every job posting asks for more experience than I have

A reader writes:

I got into my field about a year ago but I’m at a very small startup that’s dubiously stable, so I’m trying to start my job search before I’m forced to by outside circumstances.

Unfortunately, the field I’m in is intensely competitive for junior positions, which there are almost none of. I’ve only ever seen a listing asking for less than three years of experience (plus four years of college) a handful of times. The conventional wisdom is that people just starting out should apply for the positions they see even if they don’t meet all the qualifications, because recruiters will invariably ask for more experience than they can afford. It’s not uncommon to see them ask for, for example, 10 years of experience in gizmo levitation, when levitating gizmos have only been around at all for 8 years.

The problem is, it’s hard to put together a resume as a junior widget crafter when no one will admit they’ll take one, and very difficult to write cover letters tuned to specific positions when I have no idea how many of their requirements are real and what I might be falling short on. It’s also pretty difficult to be confident in interviews when, technically, I’m underqualified for the position. I feel like an impostor. What the heck am I supposed to do?

You can read my answer to this letter at Vice today. Head over there to read it.

{ 176 comments… read them below }

  1. HotSauce*

    I got my current jobs using many of the tips that Allison has included here. I didn’t really have office experience, but I worked in a job that required great attention to detail, the ability to multi-task and meet very short deadlines, so I described how I could apply those skills in an office setting and ended up getting a job that I thought there was no way I would qualify for!

    1. OyHiOh*

      I’ve got a cobbled together resume with some office work and a lot of hospitality work and did pretty much the same thing – explaining how my varied “weird” background would be an asset to the job.

      1. Mid*

        Same here. I’ve taught special needs and ESL, took architecture classes, worked in customer service and retail, did non-profit fundraising, and now work in law. It’s a weird resume, with a lot of disconnected jobs that actually compliment each other a lot. Honestly, that’s the great thing about cover letters. It allows you to show how a seemingly disconnected job history actually created a great skill set.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I have a friend who found a computer tech support job because she’d worked in a plant nursery and had been tasked with understanding vague plant symptoms over the phone–she knew how to drill down with ever more specific questions till she arrived at a solution.

  2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I agree with Alison that LW should use experience “requirements” as more of a guideline than a precise target. But perhaps as a society we could additionally agree to stop using “n years experience” as lazy shorthand for “skill level”, where 5 years means proficient and 10 years means expert (or whatever chart HR has on its pinboard).

    For example, if I have used $AccountingSoftware to do one task once a quarter for ten years, and my colleague has used eight of its different functions daily for the last six months, chances are that his skills are significantly broader and sharper than mine.

    I took (European) maternity leave a couple of times, and now work part time. Have I been in the industry for 17 years, or 15, or 12?

    1. Ray Gillette*

      I can only really conceive of one practical solution to this: the hiring manager writes the job description and posting. Sometimes that means it takes longer, but it saves everyone involved a lot of headaches in the long run. I don’t want an inaccurate posting and screening process that might eliminate perfectly viable candidates because the process is being handled by an HR person who isn’t familiar with the work I’m hiring for. If they’re asking for 10 years’ experience in a technology that’s only existed for 8 years because they don’t know that technology other than “that’s a thing that exists, yup,” the candidates they’re going to send me are going to be people who lie on their application materials.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Spouse read out to me a case this week where someone was auto rejected for not having (say) ten years in XYZ. He is the creator of XYZ, released five years ago.

        When this nonsense turns up on listings, you have to assume that every other requirement is similarly flexible. It renders the whole process meaningless.

        1. Tisiphone*

          I ran into so many of these kinds of things back when I was looking for a job in IT back in the early 2000s – applicants must have ten years of experience in something that hasn’t existed that long. Seemed as if everyone was doing it.

        2. DarthVelma*

          I ran into the opposite issue not too long ago. I’m the only expert on a particular program within my agency. I recently had an internal job applicant not only claim to also be an expert, but also claim more years experience with the program than it has actually been operational.

          I can’t decide if hiring is the bane of my existence or the most hilarious part of my job or both.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            That candidate is going to end up with a good job. He/she/ze knows how to play the game.

      2. Artemesia*

        I was a hiring manager for years stuck with a job description that was crafter in a terribly unhelpful way for internal political reasons. I knew exactly what we wanted but could not get it approved for the public job listing. The result was that half the applicants had stellar qualifications BUT not for the jobs we were recruiting for and I would have to literally reject half the applicants off the top for that. It must have been pretty confusing for them. (these were jobs that required a doctorate).

        With only a year of experience I would be searching my mind for non job experience that uses those skills. Maybe you were the business manager for an organization in college or have done work for a parent’s business or were in an activity that required similar skills. Maybe as assistant scout leader you managed the finances for the cookie drive. And what is it that experience should assure? If there is a highly technical skill involved, how can you showcase your wonderfulness at that skill that exceeds more years with less use of the skill.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I can only really conceive of one practical solution to this: the hiring manager writes the job description and posting.

        I wouldn’t even have faith in that in some fields (e.g. Programming). You really want someone who does the job composing the requirements and listing.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        We (as hiring managers) are required to write our own job descriptions and also, if they aren’t newly written, confirm before they are posted that they’re still current and accurate. HR also will not let us mark anything as required that is not actually a requirement – so, if I’m open to someone with no experience, I have to say something like “2-3 years of experience preferred”. I have to meet with my recruiter for each job to talk about the most important pieces for us and then review a few sample resumes (both ones they select for screening and those rejected without additional consideration) to ensure we’re on the same page for initial screenings. My sense is that this may be uncommon, but I do think it helps make recruiting go more smoothly.

        I will say that, despite investing a decent amount of time in the hiring process, we still get tons of resumes for people who meet none of the requirements, much less preferences. I have one that requires familiarity with a particular type of application (with a few examples given), and I get resumes that have never heard of that type of software much less the specific ones we use.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          This is our process as well, at every company (tech and tech-adjacent) I’ve worked for.

      5. Richard*

        Hiring managers are just as likely to have fanciful expectations as HR people. They might be more clued into the specifics of the work, but they might be less in touch with what’s realistic in terms of salary and what kinds of applicants they might get. Also, if you don’t do hiring very often, it’s easy to write job descriptions that address what you need this very minute even if that changes next month, or, worse, spell out exactly what the last bad employee was bad at without a good picture of what a good employee will do. I’ve seen plenty of organizations fall into these traps.

    2. Smithy*

      Man….this hits….

      Years of experience so often seems to be a shortcut for HR or a way for the applicant pool to self-select out, without really highlighting what people want. On my last team, the most junior staff members were intended to be “just above entry level”. However, the way the JD was very often interpreted, there would be applicants with 2-5 years of industry experience and outgrow the job within 12-24 months, if not sooner.

      It made hiring for the job so difficult, because there was a lot of effort put into trying to assess where someone actually was in their career and what kind of fit.

    3. Spearmint*

      Either of these approaches is better than the arbitrary “years of experience”, but part of the problem is many of the alternatives are also vague. You can say “advanced Excel” is required, but some people think that means “I can make charts and use the SUM function”, and others think it means “I’m a wizard with using macros and pivot tables”.

      Yes, the hiring manager can write I detailed description, which I think is ideal, but companies rarely seem to do this (and half the time when the attempt it the ad is not clear, IME as a job seeker).

      1. DJ Abbott*

        The only thing is, if the hiring manager is like my former boss, the description might not ever get written. He would put time-sensitive things off for months… There were things he’d wanted to do for years he hadn’t gotten to.

      2. Rachel in NYC*

        Excel is such a bad one because there is such a variation based on what you’ve been exposed to people being able to do in Excel.

        I can use decently complex formulas in Excel, I can create basic Macros. I put myself squarely “intermediate” or at least “advanced beginner” in excel.

        My supervisor learned to code back in the day so he can use VBA in Excel and do all sorts of fancy schmancy Excel docs. Hit a button and one sheet of pure data turns into 4 sheets of formulas, sums and dancing cats.

        Yeah…advanced isn’t in my cards.

        1. Dan*

          Well… Excel is either a really bad *or* really good example here. I’m a computer programmer, and I have the same gripe about using the same phrasing to describe programming language competency. I’ve been working with the same language since I was in college 20 years ago. The language has evolved over time, and the compilers written such that code that was developed to the standard 20 years ago still works today.

          I might be an expert at what I do, but if you want someone who is a whiz at web apps, you better say so, because I don’t know a darn thing about that.

          That said, as an organization, if they are seeking an “expert Excel user” or some such, the *org* needs to consider keeping up with the times as well. As a computer programmer/data analyst, I don’t work with Excel other than to view CSV files. There are other, better and (quite often, free) tools out there. I’ve been on interviews where they are obviously interested in my skill set (otherwise, no interview, yes?) and then they get to the part about how they live and die by Excel. And I’m thinking to myself, people with my broader skill set generally *aren’t* expert Excel users. Is Excel the important thing to you, or the general skill?

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yep, Excel does SO much. I work with someone who think they’re an Excel wizard because they can use VLOOKUP. I find it easier to list specific functions/skills we use often rather than get a meaningless, subjective rating. And don’t get me started on the X/5 stars method of proficiency on resumes.

