Job Search Tips

Here’s how to get that job, even if you’re underqualified

Written by Peter Jones

Typical job search wisdom says you shouldn’t send off resumes to jobs you know you just don’t have the qualifications to land. But there are some circumstances, especially in tech, where a job might be just beyond your reach, but still attainable if you know how to work what you have to its full potential.

Here are a few strategies to help you craft a job-seeking persona that will help you shoot beyond your experience level. After all, if you’re trying to break into a new field, how is it possible for you to have 3-5 years experience anyway? Try these tips instead of writing off your ideal job as a lost cause.

Showcase the skills you do have.

You might not tick every box they seek, but it’s possible that you tick some boxes with more gusto than anybody else applying. Play up what you do have, and then take the focus away from their list and make your own list—you might have skills they didn’t realize they needed for their open position. Make a case that your unique combination of skills is actually even better suited for the job, and then go on to explain how and why.

Focus on your potential.

Even if you don’t have a specific knowledge base or set of skills, show you have the desire and potential to learn whatever you’ll need to know. Play up your motivation and drive. Emphasize the speed of your learning curve, and explain how quickly you acquired expertise in something previously. Don’t just tell them you’ll hit the ground running and pick up what you don’t have on the fly. Show them how you’ve done this throughout your career.

Fill in your gaps.

Use your cover letter to provide context for whatever skills and experience you lack, and as a way of smoothing over the holes they might see in your resume. Make an upbeat, short-but-sweet case for why they ought to give your resume, despite its holes, a second look. Be honest. You’re not a perfect candidate, but you might just be the perfect person for the job.

Hold the recruiter’s hand.

Don’t just slap down the bare facts of your skills and experience and hope whoever reads your resume is trained to read between the lines and construct your ideal candidacy for you. Connect the dots for them. Synthesize everything into one big picture for them. Make it clear—in your cover letter, on your resume, and in the interview.

Stay positive.

In your honesty, stay away from negative language like “I don’t know…” “I’m not qualified to…” or “I’ve never done…” Frame things with a bit more optimism, like: “I’m eager to explore…” “I’d love to work on…” etc. Be aware of what you don’t know and don’t have going for you right now, but also make it clear that you are conscious of what you lack and are eager to do what needs to be done to get up to speed.

When in doubt, ask.

If you’re on the fence and not sure whether to throw your application into the pile, send a quick email off to the recruiter asking them to clarify what they mean by “proficiency in _____.” It will save both parties time and energy in the end.

Give them what they don’t even realize they want.

If you want it badly enough and have the drive and guts to go for it, you’re halfway there. Concentrate on showing your passion and tenacity. The rest, unless you’re way off the requirements mark, can usually be learned on the job with enough work behind the scenes. Show the proper level of excitement, demonstrate how close you are to being their ideal, and let them see just how hard you’ll work to get up to speed.

About the author

Peter Jones