    1. Legal Beagle*

      This is what I thought of, too. I wonder how Alison’s advice fits with this reality, though. How do I know if what looks to me (a woman who definitely falls into the not-100%-qualified trap) like 50% would look like 80% to the average man?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Run the numbers? I would seriously list out the skills, count how many you meet. Count the ‘marginal’ stuff separately (eg, 8 yrs instead of 10) so that you can address them in the cover letter. A lot of the job postings I’m looking at list ‘Required’ and ‘Preferred’ separately; I aim to meet 90% of the Required ones, but only 50% of preferred.

        1. LQ*

          I think that the problem is that if ran the numbers I’d still really not count myself the same as a dude would. I was looking at some dude’s resume in comparison to a job description and was stunned that he’d apply because I felt like looking at the numbers he was in no way qualified. But he felt (also he would tell you he was looking at the numbers) he was absolutely qualified and would be able to justify how 4 years of this and 6 of that is actually 10 of other thing.

          It sounds easy to say, list out the skills and count how many you meet. But I know that I’m going to be overly conservative because if it says proficient at Storyline, I’ll say no, but somewhere out there is someone who has converted a half a dozen powerpoints into storyline and that’s it and they think they are proficient when I’ve created complex branching interactive tutorials that simulate a real application environment because I haven’t worked extensively with the a couple of features and I’d really want to have done it all to feel proficient. (And yes, I’d say the other person has a passing knowledge of it.) So which one of us is right? What does proficient mean?

          Or 5 years of experience as a project manager. Well is that as a formal project manager? As a person who manages projects that they and they alone work on? What size projects?

          And I don’t think it’s always gendered. The person who claimed proficiency with storyline was a woman. And 7 years ago I would have said I had 5 years of experience as a project manager. Today I would not say I meet that qualification. Because my understanding of what a project manager is, has changed enough that 7 year ago me would not be qualified.

          1. MsM*

            I think you’re being much too stringent if you feel you need to be familiar with every aspect of a program to call yourself “proficient.” If you can sit down and feel comfortable completing tasks you can reasonably imagine yourself being asked to complete in this role on a regular basis with minimal use of the “help” function, you’re good.

            1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

              Completely agree. It’s a job application — the stakes are pretty low. If you apply but don’t meet the minimum criteria, all that will happen is that you wasted a little time filling it out. If you want the job and feel like you even come close to meeting most of the requirements — apply! In your Storyline example, if you would judge yourself “familiar” with it but not quite proficient — apply! You sound like you’re being much too harsh with yourself.

              1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

                I just want to clarify that by “the stakes are pretty low,” I mean that there are no job application police that will take you away if you apply for a job you aren’t qualified for, kwim? I do understand that job searching is pretty high stakes for the applicant most of the time.

              2. Fortitude Jones*

                In your Storyline example, if you would judge yourself “familiar” with it but not quite proficient — apply!

                That’s what I do now. I used to be like LQ in that if I saw a job posting saying something like, “Must have InDesign experience,” I took that to mean I needed to know that program inside and out. Well, at the end of 2017, I desperately needed to get out of the job I was in, and I stumbled upon a proposal manager job posting that had that as one of the requirements. I applied, and when they brought me in to the interview and asked about my comfort level with it, I was honest and told them I hadn’t used it since I was an editor on my high school’s newspaper (so maybe 15 years earlier) so I would definitely need refreshers.

                They hired me for the job, and I’m still here a little over a year later. I maybe met 60% of the requirements for this job (I had zero RFP writing or procurement experience), but I had excellent time management skills coming from the legal and insurance claims worlds, plus I was a journalism major, so management decided those things were more important (and they loved my cover letter – my grandboss told me it was fantastic and the best one he’d seen in years).

                Thanks to this experience, I don’t get so hung up on requirements in job ads anymore. If I see a job in my new field of proposals that looks interesting to me, I write a cover letter, apply, and let the chips fall where they may.

      2. Cordoba*

        Perhaps you can deliberately err on the side of applying in any case where you’re not sure?

        If you think “maaaaybe?” then take that as a sign to apply.

      3. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I went to a “Leadership for Women” type event a few years ago and one of the speakers talked about this “confidence gap” re: sussing out how unqualified you actually are for a job. Her encouragement was for women to apply for things they’re not 100% qualified for on paper because the worst that can happen is they don’t get an interview, and I remember thinking “Okay, but can we do something about the men who keep applying for jobs they’re not qualified for??” I was coming at this from the perspective of someone who’d done a lot of hiring in the past but who was tired of having to sort through so many resumes from unqualified people who thought they’d submit their applications just in case.

        I think Alison’s answer strikes a good balance between taking a risk on something you might not feel you’re qualified for while not being over confident about it.

      4. BatmansRobyn*

        I was, on paper, massively underqualified for the job I currently have. They wanted 2-5 years of experience, I was totally entry level. I didn’t have the math background they wanted (or any math background at all outside of a straight C average in upper level high school math). But! I had a specific degree they were looking for, and knew slightly more than the average bear about some specific regulations that were specified in the job description, so I figured I didn’t have anything to lose by applying.

        Turns out they basically were going to have to train anyone they hired completely from scratch no matter what. They were, however, extremely impressed that I volunteer regularly with an animal rescue, and I got along with everyone on the team. It apparently came down to me (an entry-level woman) and a guy who had more experience but was less pleasant/open to basically being a supporting team member for like six different projects, so Alison’s advice definitely at least jives with my experience.

      5. Blueberrie*

        I use the mantra “What Would a Mediocre White Man Do?” I think, “If I were a mediocre white man, would I even be questioning this, or would I just go for it?”

    2. Argh!*

      I was just going to post this! Yes, it’s one of those women things! I read this and realized that was me, so I applied for a job that I couldn’t check off 100% of the qualifications and got an interview! During the interview I discovered that the one I didn’t really qualify for was a teensy part of the job, and mainly just required me to spot glaring mistakes in products coming from a vendor.

      (Still waiting to hear about the job…)

  2. KitKat100000*

    This letter reminded me of this article from the Harvard Business Review: Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified by Tara Sophia Mohr.

    The title of the article is a little misleading, but in summation, “reasons for not applying, have to do with believing that the job qualifications are real requirements, and seeing the hiring process as more by-the-book and true to the on paper guidelines than it really is…. Believe less in what appear to be the rules.”

    1. irene adler*

      Well, I’m learning that the 100% rule is very much a reality for biotech.
      It get’s disheartening when not only must one meet every single job description bullet point, but, during the interview they ask about skills not found in the job description. Only, these omitted skills are required for the job.

      Can’t win.

      1. Ann Nonymous*

        It sounds like maybe the job opening is not “real”, i.e. they are reserving the position for an internal candidate and tailoring the questions so only that candidate will fill the requirements. This recently happened to my daughter – she was also an internal candidate, but the position was really reserved for another internal candidate and the questions asked of her 1) weren’t listed on the qualifications for that job 2) didn’t have anything to do with the open position and 3) oh-so-coincidentally coincided with the pre-chosen candidate’s skill set.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        The 100% rule is true at my institution. I literally just came from an interview seminar that said that. Even 90% isn’t good enough. 95% will get you interviewed but won’t get you the job.

  3. Cordoba*

    In general, yes.

    If it sound like a job that you’d be interested in and that it’s a reasonable match for your qualifications and experience then why not apply? The worst that can happen is that you don’t get a job that you already don’t have.

    Don’t get emotionally invested in a long-shot job application or let off the throttle on the rest of your job search, but other than that I don’t really see much downside. I’d rather apply and just get rejected or hear nothing than wonder later what would have happened if I had given it a try.

    There are exceptions to this, of course. If the job posting says “Must have certification X” and you don’t have that cert then it really is just a waste of time.

    1. Argh!*

      OTOH, you can see what the cost & time for becoming certified would be and offer to take the training at your own expense or within a year. If X isn’t being done while the search is ongoing, perhaps it can wait another few months.