    4. meyer lemon*

      I think it also really depends on the industry, which is additionally frustrating for anyone who’s just starting out. I work in a super competitive industry with a very flat hierarchy, and I know that many job postings that ask for 1 to 3 years’ experience will realistically be fielding candidates with 10, 15, 20 years’ experience. How annoying would this be for someone new to the field who has no idea that this is their competition.

      1. Smithy*

        I had a deeply painful but truthful conversation with a friend who was super set on applying to UN positions after she left graduate school.

        She had gone to graduate school later in life, and had work experience – but only about 1-2 years that would count for the UN professional postings. Hearing that her other professional experiences really weren’t going to count towards how competitive she was, clearly was wounding. And that jobs that ask for 5 years experience, you really will have applicants with 10-20 years.

    5. Dan*

      Yeah… even as a software developer, I need to know what you really want. Generally speaking, a posting with 10 years of experience is *probably* looking for someone who can lead projects, teams, interact with stakeholders or something like that. But if that’s what you want, please say so, so I can select out if I just want to code all day and not talk to people. (Those people *and* roles are out there.) Also, I thrive in environments where I am working with skilled people. If I find out I’m required to work with *no* supervision, and some of these things are my weak spots, I need to know that too.

      If one says “2-3 years”, that pretty much means 1) I’m working on a team, 2) There will be more experienced people on that team, 3) The team has established processes that I will be expected to comply with, and 4) I’ll get help when I need it, but there’s an expectation I can figure things out for myself and 5) I’m most likely going to be in an individual contributor role with little to no customer relationship requirements.

      And yet, if I just want to bang out code and I’ve got several years of experience, am I really “over qualified”, as long as I’m comfortable with expectations regarding pay and comp? I’ll trade less money for less headaches.

      It takes experience to decode the experience implications, and these days, when I see “ten years of experience” I have to run down what’s really expected. Why not just say so outright?

    6. Bernadette*

      These can be useful in signaling what level of seniority the person is coming in at, but they seem totally useless in assessing someone’s skill level. Being clear on the specific skills and competencies serves everyone better.

      I once had HR insist that the junior llama wrangler role we were hiring for needed to have more years of experience than I personally had as the manager of the llama wrangling team. To what end?

  3. Emily*

    I can’t tell if this is a technical field or not. But for technical jobs – and I say this has someone who has been a job applicant, but also involved with hiring – there’s frequently an even bigger gap between what’s on the job listing and what they need. Not just “we’d like 5 years with this but we’d take 2-3”, but sometimes even “we are listing a technology you’re never going to work with.” I can’t tell you why that is.

    1. Bored IT Guy*

      I’ve also seen (particularly in technical fields) a requirement to have X years of experience with a particular technology, which can be difficult if the technology has only been around for less than X years.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        There was a semi-famous tweet where the creator of the particular computer language(?) shared a job posting that stated X years of experience in this language was needed, and it hadn’t existed for that long.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Another problem is that many of these technologies only really function in a professional role.

        E.g. Candidate needs 10 years experience with an OpenVPN VPN. Okay; I read the docs, spin up a virtual server to host it, set it up on a Windows client, an Android client, in a Linux VM, acquire a DDNS alias. WTF do you expect me to do for the other 3,651 days?

        Candidate needs 10 years experience with LAMP (Linux, Apache, MariaDB/MySQL, PHP/PERL). OK, spin up a virtual server, install the packages, get a demo site working… Again, WTF do you expect for the other 3,650 days?

        In IT, these big years-of-experience requirements quickly boil down to keeping your butt between a manager and a hungry office chair.

    2. irene adler*

      Yeah… hate that. I apply, because I meet ALL of the criteria, only to learn, at the interview, that the job is not at all what it was advertised to be. Hate that.

      When I ask about skill X or experience Y (are they part of the job or not?), they indicate that they wanted to see what they’d get on the applications. So no, not necessarily something that is part of the actual job itself.

      What really rankles though, is when they decide not to fill the position.

    3. Sled Dog Mama*

      UGH, I hate the technology one. I applied to a position that had a piece of equipment I was not familiar with (1 out of 6 I had to work with, not familiar meaning had never seen). Listing made a big deal out of it. Got to the interview and discovered that they had gotten rid of that equipment MONTHS before posting.

      1. irene adler*

        Sigh. THAT would really bother me.

        I applied to a job where they stated “Experience in Kaizen/Lean/Sisma an asset”.
        I know they meant six sigma- not Sisma. FYI:Sisma is a laser- so for some jobs that is a viable request.
        I asked the recruiter to clarify. They want “Six Sigma” experience. This was two months ago.

        Recently, I found the same job description run by a couple of different recruiters. Same “Sisma” spelling error in both.

        I don’t think I’ll be getting the job.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          They want “Six Sigma” experience.

          No, they don’t. They want “Six Sigma” exuberance. They want someone who drinks the kool aid.

    4. TWW*

      Or the posting requires years’ of experience with a technology that most professionals could master in a few weeks.

      I sometimes see tech writer job postings that require experience in FrameMaker, a somewhat old-fashion program. I know many young tech writers who have never used it, but could quickly get up to speed because they have experience with similar software.

    5. Anax*

      Yep. If this is an IT job – which I suspect, from the “X years of experience” turn of phrase – my personal recommendations, as someone who’s been in the field for 7 years now:

      If it’s a larger corporation, with one year of experience, target “associate” positions, or ones without “senior” in front. Smaller organizations can be less precise with their terminology, but in my experience, “senior” is usually targeting 5-7 years minimum, and “associate” or non-senior positions are more likely to be flexible. They will probably ask for 3-5 years of experience; this is fine.

      You’ll probably need to apply to a lot of positions, because you’ll need to rely somewhat on chance. Someone needs to accept you based on your potential and ability to be trained into the job, rather than your experience, if you can’t find an entry level position. These exist, but you can’t necessarily recognize them from outside.

      Be as honest as you can about your skillset and primary job duties. Obviously, sell yourself – talk about the cool stuff you’ve done, show you’re smart and quick to learn. DO NOT pretend to have more experience than you do with a technology; if you used SQL once a month and eh, you can write a simple SELECT query but you’ll need to google more complex queries… say that. If your job was 90% SQL and 10% .NET, be honest about that. Falsified or misleading qualifications are a HUGE problem in IT, and if they start asking followup questions to verify your level of familiarity – they probably will – you’ll tank your credibility and probably be tossed out as a candidate. An honest but less-experienced candidate often has better chances than an experienced but sketchy one.

      (Ditto, and I hope this is obvious – do NOT google for answers while on a phone or video interview, it is extremely obvious to interviewers. I would even suggest taking notes on paper instead of typing them, if possible, to prevent that appearance.)

      And… brush up on your terminology and theory before interviews, especially if a lot of your knowledge was gleaned on the job. Consider doing an online course or reading a book. You might know how to DO something, but describing it as “that doohickey” or forgetting the difference between an inner join and an outer join mid-interview is embarrassing and doesn’t reflect super well on you.

      Your mileage may vary, but hopefully that helps a bit, LW.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Yes, this. Examples from tax preparation–1st year can do simple W-2 ones out of the box with a side of Earned Income Tax Credit. Simple retiree ones with 1099s no problem, but you won’t be doing the one for the town’s only day trader. The second year? Meet the day trader…. And keep calling the one with Weird Real Estate Problems because they still owe from 2013 and don’t want to file any years, not even the ones with refunds, because they’ve decided to keep a low profile anyway. Even if the refunds would help pay for 2013. (sigh)

  4. twocents*

    Thinking back to the question the other day about asking acquaintances to do a job referral: this may be a place where you could at least ask for insider knowledge. My company is so large I almost certainly don’t know the hiring manager but I do know the standard format that is used for our job postings, and I could easily explain what how to tell what is a real requirement.

  5. Harried HR*

    On the flip side, one of the many hats I wear in my current role is Recruiting. It’s incredibly frustrating to post a job for Senior Teapot Design Manager and receive 50 resumes, 35 of which have ZERO Design or Management experience. If candidates without direct experience think they have the skill set for the job then they HAVE to tell me in their cover letter or in the resume otherwise I will file it in the round file !!!!
    My crystal ball is BUSTED

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It’s incredibly frustrating to post a job for Senior Teapot Design Manager and receive 50 resumes, 35 of which have ZERO Design or Management experience.

      What do you think it’s like for us plebs when your Senior Teapot Design Manager position requires 75 years of experience? Sauce for the goose and gander…

    2. I should really pick a name*

      The thing is, rejecting someone is easy. If they don’t list the skill, you don’t interview them. It’s frustrating, but doesn’t take much time.

      From the applicant’s standpoint, they have to decide whether or not to put in the time on application where they’re not sure if they’re unqualified, or if the company’s requirements are exaggerated.

      1. RG2*

        You’re absolutely right! But the thing that’s tough is when there’s 200 of them and the hiring manager is doing the recruiting themselves. Not saying it’s fair or equal, but the time can add up and it can be frustrating (which is not to take away from it being even more frustrating on the other side! Both are bad).

