By Gerald Walsh ©
Years ago, I met a young environmental engineer, Brad, who had just come from an informational interview with an engineering firm. The firm was meeting him only as a courtesy – as they had no openings – and Brad, being a relatively-recent graduate, had limited experience.
Brad was excited after meeting them and said to me, “I know I can help them.” I encouraged him to back that up by writing a business plan explaining specifically how he could add value to the firm. To his credit, he did just that and over the following week produced a 15-page plan that documented what he could do. Luckily, the firm was willing to meet with him again. They listened to his case, read his plan, and lo and behold, decided to hire him in a junior engineering position.
It was Brad’s initiative that got him hired. It got me thinking: what else can you do to convince an employer to consider you for a job even though you might not have all the qualifications?
Play up your transferrable skills and explain how they relate to the job requirements. Surprisingly, most people have difficulty explaining their own skills and abilities. As a result they under-value themselves when looking at jobs that are different from their past experience. True, you may not have all the qualifications listed in the posting. But there’s a pretty good chance you have a series of skills that could be applied to a job. For example, communication, interpersonal, leadership and teamwork skills can be applied in almost any job. So list your skills and explain (in your cover letter or resume) how they apply.
Try using a functional resume. Most people use a chronological resume, which lists experience in reverse chronological order. However there are times – such as when you are thinking about making a change in your career direction – when a functional resume would suit you better. A functional resume does not list your work history in any order. Rather, it groups all of your experiences into functional areas and then lists what you have done and your accomplishments under each of those functions. Examples of these functions might be accounting, human resources, fund raising, government relations, leadership, etc.
Explain how your volunteer experience may have given you the necessary skills and experience to do the job. Don’t undervalue the skills, experience and contacts you may have gained through your volunteer work. Even though it is unpaid, it is still a great way to develop skills, gain experience and boost your career. If you are a recent graduate and just launching your career, think about how group projects in school may have given you team building and conflict resolution skills. Or how making presentations helped build your confidence and communication skills.
Be likeable. Employers want to hire people they like and whom they feel will be a good fit in their company. If you make good eye contact, smile naturally when you speak, listen well, and vary your voice tone, you will come across as authentic and trustworthy. Often, the most qualified candidate on paper does not get hired because they lack this “likeability factor.” (I plan to write more about this topic in a future blog.)
Indicate your willingness to take additional training, even on your own dime, if necessary. Even if the employer doesn’t intend to take you up on this offer, they will appreciate your gesture to further your skills.
Remember that most job postings describe the employer’s “ideal” candidate. When writing job ads, employers often shoot for the stars by describing the perfect candidate for the job. And I don’t blame them – they should definitely try. But in most cases, that perfect candidate is not out there. So, don’t be discouraged. If you meet many of the qualifications but not all, you should still apply for the job.
In addition to the above points, you always increase your chances of getting hired by having good references, being well-prepared for the interview, and demonstrating proper interview etiquette, such as following up with a thank you letter.
Question: Do you have any other strategies on how convince an employer to consider you even if you’re underqualified?
To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.