  4. fposte*

    Another thing to think about, OP, is your time and effort. I wouldn’t preclude applying for stretch positions, but they’ll have a lower ROI, and that can take a toll on your energy over the long term. So I might limit the hoops I’d jump through for such jobs and evict them from mental space right after I send the application. For some jobs and markets, I might even try to limit the number or percentage of stretch jobs to make sure I was focusing my energy as effectively as possible.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is important. When I was job searching last year, I would apply for positions I considered ‘stretch’ for me, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on them.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, I agree with that. I know my materials were already in good shape, but when I applied for my job a couple of years ago, I definitely just slapped the application together. That was a situation where I believed I had the skills, but per the posting, I didn’t have the qualifications, so I assumed I’d get disqualified immediately.

        Turns out, no — I got the job!

    2. Minerva McGonagall*

      I applied for two stretch jobs-same title, same responsibilities, different universities. I got rejected outright from School A (which extra stung since it was my alma mater and was the email was sent on my birthday…). So when School B’s job opened up, I changed my documents to reference School B and sent it in with zero expectations…and got the job.

    3. Jasnah*

      I think this is the main takeaway for me. On the one hand you definitely want to improve your ability to self-assess your skills so you know how many you fulfill. And it’s also good to be aware of gender and other issues that might be impacting your confidence.

      You can’t judge how successful a job application is by whether or not you got the job (because that’s out of your hands), only by whether you submitted it and if it was up to your standard of quality. So ultimately I think you can only judge “is it worth it?” not by how many stretch interviews you land, but by your own time and effort invested. You’re not guaranteed any job, so if you have to make 3 years of experience stretch to 10, I would argue that time is better spent making it stretch to 5.

  5. nnn*

    It seems like part of the answer to “should I apply” lies in your current employment situation, and the overall job market situation.

    For example, if you’re completely unemployed and the only job postings you’re finding are for jobs your not 100% qualified for, then yes, you should be applying rather than doing nothing.

    If you’re finding plenty of postings for jobs you’re already 100% qualified for, then perhaps you should be more judicious in how much energy you put into applying for reach jobs.

    If you already have a job that you could happily keep doing for a while, that’s a different calculation. And if you have a job that you’re desperate to leave, that’s another different calculation.

    1. ababao1o1*

      This. It’s important to take not just the job into account, but its delta from your current situation

  6. MsM*

    I think it also depends how large these organizations are and how they’re soliciting applications. If it’s a big institution and you’re going through a form, then you need to be prepared for them to weed you out before a human even sees anything if certain keywords don’t get flagged. If you can find all the staff members on one page of the website and there’s a name attached to the submission email, then they’ll probably be reading more closely.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That was my first thought; computerized system and missing keywords. Don’t know if this applies to the OP or not.

    2. CorruptedbyCoffee*

      Yes, this was my first thought. I work for a large library system. Our organization goes through applications with a point system, and the application itself will automatically weed you out if you do not meet the job requirements. I tried to get them to flex on requiring 2 years of experience in a particular skill (I had 1.5) and it was a no go. Then again, we’re getting like 150 applications for each job. It’s a field with a lot of qualified people looking for work. They can afford to be picky. In short, my organization wants you to meet the requirements 100%. I suspect this is more common in large organizations with rigid hiring structures.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yeah, those radio buttons for experience are the worst. I’ve completely stopped applying for jobs with one government department because they want a specific number of credit-hours in a very specific field of math, and even though I have the overall grad degree they want I don’t have enough of those math classes.

        So I hit the button that says “no” and the computer rejects my application in 15 minutes. I was stubborn and tried three times before I realized there was just no point. (I also had a white dude suggest that I just lie on that one but be honest on my resume and cover letter. Yeah no lying on government job applications!)

  7. BRR*

    This is definitely a know-your-field situation but I think there are many areas where the answer is “yes, apply.” It’s really tough to tell from the letter and I might be completely wrong but a field with overeducated and underemployed people might require matching a little bit more of the job description than other industries. I know in my field where my experience falls in comparison to many open roles and specific responsibilities and use that to know if I should apply. Again, that’s very field specific advice and I can imagine it might not helpful to a lot of people.

    1. Blue*

      I work in a niche area in a university, and the kinds of things that OP is describing would not a deal breaker in any of the searches I’ve been part of. Because it’s niche, there are very few people with ideal qualifications, so I’m always open to being convinced that the candidate’s other experiences make them worth considering. However, this puts a ton of pressure on your cover letter to “point to evidence showing you’d excel at the job.” I’ve looked at so many resumes where my response is, “Hmm, I’m not sure,” but their cover letter convincingly demonstrates that they’d be a good fit and are worth another look. And vice versa, of course (and that happens most frequently with the over-educated applicants, if I’m honest).

  8. The Other Dawn*

    Very timely. I’m going through this now as I job search. At my longest job (18 years) I was a Jill-of-all-trades. I’ve only been specialized, which is my current job, for four years. On the one hand, my former job helped a lot with getting my current job, but now I feel it’s hurting me as I look for the next one. There are lots of jobs where I have the qualifications, but not the amount of experience needed in those qualifications. Not even close. That’s because many of those things were maybe 10% of my job. It’s very frustrating to figure out which jobs I should apply for and which ones I should bypass.

    As someone who has done some hiring, I’m typically looking for someone with about 80% of what the job description states. There are many things that can be trained, such as software, and it doesn’t worry me if someone doesn’t have that skill set yet. But there are other parts of the job where having certain experience matters, like research and making judgments.

    1. irene adler*

      How did you convince CurrentJob that your Jill-of-all-trades experience would be an asset?

      I’m told that the Jill-o-all-trades experience is a detriment because of the lack of detailed knowledge of one siloed skill (didn’t spend 100% of time on one skill set, rather spent 10% of time on each of 10 skill sets).

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It tends to hurt you if you have very limited time spent doing a specialty like you said. 10-20% of an overall job, that’s a hard sale.

        I moved from an Everything to being focused on accountant/controller functions because I’ve always had at least 50% of my duties as focused on the books, budgets and overall financial health.

        So if you can steadily grow, such as getting into a place where they let you in at 50% of your dream specialty (up from 10% or 20%), you can often then find a next step to being 75%-100% It’s another ladder of sorts. You can’t jump from 10% to 100% unless you find that place who loves a gamble (they exist but it’s a journey to find them).

      2. WeirdlyQualified*

        I’m a Jill-of-all-trades as well, and as such I have ended up in small groups where that’s what they need. Some of these have been in small groups in big companies, some of them have been small IT departments in small companies.
        The way I usually spin it is that I am a fast and independent learner. Point me in the general direction of what you want, and I will teach myself the language, learn the data structure, and develop what you need. I also add in a liberal dose of “I am not one of those cranky IT dudes” and “I love documenting things”. All of this adds up to Jill-of-all-trades, but in a way that points out how darn useful I could be.

      3. The Other Dawn*

        The area I special in at the moment was about 50% of my job at the former company, so for this job it didn’t pose a problem at all.

        Jill-o-all-trades: As to whether it’s a detriment or not, it really depends on the industry and company size. At my current company it’s an asset, but I think it could limit me in my current job search.

    2. Argh!*

      I’m a specialist in a rare and dying specialty, so I’m kind of forced to reach outside of my resume. My selling point is that I’ve learned so many systems and practices that the employer should trust me to be willing and able to learn new things.

      1. Rachel*

        This! And also, because you’ve seen so many systems and things it gives you a good “global picture” to see how existing ideas (technology, equipment) etc could be helpful in their current system. (And gives a great BS radar for things that won’t work as well).

        1. Argh!*

          Yes! And… if they are technically incompetent and resistant to change, they won’t hire me, which is a good thing. I won’t want to be in an environment where I’ll be constantly frustrated.

  9. Tammy*

    There’s also some variation here between industries, as Alison alluded to. It’s not been uncommon in the part of my career where I was an individual contributor (in software/IT/tech) to see job postings that were an agglomeration of all the currently trendy buzzwords/technologies, but where few of them were actually required to do the job. I’ve suspected that some employers think if they just list all the trendy buzzwords, that’s how they’ll find the magical unicorn who can transform everything they do. (Spoiler alert: That won’t work, and being more thoughtful about what you’re looking for is much more likely to be successful.)

    I’ve been at CurrentCompany for 6 years, and in my current (mid-level management) role for a bit more than three. I’m actually curious to see how that dynamic is going to change when I look for my next role outside of my current company. Not planning to do that anytime soon, but interested to see how a job search for a management role is going to look when the time comes. (And if anybody has pro tips about that, I’d love to hear them – like I said, I’m happy here and my current company is good to me, but I doubt I’ll stay here 25 more years and then retire.)