        From my experience hiring, I think the big thing is what Harried HR was saying re: cover letters. If you have experience that applies/a reason you think you should qualify for the role, say why in the cover letter! I think a lot of applicants expect HR/hiring managers to see past requirements to who they are/their value for the role, but when you get hundreds and hundreds of applicants, the successful applicants make that easier.

    3. PT*

      Have you looked at your job description from an outside perspective? I used to hire Certified Llama Trainers, and it used to drive me crazy: I would get all of these people who had no experience with llamas on their resume, and when they came in from an interview, they couldn’t tell the llamas from the horses, or they were afraid of the llamas, or they didn’t realize llamas were so big and stinky, or they showed up in high-heeled sandals and couldn’t go in the barn because there was too much llama poop everywhere.

      But then I looked at the job description, and 80% of the job description was procedural stuff about coming to work on time, following procedures and practices, obeying the dress code, providing good customer service. So if you had 0 experience training llamas, you might think working with llamas is a pretty small part of the job, and figure you can learn that on the spot. When in reality, I couldn’t hire someone who wasn’t an expert at working with llamas, that was a dealbreaker.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        It honestly doesn’t help. We reviewed and updated all our job descriptions last time we got a new head of HR, including having people in the positions review them and provide feedback. Mine have the job responsibilities listed in order of things people do the most to least, too.

        One of mine is for a senior-level position that works primarily with a specific government agency, and the very first responsibility (written by the incumbent) is, “Prepare [routine submissions] on behalf of customers and file with [agency/agency’s public IT system] in accordance with [governing regulation]”. The same agency is listed in two other bullets and the position summary. Over half of the applicants didn’t mention any knowledge of or experience with said agency.

        1. JJJJ*

          To be honest, that sentence doesn’t really sound limiting. It sounds like someone could pick up on the job.
          I’m not saying that’s necessarily true, maybe it really *is* a difficult process and you need someone who can hit the ground running. But as it’s worded candidates almost certainly read that and think, “I can learn that easily.”

          1. MCMonkeybean*

            I agree–I work in finance so I have filed stuff with a number of different agencies in my various roles. In my first job I filed things with the SEC. I had heard of the SEC in the way people who have seen television shows where people are frantically shredding incriminating documents have… but I started that job straight out of college and they taught me the filing process. In my new job I file things with a different organization that I had never heard of before I started this role. They taught me their software and how to file with this agency.

            I would absolutely not let a sentence like that stop me from applying for a job if I thought I otherwise had the right skill set because I would assume they would teach me that process.

      2. Forrest*

        Yeah, I think the best job postings are about 5-8 criteria. That’s a reasonable amount to address in a cover letter and CV. I applied for something recently which had about 15, but lots of them were very generic things like, “prioritising and organisation”, “time management”, “good written skills”. It’s impossible to address that many things in a one page cover letter and two-page CV! And at some point, if you’re asking for 10 years experience in a similar role, you kind of have to take it on trust that I can organise multiple projects and manage my time, or be more specific about the types of written documents you want me to create.

  6. Snow*

    I like the trend I’ve seen in some job postings to separate “required” qualifications from “desirable” qualifications. I still wish they’d be more explicit about stating that you do not need to fulfill all of the “desirable” qualifications to apply! Maybe they could be titled “Wish list” or “Extra credit” instead?

    I got to put this into practice recently. After putting in my notice at a job last year (no bad feelings; was just offered a rare opportunity elsewhere), I was asked to write a job posting for my replacement. I was very careful to write two separate lists: qualifications/skills that I thought were *necessary* (2-3 items), and ones I thought would be *nice to have* (5-6 items). I explicitly told my boss, in writing, that someone who fulfilled two of the things on the “nice to have” list would be a very good candidate, and someone who fulfilled three or more would be absolutely exceptional. (I also reminded my boss that I didn’t have all those skills when I was hired — I learned a lot of them on the job!) Hopefully that formatting has helped some people figure out that they should apply even if they don’t check every single box.

    1. irene adler*

      Interesting. I only apply if I have every one of the necessary and maybe all but one or two of the ‘nice to have’. My understanding is same as yours: the ‘nice to haves’ will be learned on the job. I learned very quickly that is not the case. You have to have ALL of the ‘nice to haves’. Biotech. No training. Have to hit the ground running. Sigh.

      So maybe clarify the ‘nice to haves’ with something like “at least three of the six ” so that the candidate is clear that all ‘nice to haves’ are not mandatory.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, if the job spec could have the same explicit wording, “someone who fulfilled two of the things on the “nice to have” list would be a very good candidate, and someone who fulfilled three or more would be absolutely exceptional”, that would help a lot.

        Or even, “the successful candidate is likely to have at least two of the following”.

        1. irene adler*

          I like your wording better! It works well for the candidate to gauge how they stand should they apply.

        2. RG2*

          What I find is hard often is that you don’t know what the top 10% of applicants looks like until you get applicants in and this just creates more people who feel wronged if they don’t get an interview but they think they’re “exceptional.” And they would be, except as a fluke of timing, 15-20 other people have all six things on the list and the hiring manager has time for 10-12 interviews.

        3. A*

          Or even a more specific description of the actual duties the job entails. I mean, sure, a bland description is professional-sounding and all, but maybe getting down to cases might help find the candidates with the nail skill set

          So instead of “5 years experience with IT” it’s “Must be able to set up, maintain, and troubleshoot a mail server so our other IT person can have time to fix things sometimes” or instead of “3 years of Llama Handling” it’s “You must be able to wrestle a llama to the ground while fending off sneak attacks from Mean Bob the Evil Alpaca, you will be required to demonstrate your suplex at the interview”

    2. Qwerty*

      I think the “desirable” field is all relative based on the other candidates and depends on how long the list is. Sometimes I’ve even seen the desirable list conflict with the required list (Requirements is 5yrs experience but Desirable lists 8+yrs).

      However, it doesn’t make sense to put a hard rule on how many out of each category you pick. If someone is missing one or two items from the Required list but has almost everything from the Desired list, then that person could be a stronger candidate than someone who all of the Required but only some of the Desired.

      I’ve even seen some postings with a third category that is sort of a mystery bonus point section. How much weight this items carries depends a lot on how much of a pain point it is for the recruiter or how hard that skill is to come by. I feel like I get a better picture of the job/team from this list regardless of if I have the qualifications.

    3. PX*

      I’ve also had the flip side where I had all the required qualifications but not the one “nice to have”. Get to the phone screen, turns out the “nice to have” is actually essential. I didnt mention it on my CV or Cover Letter, so if this really is a must have, why not say so in the posting!!

      1. Smithy*

        My biggest hurdle with this one was language skills. I once applied for a job that was posted in English, with my English application materials. Made no mention of languages.

        I showed up, and it was clear they needed someone with advanced if not truly fluent in another language. Interview was a courtesy nice to meet you, we thought you simply forgot to include your language credentials, guess this won’t work!

      2. voluptuousfire*

        IME, it’s shocking how many times that’s happened to me. The role required X and Y and Z, but X and Y looked ot be more important. I was awesome at X and Y but had very minimal experience with Z. Got to further rounds in interview process and it turns out Z was super important and X and Y and I was rejected for not having Z experience.

  7. Spearmint*

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves about the job market, and it’s such a waste of time for applicants who can’t tell if they’re applying for a job that they won’t be considered for.

    Part of the reason for this is that the US hadn’t had a period of sustained full employment since the ‘90s, so we’ve had a whole generation of managers who only know how to hire in an employers’ market (to avoid politics, I won’t discuss why this may be). They can get away with posting wish lists and half the time get applicants who fulfill all of those qualifications.

    One thing I’ll add that Allison’s didn’t mention is that, in some competitive fields, you really are expected to have 2-3 years of internship/temp experience before you even get an “entry level” job. LW may want to investigate if they’re in such a field. I know in my case people told me to apply for jobs where I didn’t meet the experience qualifications but I didn’t land a permanent entry level position until I had 3 internships and a 9-month temp job under my belt.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      That’s a really interesting point about how a lot of managers have only hired when they can wait for (and often get) a perfect stretch-goal unicorn candidate, rather than “settle” for a perfectly fine candidate. We were just starting to switch over into an employee market a year+ ago before covid hit, I was really looking forward to seeing what things looked like when the power had returned to applicants, but sadly we’re back in an employer market for the time being. I hope as things recover we’ll be able to return to that.

      On a side note, my dad was telling me how a few decades ago, jobs were so rich and plentiful in his field that employers would have to work really hard to keep the employees well-paid and happy, otherwise they could easily jump ship to another company. He told me the story of how one time a competitor got hold of his company’s internal phonebook – they set up across the street (either in a cafe or they actually rented an office temporarily) and called every single employee and invited them to take a quick break and walk across the street to chat with them. Apparently they lost about a third of their employees to better offers in one week! (He also had several stories of coworkers quitting in spectacular ways – when jobs were plentiful and the internet wasn’t a thing, burning bridges wasn’t a concern.)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I saw this in the 80s. New mall store would send head hunters around looking for people. They went in and out of stores during business hours and talked to those who they could get a private word with. It was pretty clear to me that they were poaching, but others did not notice.

    2. voluptuousfire*

      Spearmint, I’d definitely repost this in the Open Friday thread because this would be a very interesting thing to discuss!

