Job Search Tips

7 Strategies for Landing Your Dream Job (Even If You Aren’t Qualified)

Written by Kate Lopaze

“Do what you love.” This is pretty common career advice, and you’ve probably heard it before. There’s just one catch—how do you get to that dream job, the job you really want? Especially if you don’t really have the experience or qualifications you need? All is not lost. Assuming you don’t want to jump from, say, retail clerk to astronaut, there are ways to help boost yourself up into your dream job.

1. Know What You Want

If you don’t have a goal in mind, it’ll be awfully difficult to set your path to get there. Before you start combing job listings or working on your resume, it’s important to know what your goal is here. This is especially true if your dream job is a bit of a stretch, professionally. Winging it won’t get you ahead here.

If you’re having trouble deciding what that dream job can be, there are fun tools like this interactive dream job quiz that can help you speed up the thought process by taking your interests and offering real-world odds of getting a related job. (Sadly, it turns out my odds of becoming a TV-watching spy aren’t super high.)

If you’re still not sure about how to juggle what you want to do versus what you’re qualified to do, career coach Laura Berman Fortgang has some great advice about how to cut through the noise and figure out what you want to get from your career:

2. Know Your Value

Experience is a great attribute to have in your job hunt, but it’s not the only one. You also need to look at the quality of that experience: the skills and knowledge you have accumulated over time. Whether you’ve been working for 1 year or 15 years, you have steadily built your skills and your professional value. When you’re crafting your resume, think about using a format that showcases your skills, instead of using the traditional chronological format where you list your jobs, working backwards.

3. See the Job Requirements as Guidelines, Not Set in Stone

If you think of the job description requirements as more of a starting point than an ironclad list of requirements, it can help remove some of that mental block to applying to a job that may be a reach. While some things may be non-negotiable (such as particular skills), other things may be more flexible if you have equivalent skills or experience. For example, if a job description calls for a Bachelor’s degree but you have an Associate’s and a number of skills related to the job, don’t let that scare you off. Just make sure you emphasize the qualities and skills that you do have to support the job description.

4. Set Your Story

Everyone loves a good story—and hiring managers like a story that shows how great a person would be for this particular job. Your resume is the snapshot of your skills and professional experience, but your work doesn’t end there. You need to help set the narrative. Are you the savvy underdog looking to trade up your skills for experience? Are you a bold career-changer looking to translate your skills and experience to a new industry? Your resume doesn’t tell a reader everything about you—just the highlights. This is why a cover letter can be essential, even in these days of automated submissions. Not only is it a chance to add more key words (more on that in a bit), but it lets you add some color and context about who you are, and summarize why you’re such a great fit for this position.

If you don’t have tons of experience, it’s also a way to start the conversation about how your skills bridge a potential experience gap. Give the reader a reason to keep reading, instead of flipping ahead to the next resume. Work on your elevator pitch, which is a quick, succinct headline that answers three questions: who you are, what you do, and what you’re looking for. That’s the line you can hit in your cover letter, in a summary statement/objective on your resume, and again in the interview. This is your chance to set up your brand.

5. Outsmart the Resume Robots

These days, there’s a good chance that the first reader of your resume/application package isn’t even human. No offense to the robots out there, but this is not ideal if you’re trying to punch above your weight class, professionally. The smartest thing you can do here is know exactly what the company is looking for—and you have the job description right in front of you to help you do that. Make sure your resume and cover letter are hitting the key words that jump out of the job description—especially the ones related to experience, education, and skills. This is also where careful proofreading of your resume comes in handy; you want to make sure that your high-priority key words are spelled correctly, and match the way they’re presented in the job description. You don’t want to lie, but if you’re trying to get somewhat creative with your qualifications, hitting as many of the key points from the job description as possible may get you past the first round, and one step closer to an interview where you can wow them with the skills you do have.

6. Network Like Crazy

Your network isn’t just a nice little collection of Twitter handles or LinkedIn headshots. These are people whose experience and professional kinship can help boost you from faceless applicant to contender. According to LinkedIn, a whopping 85% (!) of jobs are filled by network referrals. Why is this? Filling open jobs is time-consuming and expensive, and companies like to feel good about the choice and investment they’re making.

Having someone else vouch for an applicant can help make that process easier, and push the applicant higher on the list than they might have made it if they just went through the usual process of 1) find job; 2) apply online; 3) wait for HR rep to call. Having someone talk up your skills and fitness for the job is immensely helpful. And you never know when an opening or an opportunity may pop up from your old boss, or that guy who sat next to you in Accounting class. Keeping these relationships fresh, and making an effort to attend industry events or networking events is definitely worth your time.

7. Package Yourself Carefully

You already know you need a resume, but that’s merely the first step. If it’s been a while since you redid your resume from scratch, guess what? Now’s the time to burn that sucker to the ground (not literally—no fire hazards, please) and create a new one for the opportunities you want:

And as always, it’s important to make sure you’re tailoring your resume to match the job you want. Customizing your resume doesn’t take long, and it can mean the difference between Joe, the Generic Okay Job Applicant and Joe, the Impressive Interview Candidate Who Would Fit in At Rodeo Clown Inc.

But don’t neglect the other pieces here—the cover letter can be an essential part of your applicant package, especially when you’re trying to level up:

And don’t skimp on interview prep, so that you’re ready when the call comes. Make sure your interview outfit and lucky shoes are ready to go, and get yourself in interview fighting shape:

It also can’t hurt to brush up on what not to do. A few cautionary tales can help your interview game when the time comes:

After all, this is your dream job, and you don’t want to feel like you’re scrambling to cover weaknesses or a lack of experience. The more you practice and work on your total package, the smoother you’ll look when you’re finally presenting yourself as the ideal applicant.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.