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I am also in IT, and have also seen the “must be proficient in (everything trendy)” job ads.

      Haven’t seen those in a while, but at some point in my career I was seeing a wave of “must have 5 years experience in X technology”, where X technology is only 3 years old.

      The upside of this approach was that, as far as I could tell, these employers did not require a 100% match on everything.

  10. SpecialK*

    The thing is that if OP is applying at universities, it probably is a 100% deal. Our HR department will not allow us to interview candidates who don’t hit every single requirement, even in situations where they have a degree that has a slightly different title than in the post but is the same degree. We had one candidate who was a couple weeks short of the required ___ years of experience and we could not consider her, even though she would have met the requirement by the time we got her in for an interview and certainly by the time she actually started the job.

    1. Cordoba*

      This seems absurd.

      Do you just have an impossibly strict/impractical person making HR policies, or is this approach rooted in some (possibly misinterpreted) actual legal requirement?

      I can’t think of any other reason that a semi-reasonable person would enact and enforce such a thing.

      1. SpecialK*

        Our HR department seems to be under the impression that it’s illegal (as in, discriminatory) to hire someone who doesn’t meet 100% if the requirements when someone else has applied who does meet them all. Even if, on the whole, the applicant who is “deficient” more than makes up for it in other experiences, degrees, certs, or accomplishments. There isn’t a wealth of critical thinking skills to be found in the HR departments of state schools.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They’re doing so to close up possible holes that could lead to legal issues. It’s not inherently discriminatory to say 5yrs required and then using your judgement to allow someone with 4yrs and 50 weeks experience in but starts to muddy waters of how do you pay her and why she was chosen over everyone else. Suddenly the 40 year old you didn’t hire with all the qualifications didn’t get a job but the younger person did. How are you going to prove it wasn’t age discrimination. They’re now digging around for if there are any inappropriate comments about age.

          So it’s best to stay strict to the written policy you can point to.

          It’s red tape. All about those check boxes.

        2. Mediocre White Man*

          So doesn’t that mean that everyone dilutes the requirements by 10-20% , to build in the wiggle room?
          Or at HR just as stupid the other way (you specified 5 years experience, so candidate A’s 10 years isn’t any better than B’s 6)

    2. Lily Rowan*

      That’s wild. I just posted above about not having the qualifications for a job I ended up getting, and that actually is in higher ed. They said X years of experience in higher ed, which I definitely did not have. I’m glad HR put me through!

    3. PieInTheBlueSky*

      This is not true at the community college I work at. I have seen us hire people at both the faculty and staff levels who do not meet 100% of the job description. Sometimes, I’d guess it’s around 75% or even less. We are in a rural area and sometimes don’t get many applications, so that probably plays a role. The OP shouldn’t assume she needs to meet 100% to apply for a position in higher ed. It will depend on the institution and the circumstances.

    4. Blue*

      I work in universities, and it really varies. In most of my experiences, I’ve found that university HRs leave it up to the hiring department. In one previous job, we hired for a position that required a Master’s of some kind, but HR let us decide whether we wanted to consider MA candidates who were still wrapping up their degrees. In another, the “X amount of experience in a niche subfield” was a deal breaker, but HR left it up to us to decide if a person’s experience did or did not qualify. And for my current position, they decided they only wanted to consider people with a Master’s in hand, so they had HR filter out everyone else from the start. (Those were all at different universities, by the way.)

    5. Academician*

      The university I work at (and have hiring training from) deals with this by having “required qualifications” (must have 100%, part of legal fair hiring requirement) and “preferred qualifications” (usually more specific experience or nice-to-haves). They also encourage hiring committees to assume experience is relevant if they’re unsure – this is an equity thing to give folks with backgrounds that aren’t what the committee expected a fair chance, you can get more information in an interview if needed.

      On getting jobs that aren’t a perfect fit – doing a good job editing your resume to frame your experience as relevant to the particular posting helps, too. I came to my current job from a related field, and I made an effort to use the language in the posting and from the job’s field.

      1. pleaset*

        “They also encourage hiring committees to assume experience is relevant if they’re unsure”

        I like this. A lot.

    6. Minerva McGonagall*

      The master’s degree may be the biggest deal, even though it’s in progress. I didn’t get a single interview until I finished my master’s when I was applying for “Master’s Preferred” jobs. Once I had it in hand, the flood gates opened.

      1. plant or zombie? depends on the day*

        Depending on the field, this can be true. I can’t hire anyone who doesn’t have a master’s degree and the appropriate license in hand. Because, until they have those two documents, they cannot legally do the job I am hiring them to do. I’m in health care, so things are different here. The other thing I’ve learned is that, if I try to interview folks who don’t have the documents in hand, they won’t commit to me anyways. So, I just become a bargaining chip or a backup plan for them.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        That’s what I suspect – in academia, the degree requirement tends to be very firm. If the OP has an end date listed for the masters (in the relatively near future) she might be considered, particularly considering the glacial hiring pace of academia, but she would likely need the degree before starting work.

        The other thing to consider is the competition. If they’re getting 100 applications for a specialized job posting, and 20 of them have 95%+ of the requirements, there’s not a lot of incentive to spend time digging through the remaining 80% of the applications.

        I work in a relatively small field of academia – there are typically about 60 faculty jobs advertised per year in the entire US, which hire from an international application pool. But there are still a lot more people applying for jobs than there are positions, and competition for desirable jobs is intense. I’ve definitely seen postdocs pour days of work into applications for jobs where they didn’t stand a chance, so it’s not necessarily a situation where ‘it can’t hurt to apply’ .

    7. Dr. Doll*

      In that case you need to move some of those “required qualifications” to “desired qualifications.”

  11. ursula*

    I like Alison’s discussion of how this plays out, but I would add possibility (c): the employer discovers that they can’t get someone with all of the desired qualifications for the pay/opportunity that is on offer. I suspect this is the case for lots of non-profits and smaller offices/businesses. So you may look at a posting from a big company with hundreds of employees and big institutionalized HR differently than a smaller shop.

    As an aside, my non-profit is hiring right now and we are trying to combat some of this stuff by specifying our must-haves vs our good-to-haves. I feel like this is part of recruiting ‘diversity’, given how many women (and esp women of colour) will be reluctant to apply if they don’t meet all the specs. Eg. “The successful candidate will be a licenced Teapot Decorator with demonstrated experience working with heritage porcelain. Successful candidates should also have some combination of the following skills: teapot display staging, advanced glaze techniques, crack repair, and teapot inventory management.” I wish this would become a standard thing (along with stated salary ranges) in job ads.

    1. Lavender Menace*

      It’s the case with large employers with hundreds (or thousands) of employees, too. I work and am involved in hiring for a giant corporation and we’ve definitely hired below our desired qualifications for this exact reason – we wanted someone more senior, but if we couldn’t we’d hire a junior person. I actually persuaded and worked with our hiring team to slightly change the way that we do job descriptions so that we wouldn’t inadvertently screen out junior candidates we’d otherwise love to talk to if our mid-level pool was thin (especially women; I work in a field where women are underrepresented), in much the same way that you mention, ursula (e.g., “minimum requirements” vs “bonus points”).

    2. Legal Beagle*

      As a woman in the non-profit field – keep doing what you’re doing! This practice provides some much-needed transparency, and in the past, has definitely encouraged me to apply for jobs I would have written off if every single qualification was under “Required.” I hope this becomes a trend as employers see that it helps bring in good, diverse talent.

    3. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Yes, I find in my area of the world, a lot of postings ask for an absurd list of qualifications ~for the available salary range~. Asking for director-level skills when you’re paying someone as an associate manager or a coordinator is not gonna get you a good candidate in a competitive market. Tons of qualified people exist, but it turns out they expect a decent paycheck in exchange for their skills, and cannot pay rent with “a family atmosphere” or healthcare costs with “no benefits for 6 months.” I see these jobs sit open for weeks and sometimes months. And yet my own place of business is exceedingly guilty of complaining how hard it is to fill roles in my city and another expensive global city — it wouldn’t be hard if you stopped underpaying the people actually doing work or offered more generous benefits than competitors!