  8. devtoo*

    I don’t know what your field is, but from what you’re describing it sounds similar to software development (my field). I know that it’s not uncommon for a job posting to just be a vague “we’re generally hiring for this skill set” post. At my last company, me and three other junior developers all applied to the same mid-level engineer job posting (seeking 3-4 years of experience in various technologies) and were all hired. We all had 0-1 years of experience in the field. The company was just generally doing a ton of hiring and not keeping up with posting new positions.

  9. Qwerty*

    Try reaching out to career centers at your local colleges to see what companies they recommend for junior positions. In my field (tech), a lot of the entry-level positions are usually filled by recruiting directly from college career fairs. As a result, our website rarely has a posting for someone lower than a mid-level, because we’ve allocated our junior positions to new grads.

    Also check if these companies have a specific section of their career page aimed at college grads. College recruitment for entry level positions sometimes gets treated differently and has its own page. Meetup groups are also a good way to network and find out which companies might be more willing to take on a junior role.

    To explain the “10 yrs of experience in levitating gizmos” mismatch, treat that as two separate requirements that got combined into one line. Usually what it means is they are looking for someone who has 10-ish years of gizmo experience, some of which was spent on levitating ones. They know those 10yrs will get split over bouncing, crawling, and levitating gizmos but a lot of the gizmo principles are the same across the board.

    1. Qwerty*

      Also want to add that a startup can be a blessing and a curse experience wise. Since you get to wear a lot of hats, sometimes each year sometimes is the equivalent of 2-3yrs at a standard company. On the other hand, sometimes they cut a lot of corners and are disorganized, so I’ve also had people come out of startups with much less professional experience than their tenure implied. It all depends on how your place is run, what you can demonstrate of your skillset in the cover letter / resume / interview, and how self-aware you are of where you need to work on your skills. It is easier to take a chance on someone more junior who knows which areas they need help in so I can prep for that.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      Recently I’ve seen posts that say “this is part of our new grad program”. It’s nice for grads, but I’m a middle-aged person with varied experience and no degree, looking at maybe going further into tech. Since they’re focused on new grads, I assume they won’t even consider me.
      Even though I can bring a wealth of business experience and office/tech experience in the real world…

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Even though I can bring a wealth of business experience and office/tech experience in the real world…

        I miss the days when Logan’s Run was fiction!

  10. Zephy*

    People are really bad at judging their own level of proficiency with…well, most things, to be honest. Hiring is a tedious enough process for everyone involved, I don’t see a better way to get that kind of information that doesn’t make it even more tedious.

    1. Zephy*

      Ugh, this was supposed to be a reply to General von Klinkerhoffen above about using time as shorthand for experience.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It makes sense on its own as well.

        I don’t know what the solution is. I do know that asking for time-elapsed-since-you-first-did-this-thing doesn’t identify the best fit candidates.

        1. GothicBee*

          I feel like some of this could be resolved if job descriptions actually fleshed out details on the context of the skills they want. Way too many descriptions are just a list of skills with maybe a vague paragraph about what the job entails. Describing what context they need someone to use a particular software program or whatever would be a lot more useful than just “X years of experience”.

          1. TiffIf*

            Way too many descriptions are just a list of skills with maybe a vague paragraph about what the job entails.

            I keep seeing listings that are like 4 paragraphs about the history of the company and its culture and then a bullet list of requirements and next to nothing about what the job actually entails, unless you count the “self-starter” vague language.

            1. TardyTardis*

              Looking such companies up on Glassdoor can be enlightening, however, when you discover the culture is really ‘you’d better be a Insert Religion Name here’ or say, a Red Sox fan hub, wearing a Yankees cap is *bad*. Or ‘must be willing to work 60 hours a week and not complain if the paycheck is late’ (some companies like that already featured here).

  11. SheLooksFamiliar*

    If you’re interested in a job with large, multinational, publicly traded companies, and/or companies that do business with the Federal Government, meeting minimum qualifications becomes far more important. If the job posting requires a degree in X, or 5 years minimum in Y, you will likely be declined if you don’t have those quals.

    Why? These companies are under a lot more scrutiny regarding their hiring practices, and especially if they are reviewed by the OFCCP. They are audited for their candidate selection – ‘Why did you pick this person, and not that person?’ – record storage, compliance with regs and executive orders…in short, they are not going to be very flexible,

    Smaller companies can be and are usually more flexible, so it makes sense to apply even if you don’t meet the entire wish list.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Similar in academia, especially state college, community college, and university systems. We have to be REALLY careful with our minimum requirements. I had a hiring officer get angry at me (search committee chair, I am *scrupulous* about following the rules because if I don’t, it’s my ass) for not considering their mentee for a position. Mentee did not meet the minimum (not even close) that hiring officer had insisted on putting in the job posting. Hiring officer said: but I don’t care about that, it’s really just nice to have. I finally had to refer them to HR. (That was a nightmare search for all sorts of reasons, all of them caused by the hiring officer…still can’t believe the university didn’t get sued.)

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’ve never been audited by the IRS, but I think I’d rather go through that than one more OFCCP audit. For instance, they’re not okay with ‘3-5 years experience in underwater basket weaving.’ They want 3, or 5: what’s the basic, minimum need, no wiggle room. Also, does underwater mean saltwater, or fresh? A swimming pool, or a lake? Will the person weave baskets only? Or will they weave mats, placemats, rugs, and furniture? And so on.

        This is also why people must apply to roles of interest even if – maybe especially if – they were referred by a friend, or know someone who is willing to give them a good word. Employers need ‘an electronic indication of interest’ on file, and auditors will check the date and time stamps: ‘You interviewed Fred Flintsone for the role in you opened in January, and he applied the day after his interview in March. Yet you didn’t interview Barney Rubble, or Wilma Flintstone, or Betty Rubble, or Joe Rockhead. They all applied within days of posting, and also meet the minimum qualifications. Explain why you bypassed these equally qualified candidates for someone who didn’t bother to apply until after the fact. Who does Fred know, what promises were made, and why are you ignoring your own AAP?’

        Yep. Puts the F-U in FUN.

  12. AmosBurton*

    Hiring manager in IT here. I just hired a talented young woman for a position requiring 7-10 years of experience in information security. She’s 25, three years out of college, with two years of infosec experience. She had (and perhaps you do too) two hurdles to overcome in the process. First was convincing me to look at her resume. She did this by a very strong cover letter (many resumes don’t have one) that emphasized that she she had unique skills she could bring to the table that many others with more experience could not, and she showed that by carefully chosen and described examples of where those skills made a real-world difference.

    The second hurdle was convincing me in the interview, both technically and in in intepersonal and problem-solving skills. When I look for somebody with 7-10 years experience, what I’m really saying is that I need somebody who can do the things that a person with this sort of experience can do, that somebody with less often can’t. She was able to demonstrate that she could do the things I was looking for by anticipating what those things were, based on deep research into my company, my industry and the implications of the requested skills, and then preparing her self-presentation to show me that she could indeed do those things, both better and (a little) cheaper than other candidates could.

    I think many hiring managers are like me. I’m not hung up on years (or even degrees, except when necessary for something like marketing purposes). If you can present yourself as truly being able to do what the role demands? I think many hiring managers will consider you.

    1. Spearmint*

      I’m still not sure this is ideal though. Under your system, mediocre candidates with lots of experience get interviews but only truly exceptional (not just on talent, but job searching abilities) candidates with less experience get a close look. Should you just give every resume equal consideration?

      1. Aitch Arr*

        This makes my head hurt.

        The decision shows that 7-10 years isn’t a real requirement for Sr. InfoSec Specialists (or whatever the position is called). Which then makes me in HR wonder about all the current employees we haven’t promoted or considered for a Sr. InfoSec Specialist role because they didn’t have 7+ years, plus all the candidates we didn’t interview for the same reason.

        1. Qwerty*

          No where does AmosBurton say that he denies people promotions based on years of experience. Just that it typically takes 7+ years to get the level of experience needed for the role. Senior roles usually need a combination of length of experience and variety, so this candidate was an outlier. When a candidate has an unusual amount of knowledge for their years of experience, they typically know it, adjust where they apply for accordingly, and explain in their cover letter.

          I’ve been that candidate who crammed close to 10yrs of experience in 3-4 years of work. As a result, I knew not to apply for roles that asked for less than 7yrs because I’d be bored there.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            But if you are willing to hire someone at the level without actually needing the number of years of experience, is that consistent across the organization?

            If I’m a Teapot Designer and have 5 years of experience but Sr. Teapot Designer at my company is listed as 7+ and then a Sr. is hired with only 4, I’m going to be pissed.

            1. Susan Calvin*

              That still presumes that there’s some kind of official ranking system which ties the “Sr.” title to the 7 year mark within Amos’ company, rather than it being some kind of rule of thumb based on previous hiring experience – otherwise the being pissed sounds like a you problem.

              My company (large b2b tech corp) has very explicit rules against seniority promotions, but a fairly fine grained framework for merit/contribution ratings, and titles are tied to that. In practice, the correlation with tenure is quite strong, but if the possibility getting outperformed by younger colleagues bothers you, we’re not the place for you.

