How to Decide if You’re Qualified Enough to Submit a Job Application

by Oct 22, 2018

You’re scanning LinkedIn, Seek, CareerHub and find your dream job.
But wait—they’re looking for someone with 1-3 years’ experience, and there are a few other bullet points in the job description that you’ve never done before. You don’t tick all the boxes. Should you apply?

Decipher the Level of the Role

Your first step is to attempt to decipher just how underqualified you are. Job ads can make this tricky. Don’t assume you need to fulfil 100% of the requirements—these are often a list of ‘nice to haves’ vs ‘must haves’.

Sometimes these job ads are written by someone in HR and the hiring manager is actually really flexible about their requirements but that gets lost in translation by the HR person writing the job advert. Or it’s an old job advert, that hasn’t really been updated over the years. As an ex recruiter, I can tell you hundreds of stories when it comes to the how and the why behind requirements listed in job ads. The key is to use the job ad to get an idea of the position’s general level of seniority to rule out those who are completely off the mark.

When I decipher this specific example, I’m confident someone with 1 year experience is going to be a lot greener than someone with 3 years’ experience. That tells me that the company is really flexible about what level candidate they see as successful in this position and that potentially there is wiggle room to shape the role around the ‘right’ person. The word ‘right’ meaning right attitude, cultural fit, drive, ambition, passion, and hunger to do the role.

Think about this—a lot of people in their current jobs don’t fulfil every requirement that’s listed in their job description, so take these job ads with a pinch of salt, and definitely go for it if you are confident you can do the job! In my recruitment experience I’ve seen countless examples where a job will be flexed up or down to fit a great candidate. Of course, every organisation is different with this sort of thing, but don’t rule yourself out of the race unnecessarily.

What if it’s too senior?

If your dream job would be a massive step up (they’re looking for 5-7 years of experience and you have 2), your time is probably better spent on applying for roles that are a closer fit.

Or, try a totally different approach! Instead of directly applying for this particular role, send a speculative application to the company. Let them know that this role caught your eye, explain your interest and say that you’d be interested in joining the team in another capacity or if they are open to a candidate at your level of experience. This strategy doesn’t often work, but remember that an average of 80% of jobs are not advertised, so don’t underestimate this tactic when applying for roles.

Insider Recruitment Knowledge

My biggest realisation working in recruitment was learning how the hiring process actually worked behind the scenes; seeing first-hand which candidates got hired and which ones didn’t and why. Most people forget that the company’s employees looking at your resume, interviewing you, and making a final hiring decision are real people! And they want to connect with other capable, enthusiastic, personable people. (Remember real people created these job descriptions as dream wish lists for an ideal candidate who they believe may or may not exist. Unicorn candidates!)

I know that before I got into recruitment, I used to think of the hiring process as an impersonal computer algorithm that compared resumes and spit out the “best” logical candidate. I always felt like I was sending my resume into a black hole.

Yes, this is true when it comes to applicant tracking systems. But real people still get involved in the recruitment process at some point. Hiring is a much more emotional process than most people realise, so you can’t underestimate the power of your personality and cultural fit. People like people who are like them and/or who they can understand and relate to. I used to call it the ‘beer test’ when I worked in recruitment. Let’s face it, we spend most of our lives at work and people want to work with real people who they can see themselves spending time with, whether that is working on a project or getting after work drinks.

The Human Element

Year on year, the Australian Association of Graduate Employers (AAGE) survey has said that the number one attribute employers look for is ‘cultural fit’. This is great news because it means that who you are as a person actually matters when you’re applying for a job, and often it can make up for skills you might be lacking for the job. Your positive nature and motivation to deliver for your team can be more valuable than never having used a particular CRM program (they can train you!).

Proving that you’re keen to learn new skills and aren’t scared to be thrown in the deep end is more valuable to an employer than someone who meets every single bullet point in a job ad, but is unmotivated and stubbornly set in their ways. Highlighting your genuine passion and enthusiasm for the role or the organisation’s strategic goals will make a bigger impact on an interviewer than being a SalesForce guru.

Must. Tailor. Your. Application. Documents.

Do I have to state the obvious? Your incredible personality will not win a company over in an interview if you never make to the interview. So you’re going to have to make a HUGE effort to bring your personality to life in your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile.

Instead of simply stating that you’re an organised, motivated worker in your cover letter, tell a story about how your colleagues teased you for putting labels on everything in the stationary closet. Instead of claiming you are a natural leader, talk about a time when you helped a new staff member with a difficult work project. Share a story of a time you’ve been thrown in the deep end and were successful. And above all and my number 1 tip: Instead of making your cover letter about you, make it about the company, why you want to work there, what you will bring to the team and why you’re a great fit.

So Should I Apply?

It might seem logical to only apply for jobs you’re qualified for, but it’s a very limiting strategy and you’ll wind up holding yourself back from potentially awesome opportunities! Not only have I given this advice to my own candidates, but I’ve had HR professionals and hiring managers back me up on this. You don’t need to be 100% qualified in order to be the best candidate for the job, but you do need to keep in mind the human element and share your enthusiasm, passion, and soft skills.



Featured image courtesy of Unsplash


By Steph Miller

By Steph Miller

Alumni Career Coach

Steph Miller is an experienced recruitment professional and the Alumni Career Coach in UTS Careers. She helps alumni meet career goals through career facilitation and recruitment guidance one-on-one providing resume development, personal branding, networking, negotiation and interviewing techniques while staying up on the most recent career trends.