      1. Librarianne*

        Yes, this. I’ve seen lots of postings where the company seems to assume that living in [fancy city] is enough of a draw to justify gross underpayment. Of course, no one who isn’t supported by a trust fund could afford to live in that city on such low wages…

        A few years ago I found an ad for my dream job but didn’t apply because the salary, although much higher than my current one, would give me 20% less buying power in the new city compared to where I live. Personally, I’d rather be able to afford my own apartment in Texas than live with 5 roommates in California!

  12. Cat wrangler*

    If you apply online, there’s often deal-breaker questions which you have to answer to progress the application ie ‘do you have a degree?’ If you give the ‘wrong’ answer, you’ll be bounced out. If you answer ‘yes’ the next question is likely to ask the degree class which will bounce out more people if it’s below the stated class they’re looking for. The good thing is that this saves time as you’ll either pass the category or not as you go along. The problem is when someone holds non-traditional qualifications (or qualifications in the wrong order – say you sat /resat a school exam as an adult) often the programme hasn’t been written to take account of these.

  13. Not Today Satan*

    I know OP mentions specific credentials, but when I was searching, I think I had a serious case of imposter syndrome, or underestimating myself. There were a few jobs I applied for that I felt were stretches, and the feedback I got was that I was overqualified. I actually had better success (more interviews, offers) with jobs that I felt underqualified for.

    1. irene adler*

      So how did you fair, assuming you accepted these job offers from the “felt underqualified for” companies?
      See, I know I’ll get laughed out of the building if I did that.
      The advice I get is apply to entry level positions. Which didn’t work at all.

  14. Pudgy Patty*

    I’ve been thinking about something that relates to this: How do you make the jump from a manager to a director? I know titles are meaningless, but in general, to me this means going from a subject matter expert and managing 1-2 people, to serving in a leadership role with a larger team and much more visibility/responsibility. I know people do this all the time when they switch companies; they’re also able to switch levels. But I’ve never felt comfortable with this jump in seniority, even at organizations where I’ve been in a manager role for years. Something about the leap to Director or higher, without the actual experience, is scary. I applied for the first time to Director-level positions this week, but felt like a complete fraud. How does one get over that, and how do you show that you have the experience to handle senior-level work you’ve never done before?

    1. Pop*

      This might be better suited for the open thread tomorrow! Alison asks that we stay on topic in the comments.

      1. Anonym*

        I’d nominate it for an actual post! What do you think, Alison?

        Would love to get your take ~and~ the community’s.

    2. Jumping up*

      Think about it this way, anyone you know who is currently a Director was a new director at some point in his/her life. At some point, you had never been a manager but you made the jump to manager. Think back to the first company that gave you a chance to be manager when you had no management experience but demonstrated qualifications where you could potentially be a successful manager. Can you demonstrate these same qualifications to be successful at the director level?

    3. Tammy*

      I’m curious what others think of this too (my next logical career jump would be to a Director). But one piece of advice I got from an executive is that a common trajectory for peopole to follow is “move to a higher level position at a smaller company”. If your management experience is limited to 1-2 people, through, maybe your next leap should be to a “Senior Manager” role where you’re responsible for more people? I don’t know. This is the stuff I’m thinking about as I set my 5-year career goals, so I’m interested what others have to say.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        That’s interesting — I spent the middle part of my career doing basically the same job at bigger and bigger places, starting a from a small place. So I went from supervising one person, to two, to five, without much of a title change.

  15. insert pun here*

    Many (not all) universities are very bureaucratic and rigid about this stuff, so if you don’t have all the required qualifications, your application is not ever going to be forwarded to the hiring manager — HR will simply reject you on this basis. The end result here is that a lot of hiring managers actually understate what they want as a “required qualification” and put what they really want in the “preferred qualification.” If you meet 80% of the latter, then apply, I think.

  16. Bertha*

    I know this is super nerdy.. but during my last job search, I created a spreadsheet of jobs I had applied for, if they called me for a phone interview, if I had an in-person interview, etc. I started to see patterns in who did, or did not, contact me by using this spreadsheet, and slowly narrowed where to focus my efforts. I was looking to stay in my field but switch industries (to legal, or healthcare) without any official training in either field. This frankly shouldn’t matter in my field, but to some employers, it does, so in that sense I was applying to many jobs I was only 75% qualified for. I would say by far, what mattered most was industry. All my work experience was corporate, and even in a completely different field, I realized after a while that I was much more likely to be called back by a corporation vs. a university or a non-profit, regardless of how close of an exact alignment my skills were. I was one of the finalists for two university job interviews and they always ended up hiring someone else with less experience who had a university background. I think I understand it better now seeing some of the differences I have in my current (corporate) job with coworkers coming from an academic background – but at the time, I found it frustrating.

    This might not be the specific case at all with you, but still, keeping track may point to some other patterns you didn’t see, and determine where to focus your energy better.

    1. JBI*

      I work in tech in an area where I often have to learn new industries quickly.
      I think people can also overestimate how different their own sector and organization is from other areas.

    2. Wheezy Weasel*

      I’ve had similar experiences: once you have University/College experience, it opens the door to working in other Universities and puts you ahead of other candidates. The times I’ve stepped out into the corporate world for a few years have been with small companies who were either selling product to Universities, or willing to take a chance that my skillset would transfer. I had a conversation with my current corporate colleague that I still ‘talk like an academic’ at times. Well yes, I spent 10 years in that environment and it’s hard to drop some of those habits. I feel pretty certain that if the job market were flush with candidates, I’d never have gotten my current job because they would have preferred someone with more corporate experience. They were willing to take a chance, but only when circumstances made it hard difficult to find their preferred candidate.

    3. Oaktree*

      Are you in libraries? I ask because I’m currently corporate but want to move into academic. But I have no idea how to get from point A to point B, and I keep hearing that unless you have academic experience, they’ll never hire you, no matter how much transferable experience you have in corporate libraries. So how do you get the experience in order to get the experience? It seems impossible.

      1. Candace*

        That depends too. In places like Boston, San Francisco, LA, Denver, Seattle, NYC, etc. where there are library schools and every posting attracts 100+ applicants, it is damn near impossible to break into academe. In less-popular places, ie smaller or more rural, they are begging for candidates, and will happily hire people from other types of libraries. I’ve been in both and gone from havind a high of 368 applications to 0-10. If you are mobile, you can get in.

  17. JBI*

    I noticed my wife (a very well qualified lawyer) would mentally put herself out of the running for jobs very quickly whereas I work in tech and would be more likely to assume if I didn’t know something in the job description, I could learn it quickly.
    Of course, I have the spectacular unearned confidence of the mediocre white man.

    1. nnn*

      The thing is, even if you can learn the thing quickly, how would you prove it to the prospective employer? Every candidate is going to *say* they can learn things, whether they can or not.

      And I say this as someone who learns things quickly, and whose past life in tech was entirely self-taught. I could only get hired by people who were also self-taught, and there’s no way to tell if the decision-maker is self-taught when applying for a job.

  18. Another Academic Librarian*

    If you were applying to my university, you would have to meet all of the required qualifications in order to be hired–the listed qualifications are considered to be the absolute bare minimum, and we cannot hire anyone who does not meet them. The preferred qualifications are a different story, and depending on what they are it is probably reasonable to apply if you meet some or most of them.

  19. CatCat*

    I went to a presentation and discussion of gender gaps in my field (law) on pay, partnership, and even just getting hired. One sobering statistic to me was that typically men would apply for jobs where they meet 50-60% of the qualifications while women would apply for jobs when they met 80% of the qualifications. Were women better at making targeted decisions on jobs, or were they prematurely taking themselves out of the running?

    1. JBI*

      “Were women better at making targeted decisions on jobs, or were they prematurely taking themselves out of the running?”
      You’d have to check on the success rate of getting the jobs they applied for, I guess?

      1. CatCat*

        Yes, but that information was not known. The whole topic of the presentation was “is it us or them?” meaning who is really holding women back in the profession. It seemed a blend of both. All I know is that I started applying for things after that I thought were significant reaches (and normally would not have applied for) and I got them.