      2. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

        But what does “give every resume equal consideration” mean? Move everyone to an interview regardless of what their resume looks like? That’s really not practical. As a hiring manager deciding who to interview, all you can do is evaluate the materials in front of you. A candidate who provides material explaining why she believes she is qualified for the job will obviously get priority over one who does not.

      3. Another IT Hiring Manager*

        My experience has been that it’s just not possible to give every resume equal experience – COVID has resulted in staff cuts while increasing applicant numbers. Even before that, people often applied without seeming to read the position (grossly overqualified, unable to work in my country, etc.). It’s certainly not ideal, and there’s still a power differential working against jobseekers, but I’m never going to be able to fix that by myself. I do look for gender bias in job ads and try to find better objective ways to quantify experience, however.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      I agree with Spearmint, this doesn’t sound ideal. Clearly 7-10 years was not a real requirement, you probably lost out on a lot of good applicants because of that.

      1. AmosBurton*

        I doubt that. Education and technical skills are one thing, but some of the requirements were quite clearly linked to that many years of experience; the candidate I hired was a true exception. For example, one of the things I need this role to do is to oversee the implementation of complex certifications of some security frameworks such as SOC 2 and ISO 27001. Typically, to see one of these projects from inception through completion takes about 2 years. I need a person who has actually done this, and more than once, and in a role that they typically wouldn’t have the first time through. Coupled with the the other requirements, it would be truly exceptional to fins somebody who has actually done this, and has accrued the technical skills I needed as well.

        The person I hired had actually been handed too much responsibility very early in her career, but adapted to it very well. Like I said, she was exceptional, and I doubt I missed many more like her by requiring 7-10 years of experience.

        1. ?*

          Then why not just SAY that you needed someone that has seen those projects from inception through completion more than one time…. why 7-10 years? If the person you hired had that experience due to some unique circumstances, couldn’t there be others that have…. 3-4 years of experience possibly also meet that requirement?
          It seems to me that putting the years instead of the specifics just limits the people who would apply that otherwise may work out.

          1. AmosBurton*

            Because I needed somebody to *DO* the things it typically takes 7-10 years of experience to do. I’ve been in my area for a long time. I know what I need, and I know how people tend to develop in the field. It would be illogical to post every single task I need the person to perform in a job posting. But from experience I know that, with 7-10 years of experience, they almost certainly know how to read a pen test report and recommend remediation, how to understand a firewall rule set, and have been through enough audits to understand the process well, know what to look for on a user access review.

            Additionally I know that I need them to be eligible for a CISSP or a CISA…certifications that generally require 5 years of experience. Also, since this is a professional services role, I need to be able to sell their expertise and experience. I can sell somebody with 7-10 years of experience for $x per hour, where it’s not the same conversation when the client asks why they are paying for a kid right out of college. In exceptional cases (like this one), it’s a converation I am willing to have. In most cases, it isn’t.

            My point in responding to the OP was that if they believe they are exceptional and can demonstrate how they can effectively operate at a more senior level than their experience would suggest, go for it (and I showed a roadmap that worked for my new hire). But it’s not unreasonable at all to ask for X years of experience, which is precisely why I did.

            This is no different than in aviation, where the experience metric is “hours”. Ads for pilots ask for “1500 hours of experience”. or “2000 hours of multiengine time”, and these are almost always non-negotiable. Because even leaving aside regulatory and insurance issues, through experience, we have learned that the hours (or years) are, in many cases (not always), good proxies for the characteristics we are looking for.

      2. Oldie Hawn*

        To add to what you said, this exceptional, young female candidate is being paid less than whoever else they would have hired into the role. How much is the work really worth?

        1. Lord Peter Wimsey*

          Bingo. If the job is worth $X, and she can do/ is doing the job, pay her $X in full. Please don’t impose a penalty on her salary because she is young and/or female. This type of underpaying is highly damaging (particularly for women).

          1. AmosBurton*

            What she is being paid has nothing to do with her being female. She is being paid a bit less than somebody with more experience would be, because that is the salary that it required to get her. It is likely that if I found a candidate I really liked with 10 years experience, I would have to pay her a bit more than I initially budgeted for, simply because of what the *market* demands for that skill set and experience level.

            It is substantially more than she was making previously and, since this was e negotiation between two rational, informed party, precisely the amount she felt was necessary for her to take the job. In infosec? Few people are poor. But my company is in business to make money for the owners (who strive to treat their employees fairly). And just like it doesn’t make sense to overpay for anything else, it doesn’t make sense to pay *more* than the person is willing to take.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              She is being paid a bit less than somebody with more experience would be, because that is the salary that it required to get her.

              Maybe she does need more experience if that passes the smell test.

              1. AmosBurton*

                No, when I pay her exactly the same as I would any other person with the same experience, education and credentials to do the job? And they make an informed rational decision, understanding what the market rate for the position and skill set is? That’s how you treat people *equally*.

                She was in a position that paid $15,000 less than I offered her. You’re saying she should have turned it down because it wasn’t the $20,000 more that I might have offered a person with 5 more years of experience?! How’s that work?

                Again, we all want to treat employees well (and I do), but labor is an expense just like any other expense. When you buy a new car and the sticker price (the amount it costs for you to get that car) is $30,000, do you decide “Well, I should really pay $35,000, even though you only want $30,000 so here is an extra $5k.”?

                1. ?*

                  If I’m understanding you correctly. You don’t REALLY need 7-10 years experience if you have some unique job experience that gives you the skills that are needed, however, most people would need that experience.

                  BUT, if you hire them because they can do the job, even without 7-10 years experience, it’s perfectly fine to pay them less if that’s “what they are willing to take”?

                  I guess I’m confused, if she can do the job now, isn’t she worth the $$ that you’d pay someone with a few more years experience? I mean, she’s DOING THE JOB, isn’t she?

                  Of course she shouldn’t turn down a higher paying job, but I think what you’re missing is that you’ve set her up to be paid less moving forward because you started her out less. Even though she’s doing the SAME job as someone who had 5 more years experience. Is that fair and equal?

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  Employees are not a one time payment.

                  Good employees increase in value, cars decrease in value the minute you drive them off the new car lot.

                  Employees can go under their own steam and find a new work place if they are not happy. Cars, not so much.

                  Employees are living beings, cars… no. I think it’s probably not a good idea to conflate hiring an employee to be similar to buying a car in any manner. Sadly, many employers do think they have bought a machine, not a person’s work effort.

    3. Sandman*

      You’re getting a lot of crap for this answer, but as someone who’s taken a non-linear career path it’s helpful to me to hear that you know what 7-10 years is shorthand for and are willing to look past the years to the underlying skills.

  13. A Hiring Manager*

    As a hiring manager for a tech-adjacent role in software, I can say that while the job descriptions I write tend to be pretty realistic/matched to my expectations, I’m absolutely willing to be flexible when I meet the right person. You can train people to learn new practical skills whereas you can’t train someone to be the type of person who will add to workplace culture, bring a specific viewpoint or background, etc. I liked Alison’s response a lot, and I’d say you should apply for the roles you truly want while being honest about your experience level.

    When you get to the interview phase, exude confidence by linking the work experience you do have to the work you’d be doing at the new spot–and it’s great to be prepared with specific questions that will help you gain a stronger understanding of the work you’d be doing and that will indicate to the hiring manager or recruiter that you’re thinking carefully about the role. If you’re representing yourself and your experiences truthfully and accurately, then you aren’t an imposter–just someone with ambitions and interest in something new. :)

    Finally, I’m curious about the words “dubiously stable” in your (OP’s) question. Do you feel that you’re in a “too good to be true” situation or a situation where the stability your leadership is communicating doesn’t feel trustworthy or long-lasting? This might seem obvious, but if you’re happy where you are and you’re being told you have job security, the longer you stay the more experience you’ll net. Good luck!

    1. A Hiring Manager*

      (It occurred to me right after I post this that “dubiously stable” means “doesn’t seem very stable at all.” Still, my point still stands–if you feel that you’re not getting transparent information about the state of your current company, that’s a separate yet related problem.)

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I took it as this startup’s odds requiring more faith than rationality.

  14. Annony*

    I just recently applied for a job where I didn’t meet the one requirement that was bolded in the list. That one thing was basically asking for two years of experience doing this very specific job. I really debated whether I should bother but it is a very low level position and someone who meets that requirement would be qualified for a higher level job than was being offered so I applied anyway. I included in my cover letter that I did not have any experience doing the bolded requirement and why I felt I would be their ideal candidate anyway and I did get the job.

    So my advice is to be very upfront about the number of years of experience you do have and what else you bring to the table. If they interview you then you don’t need to feel like an imposter because you are not pretending to be more experienced than you are.

  15. KHB*

    We just posted an ad for a vacancy on our team. It asks for “a minimum of 3-5 years experience” (which already makes no sense to me – why not just say the minimum is 3?) doing pretty much exactly what we do. Very few people in the world do exactly what we do, but many more would be capable of learning to do what we do. So we’ve effectively ruled out 95+% of our potential applicant pool, all because we don’t feel like training someone. Maybe that could make sense if we were constantly overwhelmed with applicants for our positions, but from what I can tell, we’re really not.

