Underqualified for the job. Why and when you should apply

Most candidates are qualified and without realizing it, unqualify themselves. 
  • Have you ever read a job description and felt you were underqualified? Maybe you felt you were only qualified for 80% or 90% of the requirements? 
  • If there were 7 bullets listed under “skills”, have you ever thought, “I am only familiar with 5 of these skills so I can’t apply?”

If you feel you are underqualified for the job, don’t worry. We are going to explain why most job descriptions are written for an overqualified candidate. In most cases, if you feel you are underqualified, you should probably still go for it! 

If your experience covers the first few bullets listed, you are probably qualified for the job.

How the job description is written

When hiring managers create a job description, the most important qualifications are the first 2-3 bullets listed under the “Requirements” and the first 2-3 bullets listed under “Experience”. If you have experience that covers these bullets, but might be missing a few others, you should still apply for the job. When managers put together a job description, whether they realize it or not, but they are envisioning the optimum candidate. We get it. You’ve got to shoot for the stars. 

The optimum candidate is overqualified

The optimum candidate is a candidate that would be paid at the top of the salary band, or would actually be too qualified to consider this job. This is the perfect candidate. In most cases, the only candidate that will check all of the boxes is vastly overqualified. This candidate will check all the boxes because the job is too junior for them. An overqualified candidate will require more salary than the job is budgeted for. So remember this: you aren’t competing with this overqualified candidate.

So, let’s say you have 4 years of experience in a particular field. 

  • If a job description is looking for 5-7 years of experience you should probably apply.
  • When the job description is looking for someone who managed a team of 20 and you only managed 15, you should probably apply. 

If you only have 2-3 years of experience, or only managed a team of 3-4, this is an example of when you should probably consider putting your efforts elsewhere. 

The hiring manager doesn’t realize what they posted

When a hiring manager writes a job description, on a scale of a 1-10, 10 being the elusive, fully qualified unicorn, they are writing it for the 10. They are not writing a job description with just a ho-hum, average, 7 in mind. The candidates that are interviewed will probably be an 8, an 8.5 if they are lucky. 

We are rarely able to afford what we really want

Let’s face it. We have all made a list of requirements for a new car or a new laptop. Your initial list of requirements was 20 items long. You are not going to get all 20 items with your proposed budget. You are going to give on a few things. Hiring managers are no different. To purchase all 20 items on your list, you will have to look at a completely different class of car or laptop. This is probably going to be a car we are not able to afford. It’s the same with candidates. Managers put together a wish list and that is exactly what it is. A wish, with a budget attached. 

There is cheap, fast, and good. You get 2 of the three but you don’t get all 3. 


Everyone feels underqualified

At Career Tracker we really like the message that Reshma delivers in the above TedTalk. She talks about how boys only need to feel 60% qualified to apply for a job where women feel like they need to be 100% qualified. We include the above YouTube video not to target women who feel the need to be perfect, but because we know that everyone at some point in their life has felt a twinge of “I wish I had more experience/sales/education/whatever”.

Not just women

It’s not just women who want to be perfect when it comes to applying for jobs. Candidates with diverse backgrounds, including guys, experience this feeling of helplessness. If you have ever felt underqualified for a job you should watch the short  video above. Moving forward, look at job descriptions through a different lens and don’t feel you need to be qualified for everything before you apply.  

Key Takeaway: If you feel underqualified for a job, think again. The only person that is going to be qualified for the job description is probably overqualified. If you cover the first 2- 3 bullets in the experience and skills, you should apply. 


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