    2. Anoncorporate*

      In my experience, companies are also more willing to take a chance on and train men/whites than women and minorities. In other words, companies are more willing to hire people of a privileged backgrounds based on potential, whereas if you’re a minority, you have to have a really solid background to even dream of being considered for the same role. I’ve seen it in informational interviews as well. Whenever I ask people how they got to where they are, white men seem to enter their fields earlier in life and with much less experience than nonwhites and women, who usually get postgrad degrees before getting their first job in this field. One white male I recently spoke to (10 years senior to me) admitted that I was currently more skilled (credential wise) than he was for his role. This is all anecdata based on my experiences, but it’s still astounding.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Right. If you’re not a white guy, you need to be spectacularly better than all the white guys to get a chance.

  20. Oxford Comma*

    I am in academia. If you apply to a job at my institution and do not meet the required qualifications, you go in an automatic “no” file.

    Once? maybe we just write it off. If we keep seeing your application for jobs for which you do not meet the required qualifications, now we start to remember you and not in a good way. By the time you apply for a job that you are qualified for, well, now you’re THAT person.

    All of that said, if you explicitly address the required qualifications in your cover letter and can come close, you have a chance. For instance, “I will have my Masters degree by February 2019.” “I am a fast learner and feel that my experience with [name of similar database] will help me get up to speed on [name of required database].”

  21. Bossy Magoo*

    This is timely, as this just happened today. Husband is applying for a job at the community college from which he graduated 31 years ago. He has over 25 years experience in what they’re looking for. They have “bachelor’s degree” as a minimum requirement. He has an associates degree (that’s the max this school offers) from THEM *plus* over 25 years of experience and the automated application program rejected him because of the lack of bachelor’s degree.

    I told him to call the HR department and tell them what happened, and that he has equivalent experience, and see what they say. It’s an administrative position, not a teaching position, so I’m unsure why equivalent experience wouldn’t be acceptable…especially when his degree is literally FROM THEM!!

    1. Oxford Comma*

      If their requirement is a bachelor’s degree, that’s the requirement. They won’t be able to look at people who don’t meet it. I cannot stress this enough.

      Where I am, we literally will have a checklist. If the applicant does not meet the required qualification, that’s it, they’re a no. We’ve had jobs with a specific type of Masters degree required and get people with PhDs for other disciplines and we cannot even consider them.

    2. Lala*

      Actually some colleges prefer to hire candidates who did NOT attend their institution, to prevent knowledge/expertise from becoming too circular. And if it says a bachelor’s degree is a requirement…well, it’s a requirement. They can be really strict with that if it’s a public college, because of state/etc. oversight. Theoretically, even if the person has gobs of experience, they could get in trouble for hiring someone who doesn’t meet the required qualifications. It’s at least partially a guard against nepotism/cronyism.

    3. Gumption*

      Automated systems are the worst. It doesn’t matter what your cover letter says, if you can’t check “Yes” in the box, you can’t get thru. That happened to me once: I was all ready to explain how I could still do the job minus X but the online automated application wouldn’t even go forward unless I ticked yes. I was sad.

      1. Cordoba*

        If you really believe you’re qualified but are running into an arbitrary roadblock due to a poorly implemented automated system, why not just tick “yes” and then explain once you have contact with a person?

        Best case they’re reasonable, understand what you did and why, and give you a fair shake in the process.

        Worst case they’re not, and you get rejected from a job you didn’t have to begin with. So what? There’s no online application cops who are going to haul you away for doing an end run around a stupid form.

        Please note, I’m not saying that you should actually deceive an employer or lie about your qualifications. I’m explicitly saying you should own up to and explain the difference at the first opportunity. Just don’t let a poorly designed system deprive you of that opportunity.

        I’m currently hiring for a technician with teapot whistle experience. I have no control over some HR goon making a bad web form that doesn’t recognize teapot bell experience. So if you have bell experience and the form says “Do you have whistle experience yes/no?” just say “Yes” and maybe we can talk it over later. For sure, if you say “no” I’ll *definitely* never get the chance to evaluate you further.

        1. Hola!*

          A lot of online applications have terrible user interfaces, I think it would be believable that someone checked yes as a mistake, too, rather than to be intentionally deceitful.

        2. Doodle*

          No, don’t do this. You’re lying about meeting a qualification. I’m at a university. If checking that box gets you past the initial screen, the hiring committee is going to catch it when they review resumes. At that point, they’ll say, “Huh! I wonder how that happened” (dopey stuff does happen) and put it in the reject pile. If it somehow gets past that stage and you get an interview (phone or in person), now you’re in trouble. Because you’re going to have to come clean, and not only will your application go in the reject pile, but also the committee is going to be peeved that they wasted an interview slot and they are also likely to be unimpressed with your integrity. And they will remember when you apply for another position.

  22. Amber Rose*

    I feel like there’s no winning the job game. Either you’re a person frantically trying to find work, or you’re a company and you can’t get anyone to show up.


    I wonder, if you apply for something that’s way too much of a stretch, does that company write you off forever as having terrible judgement? Or do they forget your name 30 seconds after they trash your resume.

    1. Like all things in life, it depends.*

      I think it depends on the company. Some companies have so many internal recruiters where Jane may discard your resume and put you in her mental “this idiot doesn’t have a sense of his/her skill set” whereas Bob might be like “Not a good fit, moving on” and months down the line, you apply for a job that is suitable for your skillset and Bob calls you for an interview without having any recollection of moving past your resume for Previous Role.

      There was one temp agency I had heard of where one recruiter earned the reputation of being a Royal B and would unnecessarily red-flag candidates. She was known to internal agency staff as Royal B and some staff members even took Royal B’s red flags with a grain of salt. Royal B also had the same rep with the temp staff who worked for the agency where some people saw that she was in charge of staffing a certain role and chose not to apply even though they were qualified just so they didn’t have to deal with her.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      In forget most resumes within a minute. Even a great one.

      I’ve had some weird ones I’ll chuckle over or sigh at then it’s done.

      One guy tried to say he increased revenue by 10,000,000 in his last job. Sure you did, Mark Cuban. But then we shrugged and kept looking for our person in the other applications.

    3. Gumption*

      My husband had some limited job experience and his PhD work. He applied six times to the same employer for six different jobs, each having varying job descriptions but a lot of similarities. The sixth one finally got him in.

      I think most functional places won’t write you off forever… and they probably forget. Unless there’s a database.

  23. A Paralegal*

    I think it has much to do with where you are in the job search, unemployed for example, and how the ad reads. I’m in Teapot Legal but there are virtually no teapot legal jobs in my area. However there are jobs in Coffee Pot Legal, Cocoa Mug Legal, and Wine Glass Legal. I’m not a perfect fit for any of those though I have some skills that will transfer over. So if Coffee Pot Legal was looking for 2 years of experience and several programs, one of which I may not know, I’d likely apply. I’d have enough experience to make up some of the two years and can learn a program. But if they were looking for 5-7 years of experience, it’s a fast pace environment where they aren’t going to train so I wouldn’t apply.

    If I was unemployed though I might apply to my later example just in case.

  24. What are they really looking for?*

    What if their descriptions of the successful candidate are more vague such as:
    – Experience in llama grooming is a plus but not necessary. We will train.
    – Must be articulate
    – Well-groomed and presentable
    – Enjoys interacting with customers
    – Can read and write in English (US based job)

    Isn’t almost everyone articulate, well-groomed, enjoys interacting with customers and can read and write English? So wouldn’t everyone apply for a job like this?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No…not everyone hits those marks at all.

      That sounds very entry level though and they’re willing to talk to just about anyone who wants to try.

      I’ve passed on a lot of people for that position who are poorly groomed (interviewed in tshirt, baseball cap and filthy jeans) and who may have issues reading or writing given their messy, with many errors and omitted items on applications, etc.

      1. What are they really looking for?*

        But everyone THINKS they hit those marks. That’s the problem.

        And some of these poorly groomed, dirty jeans-wearing people do get hired for these llama grooming jobs. But they certainly didn’t hit that requirement! It amazes me the quality of talent that some companies will hire.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          “Fake it till you make it” in action. Also most cannot evaluate themselves.

          There are places who will hire you sight unseen too! Amazon stocks their warehouse personnel like that.

          This is a crazy world. I have collection agents try to tell me they can do full cycle bookkeeping. They believe it. I’ve seen the trainwrecks afterwards as I’m scrubbing books from Bad Bookkeeping Horror Stories.