    I’m glad Alison brought up the gendered aspect of this. I (a woman) very nearly didn’t even apply for the job I have now, because the ad asked for “demonstrable teapot-painting skills,” and I’d never painted a teapot in my life. It turned out that in the mind of whoever wrote the ad, “demonstrable” was different from “demonstrated”: As part of the interview, they handed me a sample teapot and asked me to paint it. I guess they were satisfied with the results, because here I am.

  16. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    The great Alice Cooper says it best; Welcome to my nightmare.

    I’ve lost faith in job requirements having anything to do with the job itself. The majority that I’ve seen from both sides of the table primarily accomplish the goal of winnowing down the candidate pool to a more manageable number, because the truth is that most jobs listed can be done by at least 1 Billion people on this rock.

    If you need out, and you think you can do the job within 6 weeks of being hired, then this is my advice; four bells, apply anyway, and make them reject you.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Younger me got so sick of “you should have known” when the job included x and y that were never mentioned anywhere.

  17. Noncompliance Officer*

    I graduated from college into the job market in 2008, and I remember this same feeling. Entry level jobs were asking for 4+ years experience. I remember many postings said “Only Experience Llama-Groomers Should Apply.” I remember wondering how anyone ever got experience.

    Conversely one time my father and my father in-law were talking about getting jobs in the 60’s and 70’s. Both of them apparently just walked down the street one day, stopped in a random warehouse, asked for a job, and were hired on the spot at what would be now generous pay for a first time job.

      1. OyHiOh*

        Barista jobs in my community are still asking for 2 years of experience! Even the local/independent shops. I’m not sure how one actually learns to be a barista at this point.

    1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

      I’ve worked in retail and food service (as well as salaried professional jobs). I once was rejected by a fancy grocery store because I didn’t already know everything about cheese. I wanted to learn about cheese! I love cheese! I know a lot about cooking and food in general! But nope, to get this minimum wage job I already needed two year’s experience in a fromagerie.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I started working late 70s and yeah, that’s what you did. If you were sitting home clearly you were not job hunting. And that was actually a legit thing to say or think at that time. We’re talking take their help wanted sign off the wall and tell them, “I am here now, you won’t be needing your sign.”

      I do see some of this now in Rural America. People who do day labor will gather at a small store and wait for contractors to come in for their coffee. There’s no resumes, no applications, many times the temp employee does not have a computer or computer skills.

      One thing I have found odd- okay it’s a set up to fail situation- some people with felony convictions cannot have access to a computer. I do not understand why they cannot have supervised access to job hunt but here we are. So if the parolee fails to remain employed they get sent back to prison. This leads to many strange situations, such as people gathering outside a coffee shop hoping to get a day’s work or hear of job openings.

  18. WakeenFeenicks*

    “it’s not that women don’t believe they could do the jobs they’re not applying for; it’s that they assume they have to meet all the qualifications in order to ever be considered”

    Or that women actually read and follow all the instructions, and that men are more, “Eh, close enough! I’ll figure it out!”

    1. Nanani*

      And men, especially when white, able-bodied, etc., get the benefit of the doubt when other people generally don’t!
      This discrepancy doesn’t arise in a vacuum. Women routinely get held to a higher standard and need to be better than the men to get half the credit.
      That’s what needs to change, not women’s confidence levels or assumptions about unwritten rules.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. Women know they can do the job so that is not the problem. The problem is getting past the discrimination/hate/anger that goes on. It gets exhausting.

    2. James*

      I recall some studies showing that men are less risk-averse than women. I don’t buy 99% of evo-psych (far too easy to fall into Just So Story territory without fossil evidence), but if you buy into it there are all sorts of reasons for that.

      If I have 90% of the requirements I’ll put my name in the hat. It’s a low-risk thing, and the reward may be getting my dream job. 75%? Yeah, sure, why not? Gives me an excuse to polish my resume. Less than that? Personally, no–it’s just a waste of everyone’s time at that point.

      I’ll also say that I’ve seen the culture shifting. I’ve seen women applying for jobs that they aren’t 100% qualified on paper to do, and encouraging others to do the same. Which is good. The loss of half the potential candidates is holding us back.

  19. Sled Dog Mama*

    I once complained to a mentor (who did a lot of hiring) that I was seeing postings that were impossible. Things like 10 years experience with X when X had only bee around for 5 years or entry level positions that required certification but the certification requires 2 years work experience. My mentor explained that, at least in my industry, experience level is a code, which is why 90% of the job posting in my field list one of 3 experience levels (2 years, 5 years or 10 years). 2 years means we expect to have to teach you a lot of the aspects of this job, we expect you’ll be in the early part of your career and this position will do a lot of the grunt work, but there will be others around to answer even the most basic questions.
    5 years means we expect you have experience with most if not all aspects of this job, maybe not on all equipment and not necessarily operating independently on everything, expect some grunt work and don’t ask super basic questions
    10 years means we expect someone who can run a program and do all aspects of the job from day one, we may have to show you our templates for things but you don’t need help beyond that. In some places with multiple positions this may include some management responsibilities and assigning the grunt work, and you are expected to be the one answering the basic questions.
    Approach someone in your field and find out if there is a code like this for postings in your field.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        It’s a comforting fantasy, but I’d like a lifetime of corroboration before I believed anything like that.

      2. A Girl Named Fred*

        Agreed! Surely saying “a person in this role will be able to accomplish X, Y, and Z tasks with supervision” or “with minimal supervision” or “with no supervision” would suss out much better candidates than those who do and don’t know the codes? I’m reminded of other inequities that occur (particularly due to race and/or class) because some people don’t have access to ask people about those codes and so would self select out. With the language I said above, almost anyone could judge their abilities more accurately.

        1. Forrest*

          It doesn’t really because not having that experience often means you don’t really how much your supervisor is doing. It’s easy for that <2 years experience person to convince themselves that of course they could do this with minimal supervision. And maybe on a PERFECT day, they could. But the 5 year person has worked perfect days, unexpected days, shitty days, totally WTF days— they know all the ways it can go wrong and the unexpected to happen and what to do in those situations, and even on completely unprecedented days they can make a good guess OR they know this is definitely one to take to their manager.

          I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this stuff. When I look back on what I knew when I’d been in my job for two years— I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Years of experience might be a bad proxy for what they’re trying to convey, but there aren’t any *better* ones IME.

          (The real iniquity, I think, is 1-2 years experience— that basically means, “we don’t really expect you to know much but we can’t be bothered with a COMPLETE beginner”. I think there are very few <2 year experience roles that couldn’t be done by someone with a few weeks’ experience, if they’ve made the most of that experience, and I really do think that’s laziness on the employers’ part.)

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            (The real iniquity, I think, is 1-2 years experience— that basically means, “we don’t really expect you to know much but we can’t be bothered with a COMPLETE beginner”. I think there are very few <2 year experience roles that couldn’t be done by someone with a few weeks’ experience, if they’ve made the most of that experience, and I really do think that’s laziness on the employers’ part.)

            I don’t read it as much as lazy as I do risk averse. After a year on the job, I at least would know if it’s something I want to do for extended stretches of time or not. A true neophyte may well realize two weeks in that they’re just not cut out for the role.

            1. Forrest*

              That’s exactly what I mean, really— if someone has a couple of months worth of internships or volunteering in a related area or has done plenty of informational interviews, they can often make a very good case for understanding the role and why they’re committed to it. I think that’s where companies *should* take the risk as part of creating pathways into the industry for new entrants rather than leaving it to new grads to figure out.

  20. OyHiOh*

    Commenting on job ads vs actual day to day job work:

    I work in a “co-working suite” that’s actually 10-ish private offices organized around a central hallway, property managed by the community college as part of their mandate to support business incubation. There are three or four small “alphabet soup” quasi gov agencies in here along with a couple private entities. The business incubation thing isn’t working very well at the moment, but we get low rents and a nice downtown location. ANYWAY, point of the comment – one of the other tiny quasi gov’s and mine hired at about the same time, for approximately similar positions. My position was listed as an admin assistant and the job ad was basically a list of skills you need to do well in this job, don’t really care if you learned them on the job or through a college/vocational program. My peer in the other org down the hall was hired also as an assistant – but the ask was a 4 year degree and 2 to 3 years of experience. Now, my peer is well qualified for the work their job has morphed into (digital communications) but it’s endlessly fascinating to me how two job ads for roughly similar positions had such different expectations.

    My job is also morphing, incidentally, in ways that play to my writing skills.

  21. MissGirl*

    Is your field experiencing a shortage of positions from COVID or is this business as usual? I worked in a field where positions were few and applicants many. I was actually able to land a position a few months out of college that many would’ve considered a dream job. Ten years later I looked around and realized there was nowhere for me to go and I was getting paid peanuts. Taking my skills into a new industry was one of the best career decisions I ever made.

  22. Knope Knope Knope*

    As a hiring manager, I can say that at least for me years of experience is basically totally irrelevant. HR makes me put it in and I never look at it again. I just hired someone far more junior for a midlevel technical role than I was envisioning because her experience was precisely relevant and though she had less experience than the other candidates, it was more in line with our needs. Obviously, this won’t work for super senior roles, but I would take the years of experience thing with a grain of salt.

    1. D3*

      The thing is…it can be REALLY hard to get past HR to your desk, especially if the system is automated. So you might say it’s irrelevant to you, but it really is an obstacle for job seekers.

  23. Wintermute*

    I work in IT where this is super duper common. especially **literally impossible* requirements like “10 years experience with Microsoft Server 2016”. It comes from two places, usually.

    The first is more innocuous but is a red flag that an organization will be a bureaucratic nightmare. HR writes the descriptions and has a list of requirements they apply without much thought or vetting, and they have little technical background. So they may have a policy that says “all applications must be owned by a senior developer”, and another policy that says, “senior developers must have 10 years experience”, and then when an IT supervisor says, “we need to hire a new foo.bar developer to own our new foobar application,” they look it up in the chart and decide that they must have no less than 10 years experience, despite foo.bar being three years old and foo.old being only 7, they will accept no less. Well in practice they probably will but it doesn’t say anything good about their competence.

    The second is a straight-up cheat. They put an impossible requirement on there so they can turn around and go “oh gee, NOT ONE APPLICANT meets our requirements, there are no Americans who can do this job! boo hoo” and go hire on a visa, and the recruiter will just tell them to lie

      1. TardyTardis*

        And the few people there who can do foo.bar who are US citizens will train the one with the visa, and then get fired while more people with the visa get hired.

  24. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

    More employers and HR departments need to work on having up to date job specifications, instead of descriptions.

    List out what the person is actually going to be doing in the role, how often, and when you expect them to know how to do it.

    Then they would be able to write a job posting that actually got them decent candidates.

    Bonus! It also makes evaluating your employees easier, while they are in the role.

  25. NotSoAnon*

    I found this aspect of hiring to be incredibly frustrating (still do though I haven’t been in the job market for quite some time now).

    When I moved into my first management role the very first thing I did was create a profile of all the skills I thought were necessary for every role that I was overseeing. That lead me down the path of my own learning and on the job training. My company was very young (startup) and didn’t have defined roles. There was no training, and it was trial by fire for about two years.

    Creating those profiles really shed light on the qualities I thought were important and it actually boiled down to soft skills more than traditional experience or “hard skills”. I work in customer relations and customer service. It would be easy to list “needs 3 years of call center experience in fast paced financial services firm” but that doesn’t tell me anything about their skills.

    So I circumvented a lot of this by writing a detailed discription of the day to day for the job, preferred qualifications (I.e customer service previously, string written and verbal communication skills, financial experience is a plus but not necessary). I don’t list degree requirements because they aren’t necessary for a person to do well in the position. Is it nice if they have a degree, yes. We also list a “people in the past have succeeded in this role with x qualities” and it’s a list such as “prefers working on detailed items like reports rather than big picture strategy items”, “is more outgoing than introverted”, “prefers working closely with a team over working individually”.

    Does this filter out everyone, absolutely not. But it does allow me to cast a wider net and look at various candidates instead of narrowing the search automatically. Definitely don’t have all the answers but I will say doing this and writing better descriptions has led me to hiring a wide range of candidates (who have blown me away), lower turn over, and happier employees.

    I do the same with my interview questions. They are all very specifically tailored to help me identify soft skills I’m looking for. I can train anyone on how to use our software, excel, ticketing systems, etc. but it’s really hard to train people to have empathy when a client is sobbing on the phone. I guess my takeaway from all this is I wish more employers would open their minds to the possibility that some candidates who don’t look like a “perfect” fit on paper might be exactly who you are looking for if framed in the right light. And on the plus side, it’s also led to having a really diverse team across the spectrum of race, family status, age, sex etc and has increased new perspectives /brought new ideas to the table.

    1. Message in a Bottle*

      Thanks for this message! I wish people would talk more about soft skills and also adjust for a more diverse team as you have.

      But I guess it depends on the industry too.

      1. NotSoAnon*

        Well I noticed when I was shadowing my boss that we were getting no quality job applicants so I asked to review the posting.

        It was the standard need x years of this, be advanced in excel, etc. I was already doing all the department training and people were struggling with the “easy” parts of customer service. The being friendly, warm, empathetic, quick on their tongue, active listening skills. All soft skills that NEVER make it into the job posting!

        Once I realized we were focused on all the wrong things, I adjusted it and we started getting people with all this awesome experience from a wide range of industries (we are a very niche business in an already small industry) and I think not having that exact experience was scaring people off.

        Training and employee development are my favorite parts of my job. So it’s so much easier to find someone with a sunny disposition, decent phone skills, and zero industry knowledge and get them up to speed.

        Maybe one day more employers will take soft skills more seriously but so many companies are stuck in their ways.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      We also list a “people in the past have succeeded in this role with x qualities” and it’s a list such as “prefers working on detailed items like reports rather than big picture strategy items”, “is more outgoing than introverted”, “prefers working closely with a team over working individually”.

      I love this. Clear and candid.

      1. NotSoAnon*

        I really enjoy these when I see them because that’s how I like to approach situations. With honesty and transparency. Helps people self select out as well if they really aren’t social butterflies or hate working on detail oriented projects.

        We had a really awesome HR professional come on board right before I was promoted who had tons of management experience. She was actually the one who recommended this and now all hiring managers in my company have to include this type of blurb in our job postings. And the entire company has benefited from much lower turnover (even during our crazy hiring expansion when we doubled in size this past year!)

  26. Policy Wonk*

    The Federal Government is an exception to this idea that job requirements are wish lists. If you are applying for something through USA jobs, you must have all the requirements listed. So please be sure to address them all in your application. You can be a bit creative in describing how you meet those requirements, as long as you can say you meet the requirement.

    1. Ari*

      I’ve been looking at attorney positions on USA Jobs and been wondering about this exact thing (especially for some of the 2-5 years experience listings that don’t require any other advanced certifications). I’ve just erred on the side of staying away because even the low end of experience feels pretty senior to stuff I’ve done in prior jobs or during law school.

  27. GreenDoor*

    The dumbest one I saw was for a position with my organization that wanted:
    * Expert-level knowledge of Program A
    * Proficiency in Program B and
    * Fundamental understanding of Program C
    where all three programs were application systems custom-created for our specific organization. I asked if this was an internal-only posting and was told no, they specifically wanted to recruit outside talent. [Facepalm]
    So I agree with Alison, if you meet 60-80% of the qualifications, go for it!

    1. irene adler*

      Yes! I’ve seen these types of things in job descriptions! So I assume they will only hire current or former employees. Right?

  28. goosebumps*

    I work at a large tech company and we also will adjust the position depending on the level of the candidate we go for. So if we put an Engineer position up with general requirements, but our best candidate is a Senior level, we’ll hire them as a Senior Engineer, if they are more of a junior level , we’ll hire them as an Associate Engineer, and occasionally we’ll get blown away by people fresh out of school and hire them in as an Engineering Tech on a growth plan.

  29. char*

    Autistic candidates are another group that are probably disadvantaged by this practice.

    I’m autistic, and I tend to take requirements very literally. I assume that if someone says something is required, then that means it’s actually required! Early in my career, I was SO frustrated that I could barely find any job postings that I seemed to be qualified for because even the “entry level” ones all said they wanted at least 3 years of experience. There were a lot of jobs that I didn’t apply for because I didn’t meet the stated requirements, even though I’m sure I could have done fine at them. It took me a long time to be willing to submit applications for postings where I didn’t meet every single requirement, and even then, I always felt like a liar if I did.

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Nod. How am I supposed to guess that some stranger doesn’t really mean it when they say I need to beat a llama in single combat to get this job?

  30. Lorax*

    I feel this. It’s a real struggle, and I spent years thinking I needed to meet more of the qualifications than were actually necessary. Luckily Alison’s advice helped me have the confidence to start reaching higher, and now my current job is something I would have previously thought was out of reach. All you can do is go for it.

    In terms of how to tell if a qualification is a “real” requirement or not, it’s nearly impossible from the outside. But in addition to Alison’s 80% rule of thumb, I think there are a few general guidelines that can help you assess individual items:

    1. If it’s scalable, it’s probably negotiable. This would include:
    – Years of experience. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to define the different between 4- and 5-years’ worth of experience. It’s just a proxy for knowledge and proficiency, so if you’re in the ballpark, go for it.
    – Dollar amounts. Sometimes you see things like “has managed budgets of $2 million or more.” Generally, I’ve found they’re using the dollar amount as a proxy for level of responsibility or complexity. (There are exceptions to this: there’s a big difference between managing federal grants totaling $749,999 vs. $750,000, because the later is the threshold for the federal single audit. But if there’s something like that, they’ll usually spell it out rather than defaulting to dollar amounts as a proxy.)
    – Number of people. Sometimes you’ll also see something like “has managed teams of 5 or more” or “has coordinated events with attendance of greater than 100 people.” Sometimes that matters, but sometimes it doesn’t. They might be using that as a proxy for how well you keep multiple plates spinning, for level of responsibility, or for management experience in general.