          1. What are they really looking for?*

            What if you asked them “Please describe for me what full cycle bookkeeping is.” If they can actually describe it, then you can ask them “What is Step G of full cycle bookkeeping?” to make sure they fully understood the job. Would that have reduced the amount of train wrecks?

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Yes, that’s why my boss asked me to explain a balance sheet to him.

              Sadly a large portion of people hiring a bookkeeper doesn’t know the job themselves to do such simple vetting processes.

              Business folks are regularly absolutely terrible at hiring. They suck at job descriptions, expectations and onboarding. They’re great at The Big Picture or Their Specialty and depend on their gut or just whimsical other nonsense.

              I don’t hire the people who screw up books, I just come in later and clean it up. I’ve had a couple times where my replacements have been horrible but not my circus any longer at that time. So I got to see first hand the bad fit and exaggerated skills failing in front of my face.

  25. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I would pay attention to posts to look for signs they’re willing to budge. “5 years experience preferred” verses “5 years experience required”. That would be my first weeding out tool. Then I would only apply if I can add a cover letter to tell them why I believe the lack of skill X is not going to be an issue (I’m self taught in Y and Z, X is similar to those skills) etc.

    I have gotten burned on trying long shots out and I’ll never do it again if I can help it. Some hiring managers are much more relaxed and depending on the applicant pool are willing to be flexible.

    Meanwhile I keep getting loads of assistant managers trying to move up into a management position every day. I appreciate the desire to move up! However, if you can’t at least sell me why you’re fit for a promotion…you’re wasting so much time. Note, being an assistant for 1-2 years isn’t enough of a sell, not when you’re looking at outside companies!!

    I’m over here in all black in perma mourning for the death of cover letters. I’m seeing less than a 50% rate on these things over the last 3 years of hiring. Just send a great cover letter and hearts will sing.

    1. Cover letters aren't always read*

      The problem is, I’ve found that a lot of employers don’t even bother reading cover letters. I can tell because I addressed some of their interview questions in my cover letter.

      One time, I accidentally put the wrong title in the cover letter and still got an interview. I was amazed (and of course very clueless having just graduated college).

      1. Oxford Comma*

        OP said she’s looking at “a niche field within nonprofits/universities.” I don’t know anything about nonprofits, but I’m academia and we actually read the cover letters.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Then you’re damned if you do and damned of you don’t.

        General PSA: every hiring manager has their own way of doing it. AAM us great for “in a perfect world” scenarios to be spoken about. Of course you’ll run into people who do it their own way, ignore cover letters or ask the same question 4 times.

        We ask the same questions in phone screening as we do in person interview

        People BUY resumes and cover letter services. Tell me in your own words if you’ve done it. I want you to elaborate usually.

        It’s why places also require you enter in everything from your resume into an application form.

        If those who don’t read cover letters mean you just stop, you’re going to miss out on opportunities. Doing more work than required by the lowest standards bar isn’t a bad thing. Doing the bare minimum means I’m not interested in giving you a whirl.

  26. MuseumChick*

    There are so many variables but generally I think if you match the job description 75%, it’s reasonable to apply for it. I recently at an interview at a museum that focused collecting and displaying Coffee Pots. I have experience working with Tea Pots, so similar but fundamentally different. They job description made it clear that experience with Coffee Pots was a high priority for them. I’m being asked back for a second interview because even though I have never worked with Coffee Pots I have almost everything else they are looking for.

    1. I, me and myself*

      And that’s an example of how it’s tricky. I advertised for a Senior Teapot Designer, expertise in Teapot design required. Teapots are rare, so hardly any applicants had teapot experience, they had coffee pot, or water jog, or tea mug experience. In this case, I meant it about teapot expertise, so I had to reject them all. But I guess they couldn’t tell that I had a job like that, whereas your museum didn’t.

  27. Oof*

    A “employment coach” a friend of mine worked with encouraged to apply for everything – even positions ridiculously out of their league. I listened, jaw dropped, as they explained with confidence that applying for director level positions, even as a no-experience, changing fields individual, was a great idea. “But they will see me and keep me in mind for something else!” The coach pressed them on this idea, and was constantly sending job opportunities for director and up. I had to sit my friend down, and explain that this was not going to help them at all. They may remember them, but for being tone-deaf, and inexperienced. Somehow the coach thinks that even having 10% is enough to get in the door!

  28. Elizabeth West*

    I wrote most of a blog post about this very thing earlier and then abandoned it because it was too depressing, LOL. In my case, I’m not only underqualified but too far away. There’s nothing here in terms of stretch jobs that I could do, and employers in a larger area like, say, St. Louis would probably find most of their wish list right there. They have no incentive to call someone who’s three hours away.

    I don’t think it hurts to focus on transferable skills, like what Alison said about the databases, and any way you can contribute with those. If you’re working now and can pay for courses online, you could pick up some additional basics. You might even be able to use them in your current job.

  29. Anoncorporate*

    I apply for jobs I can see myself doing well and at minimum, am able to do, even if I don’t have all the credentials. I want to reiterate Alison’s point that there is frequently a discrepancy between the written job description and what the HM is actually looking for. In my field, people definitely over list credentials. If you took the job descriptions at their word, you need to know every statistical software package in existence and have expertise in 3 different fields at once.

  30. Rez123*

    It really depends on the job. If it’s a certain titel that is protected by law then it is not worth applying if not qualified. If they are soft skills or computer programs (that are not 100% of the work) then applying is totally fine.

  31. master of all sciences*

    In the fields where I apply, there are usually hundreds of applicants, so you really need qualifications over the formal requirements, but of course, not too much extra not to be overqualified. There are often hidden requirements – typically illegal to express openly – like age or ethnicity.

    Moreover, it is said that you cannot apply during a year for another position of the same level in the same company. Some big corporations explicitly reject to receive it. Hence it makes no sense to apply random, if you lose your opportunities for a year or so.

  32. Gumption*

    It’s really hard when you’ve met the basic job description and requirements…but they’re still looking for a unicorn because you’re replacing someone going on mat leave and they LOVE her and what they *want* is an exact clone of that person and no one, no matter how well they meet the requirements or or how well they interview, is the exact clone of the person leaving.

    I had a comment made by the HR rep to me just like that: they’ve interviewed so many, she’s leaving in a few shorts weeks, they need to choose, they won’t be able to find someone just like *her.* (I wasn’t picked – can you imagine the stress of trying to live up to your predecessor and the countdown is on for her return?)

  33. Data Analyst*

    When I was working on my Master’s I thought I would be proactive and apply for things requiring a Master’s even though I wasn’t done with mine. I included info about it, making it very clear that I was to graduate within a couple months, blah blah…no reply from anyone. Once the actual graduation date had passed, I suddenly got responses. So that is something to consider as well.

  34. Bulbasaur*

    This is heavily dependent on the employer in question. I can remember when I was helping to interview candidates for a third party agency looking to fill a client position, and it seemed pretty clear to me that they were after a unicorn. We found someone who met something like 85% of the criteria, had obviously transferable skills that meant the other 15% shouldn’t present too much of a problem, and generally had a background that was very much a match for the position (I was actually impressed that we’d found someone who was such a close fit). We put them forward and they were declined for an interview, with a snippy reply asking us to please read the job requirements more carefully and not put forward applicants who were unqualified.

    That annoyed me, especially since the interviewing wasn’t part of my day job and I had been helping out the recruitment arm of the business (a side issue was that they had been leaning on us more and more for this kind of thing, to the point where I thought the recruitment business would probably be unprofitable if they had to account for all our time properly). So for every other candidate I did exactly as the client had asked, went through the requirements one by one until I found one the candidate didn’t meet (which usually took about 2 minutes) then recommended we not interview them or put them forward.

    We heard nothing further for 12 months, after which we received the same position description again, with an added note saying that the client “might be willing to consider applicants who do not meet 100% of the requirements.”

    1. Bulbasaur*

      On the flip side, I once applied for a obvious ‘unicorn’ role where I had about 80% coverage of the requirements and arguments for having transferable or related skills in the other areas. They were very interested and I made it through two rounds of interviews before being screened out. That’s more what I would expect from a reasonable employer in that case.

      The more useful listings will divide their requirements up into required, strongly preferred, nice to have (with the first category usually being quite a short list). In that case you should absolutely have 100% coverage of the first category in order to reply, as they are likely to be genuine deal breakers.

  35. Tau*

    There’s also the situation where there are things that could swing the application either way that aren’t listed on the job ad because they didn’t think of them or thought it was too unlikely they’d get someone where any of it applied.

    This was very fun when I applied for my last job: on paper, I met almost none of the qualifications. They wanted 3-5 years experience, I had two. They wanted experience in programming languages A, B or C, I’d only worked in D and E. Same for databases, everything. I actually ended up doing a programming skills test using a language I didn’t know, which was… fun.

    However, they were a small company getting started in the field of digital teapot analysis, which has some very special requirements and pitfalls and where none of their present employees had any teapot experience. Guess who had worked solely on teapots for their entire career as a developer so far?

    Given that, it wasn’t entirely surprising that they interviewed me, liked me, and hired me. What was surprising was that in the interview, the director told me that my skills and experience were 110% what they were looking for. My reaction was basically “um… if that’s true, you should really rethink your job ad. But, er, thanks?” Now, I take it as proof that a lot of requirements are actually negotiable and there may be desperate-to-haves that never make it onto the job ad.

    1. Bulbasaur*

      I’ve done the programming skills test for a language I didn’t know thing as well. I didn’t enjoy the experience. They are lucky you were still willing to consider working for them.

      1. Tau*

        I was definitely frustrated at the time, especially because I was under the restriction that I was only allowed to use an IDE and the official documentation for help (i.e.: no StackOverflow). Thankfully, one of the languages I did know was very similar to one of the options, but I still spent way too much time trying to figure out basic, basic things that anyone actually developing in it would know (and that you’d have been able to find in a minute tops on StackOverflow!!) Not a great experience, and I remember pointing this out in some detail on the feedback form for the test.

        However, the job looked so amazing in many ways that I kept an open mind (thankfully – it’s been great overall). And it did result in the following exchange in the interview:

        Interviewer: So you did your skills test in [Language] and did very well, but I’m looking over your CV right now and I don’t see it anywhere. Can you explain where you got your experience in it?
        Me: I… didn’t? I don’t have any?

        which is a very fond memory of mine for the guy’s expression afterwards. :) He seemed fairly impressed!

        1. Bulbasaur*

          Haha. That would definitely go a long way to make up for it.

          In my case I had a small amount of experience in the language in question, but it was self-taught and entirely focused around accomplishing a particular research task involving numerical processing of large data volumes in multiple dimensions. So I knew my way around pointers and arithmetic functions really well but not much else. The test covered them very briefly but spent most of its time on string manipulation, language features etc. and I just didn’t know them. I told them as much once I realized the direction it was heading and tried to frame my answers in terms of how I would approach the problem if it came up in practice, how I would go about figuring out what I needed to know, and so on.

          They weren’t having any of it. Instead they wanted to go through the remaining 15-20 questions one by one and confirm that yes, the candidate was indeed correct when he said he didn’t know this topic. Way to sell the candidate on your workplace, guys. ‘We value strict adherence to narrowly-defined processes, even when it’s clear they won’t produce the intended outcomes!’

          1. Bulbasaur*

            But I did get to rewrite some string manipulation functions using pointers and memory referencing (“I’m… not sure I’ve ever seen it done that way”).

  36. Laura H.*

    Some requirements are… a little batty to me… some jobs where it doesn’t look like a Driver License would be needed have it listed as a requirement. As someone who doesn’t have one (and has a chronic condition that adds steps to the process of obtaining one- I’m certain that if I could drive, I’d need a modified vehicle -ramp, controls etc.)

    Sorry, I’m a little touchy cause job hunting sucks but I am soo not made for unemployedness.

    1. Human Embodiment of the 100 Emoji*

      Laura, I’m not an expert, but I’ve read many articles about this and believe strongly that when positions that don’t entail operating a vehicle on the job require a driver’s license, its pretty much a way to tacitly discriminate against low-income or disabled people who may need to use public transportation. Maybe not all companies are doing it intentionally, but its a really horrible practice. I don’t know if that makes you feel better, but at least know that you’re not alone in finding this a ridiculous requirement.

      1. pleaset*

        “its pretty much a way to tacitly discriminate against low-income or disabled people who may need to use public transportation.”


        Credit checks also are used to weed out poorer people.

        1. It’s not always evil*

          It may also be that the company is giving you a corporate credit card and needs to do the credit check for that?

    2. Astrea*

      I’m legally blind and can’t drive, so “Must have a valid driver’s license” has stopped me from applying for sooo many jobs that I was otherwise possibly-qualified for. I was just looking at another such description minutes ago. Those jobs tended to involve travel to do outreach, meet with stakeholders, etc. I could do that if if those were multiple-person duties and someone else drove, but nobody wants to have two employees do a task that one employee can do alone. A former employer actually did that for me, temporarily, so I could do a task that I loved and excelled at, and then said they couldn’t keep justifying the inefficiency of it.

  37. Heidi*

    I saw a Washington Post job ad a few weeks that included a note that basically said, “Please apply if you meet 70% of these applications. I like the directness.

  38. OP*

    Thanks for the responses, everyone! I feel like Minerva McGonagall’s comment about needing a Masters before anyone considers you for jobs may be the answer in my situation, especially because people can take a ridiculously long time to finish graduate degrees in my field and “in progress” probably doesn’t hold much weight with employers.

    1. Oaktree*

      If you’re in libraries, archives, or museums, yes- you will not get a job without an MI/MISt/MLS/MMSt. And it’s because you’re not yet qualified for those jobs. “In progress” means very little in this field.

      It is frustrating, but if you’re currently still finishing your master’s, you should have student job opportunities (perhaps in your university’s library system) that will serve to bolster your application once you have the degree.

  39. Andi Warhell*

    If this OP isn’t talking about Museum work, I’ll eat my master’s degree.

    Unfortunately, in this field, 9 times out of 10 it’s who you know or who you’ve managed to get to know in the years that you’ve been unemployed and volunteering/cold calling/meeting for coffee, and that’s IF they don’t already have an internal candidate. However, I will say that I personally have experienced the hiring of people who maybe had 75% of the qualifications, but they had the right combination of experience and niche training (collections databases, object handling, etc.) I will also echo someone above who mentioned a killer cover letter. Those get attention for sure, if only because there’s often a lot of writing involved in museum positions.

  40. Sydni*

    In my experience at a state university, if we listed something as “required qualification,” it has to be met 100%. The “desired qualifications” were left up to hiring committee, but we had to use a scoring rubric to weigh each candidates experience/skills in each listed area then the top 3 scorers were interviewed. If the “required qualifications” listed Masters Degree, it needed to be completed with diploma in-hand by the time the person is on-boarded with HR.

  41. Rainy days*

    My husband has two MAs and applied for a manager type position in his alma mater’s area studies office (one of his MAs is in that area of study exactly). He fit the job description perfectly but was never called for an interview. He knew the office well enough to reach out and inquire about the reason–he was informed that due to the candidate pool, they only ended up interviewing Ph.D. holders. If you are in a similarly over-educated underemployed field as you indicate, you may need to have 120% of the qualifications in order to be considered.

  42. Sally Sparrow*

    This is super interesting to me to read because I applied for a job earlier this month where the Required Criteria was 5 years of experience. I only have 3 1/2 years (though with a longer work history, but current job in industry pretends that doesn’t exist because it was pre-bachelor’s and only 90% FTE). I still got called in for an interview and am currently in a reference stage (fingers crossed). On the flip side it is very unique skill set and I’ve had an extremely unique (also unusual and borderline unhealthy) experience at current org where I fully believe I’ve developed the same skills as someone with 5 years of experience.

  43. Eleanor Konik*

    Just chiming in to note that in states with a teacher shortage, “must have a teaching certificate is also pretty flexible.” It’s really more like “has ever substitute taught before and is considering getting a teaching certificate sometime in the next 2 years.”