    2. If it’s substitutable, it’s probably negotiable. For instance, the listing might as for experience with Google Sheets, when you’ve only used Excel. Or it might ask for experience with state grants, when you’ve only handled federal grants. Sure, there’s differences, but I think whenever there’s a ton of transferable knowledge and skill, you can generally go for it. You might just need to spell it out in your cover letter.

    Not that this advice helps much with application systems that auto-reject based on bad criteria, but not all companies use those systems, so I wouldn’t take yourself out of the running preemptively.

    1. Ari*

      I like this idea of parsing through the job listings! This is the kind of thing I wish my professional development office suggested to us while we were still students. Even if it’s not an exact science, it’s still better than just thinking I can only apply if I meet 100% of the stated criteria.

  31. TWW*

    In some cases the person doing the hiring or writing the job posting doesn’t exactly know what the qualifications for the position are.

    I once saw a job posting for a job I had just left. My former employer was seeking to fill the position I had vacated, so basically needed some one else with my qualifications. It was a company that designed lama grooming tools and my job was writing instruction manuals for those tools. The posted minimum requirements included 5+ years experience in tech writing and 5+ experience in llama husbandry. I personally have never so much as seen a llama, which I guess my boss never realized because I did I fine job writing llama-related instructions. And with me gone, there were no tech writers at the company to tell him that tech writers don’t always need experience in what they write about.

    I doubt there are more than a handful of people in the world with that much experience in both areas, so presumably they eventually hired someone with considerably less than their “minimum requirements.”

    1. Mantis Toboggan, MD*

      My friend just got hired for a job in scientific writing that on paper he had like 25% of the qualifications for. I encouraged him to apply because I knew they’d never find a good writer with experience in journalism, an MSc, and 5+ years of scientific writing experience. It’s easier for a good writer to learn basic technical/scientific content than to find a scientist that can write and actually wants to be a writer.

  32. Tin Cormorant*

    I’ve been living this myself. Graduated December 2019 and felt really ready to enter my new career, since my teachers were always full of compliments for my designs. Even the junior roles that specifically say “recent graduates would be great in this position” still say they require 2-3 years of experience in the field.

    I apply to them anyway of course because I assume that must be a “nice to have” rather than a true requirement, but if they bother contacting me at all it’s to send me a canned rejection letter. A year passing with no progress is really disheartening. I try to remind myself that the job market is terrible during Covid, but the few places I’ve actually gotten to an interview with keep talking about how business is booming and they’re so much more busy now than they used to be.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Keep in mind that internships can count, and I’ve even heard applicants talk about course work that applies, so it is possible to be a recent grad who technically has over a year in experience. Anything you can use, talk up.

  33. Elle by the sea*

    I never understand why people hesitate to apply for jobs they are not fully qualified for. I have always applied for anything that’s interesting to me and I’m marginally qualified. It’s not the applicant’s job to decide whether they are qualified or not. If they find you unqualified, they will not interview you. I was about 50% qualified for my current job but was hired, and I love it and do it reasonably well. Give yourself a chance and apply for whatever positions you want to.

    1. Elle by the sea*

      I do think differently about years of experience, though. I do hesitate to apply for jobs that require more experience than what I have. But it might be because I often got rejected for “no experience” for entry level jobs when in fact I had 2 years of experience.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      For me it’s an issue of time. I put a chunk of time into looking at jobs and writing a cover letter and a relevant resume. I need to figure out if *I* am wasting my time. This means I have to assume people say what they mean and mean what they say.

      I will say this, I definitely do not want to work at a place that plays “guess what your job duties are today”.

      1. Elle by the sea*

        Yeah, you have a point. In my field, we don’t normally write cover letters, unless it’s an academic job. But if you are asked to write cover letters for most applications, I do understand the time constraint.

    3. Mantis Toboggan, MD*

      I think it also depends on where you live. If you’re in a small/tight labour market employers are less likely to find their unicorn. Meeting 50% of requirement is about my threshold for applying to jobs, and with a good cover letter I can get interviews for some of those positions.

  34. LizM*

    I wish that hiring managers or HR would list the skills needed vs. years of experience.

    I’ve held two jobs with the same title in my organization, on different teams. One of those was in a small, sleepy, remote office, where the processes and procedures had been established for years, and it really didn’t take that much creativity or training to do my job well. Then I transferred to another office where I was leading the team taking on a pilot project to totally transform our organization’s process. I learned more in the first year of that job than I would have learned in 5 years in the previous job. But on paper, I still had 2 years of experience, not the 5-7 that were needed for a promotion. However, I was proficient in all the skills needed for the promotion (and had actually developed the handbook for some of those skills).

    I guess that’s to say, I look at “X years of experience” as “what would the average employee have mastered after working in this field for X years?” That’s the question your cover letter and resume should answer.

    Unfortunately, some organizations have less flexibility. For instance, many government agencies have “time in grade” requirements to move up to the next grade. It doesn’t matter how stellar you are, you have to have a year of experience as a GS-09 to be considered for a GS-11 job, and a year as a GS-11 to be considered for a GS-12, etc.

  35. Skippy*

    Last week I saw a job posting in my field where the first line mentioned that they were looking for an “emerging professional,” but when you scrolled down to the bullet list of requirements, the first one was “five or more years experience in the field,” and the salary was more in line with what most places would pay someone with 10 years experience.

    I ended up applying, as I’ve been in the field for more than 10 years and “emerged” several years ago, but I have no idea if I’m overqualified or underqualified or exactly what they’re looking for. If I’m interested in the job I always figure I have nothing to lose.

  36. Bookworm*

    Been there, OP. It’s frustrating and daunting. All I can say is to keep shooting, take the tips on the resume/cover letter, etc.

    Good luck!!

  37. Gertie*

    I initially didn’t apply for the position I have now when it was first posted. It had such a strange mix of qualifications that didn’t seem related to each other (think PhD in Russian literature and 5 years scuba diving experience). I figured there had to be an internal candidate that they were writing it for. Nope-they were really trying to combine two positions into one. When they reposted, I applied and got it because they realized they had to pick one or the other kind of experience.

  38. Heather*

    I get frustrated by the alternate qualifications. I have, on at least 3 occasions, hit EVERY alternate qualification for a job and had the work experience. Sometimes, a mix of both preferred and alternate in my field.
    No call, no interview. The job gest reposted for the next 9 months. Why post alternate certifications and qualifications if you never plan to hire anyone with them?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Maybe the person they hired did not work out? Or maybe the hiring manager left and had to be replaced first?

  39. Ari*

    OP, I just want to let you know that I’m in almost exactly the same situation with the whole “years of experience” job posting frustration. I think the advice here is pretty spot-on, but I get how awful it feels to even just look through a couple of postings trying to figure out if you should apply.

    What I’ve started doing is talking myself down from the initial anxiety tidal wave of “I’m not good enough” that always arises when I first look at a posting. So, I’ll say to myself “ok anxiety, I see you. Feel free to float around the room while I finish reading this.” Then I let myself read the tangible items listed in the posting — like salary, location, job duties, etc. I’ll still feel the anxiety in my body, but in that moment I’m allowing my more focused self to not immediately address it/make it go away. That allows me the time I need to slow down, read the posting, and think through whether the job is appealing to me.

    Once I get through that, I then look at the years of experience, which usually causes the anxiety to spike a little more. But, by then I’ll have already looked at part of the posting and formed an impression of whether or not I think I could actually do the job or want to do it at all. (I almost always filter my search results to 5 years and under so that I don’t spend time feeling bad about not being qualified for more senior positions).

    I’d encourage you to be really kind to yourself during this time. I bet if you can come up with your own routine response for dealing with the frustrations and self-doubts as they arise, you’ll be able to take some of the emotional edge off of the whole job searching process.

    Good luck!

  40. Sahara*

    “It’s not uncommon to see them ask for, for example, 10 years of experience in gizmo levitation, when levitating gizmos have only been around at all for 8 years.”

    Oh, my goodness – working in tech myself, I find this sort of crap in job listings absolutely infuriating.

    How are you actually, politely, meant to work around this? Especially if you are on of the team who has worked on Gizmo Levitation since its inception, and are therefore literally an actual expert in the field?

  41. 15 Pieces of Flair*

    Quick note on applicant tracking systems: many employers will include a question asking for years of experience when submitting your initial application. This is almost always a screening question; candidates who do not report at least the minimum years of experience will be rejected automatically. The only way to get your resume screened by a real person is to report at least the minimum in this field. Everyone who understands ATS does this, and the worst thing that can happen is that they will screen your resume and quickly reject you, which is the guaranteed outcome if you report too few years.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      If the system rewards dishonesty and punishes honesty, the results should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

    2. RG2*

      Interesting! That’s not how our ATS works at all. I think it really depends on the employer. We use an ATS because it helps us organize applicants, see if people have applied to multiple jobs over time, and collecting hiring process notes (which we are legally required to retain), but the AI functions are pretty useless and most employers I’m familiar with (including us, but I’ve also talked to people who do this work at other companies) have an actual human look at every application that followed directions (ie. uploaded both a cover letter and a resume).

      I’m sure some large employers use an ATS this way, but I feel like a lot of people blame ATS because it’s easier than the truth, which is this is complicated and your odds of getting a job are entirely dependent on the specific pool of other applicants for the role.

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