  44. 653-CXK*

    I think in all of the interviews I’ve been invited to, 90% of them are because the hiring manager found my resume interesting and want to talk about the position and my experience. If a position requires five years of experience, and I tell them I have much more than that, they could see that as a positive (minimal training and maintenance) or a negative (not versatile, no matching skills, may have to offer a larger salary than normal) – the latter resulting in a quick Letter of Nope. The other 10% are likely because they found someone else ahead of time interview as a courtesy (“We know who we want, but let’s see if this person tops that) , but are nice enough to retain my resume for future positions.

  45. Deanna Troi*

    I’m in the reference stage for a job that I would have said I had 70-80% of the qualifications for based on their ad, and I basically wrote off applying. I applied anyway after some prodding from my partner, and it was pretty clear in my second interview that I was one of the best candidates they’d seen. We talked about this during my interview, and it turns out HR had placed the wrong emphasis on certain aspects of the role and underemphasised the amount of training. My rule now is if I fit most of the requirements (and I can see myself doing it) I apply.

  46. MissDisplaced*

    OP, I’ve bern rejected for jobs (pre and post interview) where I really did match the job description 100% and practically line-by-line! Who the heck even knows why.

    Generally, it’s fine to reach a bit. However, I’d say you should aim to match at least 80-90% of what they’re asking for to be a considered match. And it depends on what those things are. Something like a software might not be a big deal, especially if you know something similar.
    If you’re not getting ANY response at all, I would take another look at your resume and cover letters. While 20 applications is not unheard-of during lean times, you should have had at least a contact or two, such as a phone screen.

    1. dumblewald*

      Same here! And as someone who always likes to LinkedIn stalk the people who got the job instead, I have been rejected in favor people who matched even less of the credentials than I did. So OP, there is hope (for you, anyway) – it’s not always about the credentials!

  47. Hola!*

    This is…not what I need to be hearing now, as I’m looking to switch fields from a wholly dysfunctional field to a more professional one. But since I won’t hit 80-90% by virtue of changing fields, I should probably give up. Great.

    1. Tried this, kind of*

      Do you have any transferable skills? I’m also curious as to which field is dysfunctional, if you’re willing to share.

  48. Bowserkitty*

    I was once told the qualification requirements are more of a wishlist of sorts. Of course, it doesn’t make sense to apply for a senior role if you’ve only got maybe one year of experience. I really like Alison’s advice on this one for the 80%.

  49. Clementine*

    There’s nothing cut and dried about this, except of course in specific situations like described above in higher ed and government. One thing for sure is that you will not get the job if you don’t apply.

    And although I know how hard it is for people who don’t have a natural network of relatives, parents’ friends, and alumni from well-known schools, it is invaluable to get inside information whenever you can. This can help with the step of helping “guide” what the hiring company is looking for, because they will be thinking of you.

    I’m far from the best at this, but four of my past five roles have had some element of knowing people involved, even if they weren’t the final decision-makers. Even as I say this, I know how frustrating this may sound, but I did this by going to community and industry events, volunteering for many things, and keeping up with people.

  50. Sad but true.*

    My sister faced this dilemma for awhile. She attended our hometown University which was so large only freshmen, certain out of state, and disabled students were guaranteed housing. So she lived at home while attending school simply as her aid and scholarship just covered tuition and materials. She did not have much (any) money after graduation, so she continued living at home, and this put her in the position of having to listen to family and family friends shame her for not having a job offer upon graduation. Most of whom had completed vocational programs with job placement at a time when opportunities were plentiful, and were fortunate to get jobs at the City, County or Union.

    Her not having a job lined up after graduation from University in 2010 obviously meant she screwed up something or just didn’t want to work. Every time someone would mention a job at their rending plant (manufacturing supply chain degree) or city department (diesel mechanic apprentice), our father would hassle her to apply non-stop for weeks. You won’t get the job if you don’t apply!

    I finally flipped my lid when she was basically forced to waste her time applying for a job as a Forensic Technician with the County. Speaking with people in the County HR loop, I knew they received upwards of +500 applications per any one opening. I also knew there were at least 10 students majoring in Forensic Chemistry per graduating class at my own University who would not receive placement upon graduating.

    But my sister had a degree! Everyone is convinced to this day, she just didn’t do a good job writing her cover letter, or sprucing up her CV to highlight her strong points to get an interview for THAT job. She’d majored in Fine Arts. And everyone was convinced her one class in photography should have made her a shoo-in.

    I remember begging her not waste her time, and find another job to apply to instead, but the constant fighting with our father was unendurable so any time he said “Apply!”, she did. No matter how ridiculous…

    1. Lynne879*

      That sounds so frustrating & stressful for your sister :( What ended up happening? Did she eventually get a job in her field?

  51. Astrea*

    I struggle with this a lot, as I seldom feel certain I’m qualified for a prospective job if it’s not a type of job I’ve already done. It’s especially difficult when they don’t put a number on the amount of experience required, which allows me to take long shots for which I couldn’t have “known better” but is less helpful for filtering out jobs I have no real chance at. And when they say “relevant experience” without much elaboration, I don’t know just what counts — similar jobs, or similar tasks in any job? And can different pieces be combined to make a whole — e.g. I haven’t done customer service and administrative support in a “busy office,” but have done administrative support in non-busy offices and customer service in extremely busy visitor centers, so can those count? So it’s good to be reminded that sometimes, even if I can see that I’m underqualified or I’m not sure but the hiring manager can tell I’m underqualified, I might still be considered.

  52. Enescudoh*

    Interesting and timely for me! I’ve just applied to a company I know from having done my graduate training there, for a post where I have the no. of years of experience they ask for, but a job title that’s around two steps above my current one. In the end I think I said in my cover letter something like ‘I know my current position is a junior role, but the fact that I know the company means I could hit the ground running, and as you can see from my previous experience I’ve risen to meet challenges’ etc etc etc. But advice was so conflicted about whether to address it if you know you’re not fully qualified for a job!

  53. Patmichael*

    #1 – you should take a long hard look at your life and ponder where it went so wrong. Drop the martyr nonsense. That company won’t care about the pizzas you didn’t eat in the time you walked 5 miles uphill in the snow with a full backpack if they need to lay people off. Get a grip!

  54. Lynne879*

    I don’t really have much to add, except that I find this post & the comments very helpful.

    I recently went to a program at my local library about job hunting on the internet & what I took away from it was how much I underestimated the ATS program used by larger employers that tracked certain keywords in resumes. That also might be why you’re not getting any interviews- it’s all a technicality. Like what one commenter said above, your resume might not be getting to a human simply because you have not earned your Master’s degree yet, even though you’re working on it.

    I’m also job searching (I’m working multiple jobs & they’re all very different) & everyone keeps telling me to “Apply! What do you have to lose?” But if the job is asking for 3 years of experience & in the job description is says the candidate will manage calendars, write reports & strongly prefers budgeting experience and I have done NONE of those things, I AM losing something because I’m wasting my time because my resume will never be seriously considered. So I think Alison’s recommendation of applying to jobs where you’re at least 80% qualified is a good estimate on whether or not you should apply to a job & one of the commenter’s suggestion of paying attention to the language used is important too (Required vs preferred).

    Good luck on your job search, OP!

  55. Oaktree*

    It’s really field-dependent, unfortunately. But I, like other commenters, believe that the “would I apply if I were a mediocre/average white man” rule is a sound one about 90% of the time. Fortunately I’m in a field where a common practice (increasingly, far from unilaterally) is to include two qualifications sections in the posting description, one for “required qualifications” and one for “preferred qualifications”. This really helps, and I wish more employers did it!

  56. Candace*

    Flip side – as a hiring manager in academe, I have written job ads saying that candidates MUST have X degree and our union bars even considering those without it, however qualifed, and this is a NON-negotiable must-have – and I still got applications from people lacking the degree who were nnot even in that program and close to graduating, which maybe would be understandable. Think absolutely requiring a graduate degree in Biology and getting applications from folks with a BA in History, just as an example. It just pissed me off – sorry, pal, you have shown me you are incapable of reading plain English.

  57. Kim*

    I have this same hangup. My problem is that for my employer (a university), the online applications have yes or no questions for the minimum qualifications (“Do you have 5 or more years of ____ experience?” Yes or no). I can’t bring myself to lie. I could explain in the cover letter how I would excel at the job, but if a question is answered “no” the applicant gets an automatic email that they didn’t meet the minimum qualification. BLERG.

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