Job postings usually begin the same way: first the overview of the position, followed by a list of required skills and desired qualifications.
It can be extremely frustrating to know deep down that you’d be great for the job, even though you don’t fit all the requirements.
The good news, says Aliza Licht, author of “Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It Your Career. Rock Social Media,” is that it’s still possible to get the job.
Here’s what you’ll want to do:
Don't count yourself out
Human Workplace CEO Liz Ryan writes on LinkedIn that the recruitment process of putting out job ads is 'bureaucratic,' 'faulty,' and 'idiotic.'
'The manager writes a job spec that describes an imaginary, magical person who doesn't exist on this planet. A compliant HR person takes the spec from the manager and publishes the job ad far and wide, no questions asked,' she writes.
As Scott Purcell, a Silicon Valley-based technology recruiter at Jobspring Partners, tells Quartz, a lot of job descriptions include everything the company could ever dream of having, which does include a list of things they need, but also includes things they may want to use in the future and every sort of technology in their environment.
'If you were to ask most hiring managers if they care about somebody that has every skill listed, versus somebody that has four or five (relevant skills) with a good attitude and a good work history, they're all going to say they care about the type of person, not some brand new technology skill,' Purcell tells Quartz.
Unfortunately, the majority of people who don't apply for jobs say the reason isn't that they think they couldn't do the job well; it's that they think they won't get hired because they don't meet the qualifications.
If you're 60% qualified for a job based on its description, 'Why round down rather than up when we've long been taught that a 0.5 gets rounded up to 1?' Glickman asks. She says that slight miscalculation can have huge repercussions in your professional life.
The bottom line is, if you think you're a fit for the job -- and you can frame your skills to make a case -- don't let an overly detailed job description intimidate you. It's likely you're more qualified than you think.
Understand the job and your skills
You always want to understand the job you're applying for -- that's obvious -- but when you're trying to position yourself outside of your normal area, it's even more critical than usual.
That's because you're selling your specific, transferable skills -- not your previous titles. And the better you understand the job description, 'the more you can hone in on what you know is important to that person,' Licht explains. 'You have to throw the skill set that you know they're looking for back at them.'
Cut the jargon
Certain specifics may be very, very impressive to people inside your industry, but to people outside of it -- like, say, the people in charge of hiring for the job you're trying to get -- those details are (sadly) meaningless. Cut them from your résumé and cover letter.
Licht tells the story of a candidate looking to transition from healthcare PR to fashion PR -- not, superficially, at least, a drastic career change. But her résumé was filled with the names of pharmaceutical companies and drugs, and those details weren't doing her any favours in fashion.
'The person in fashion is going to read this and think, 'OK, I don't know what you're talking about, I don't know these companies, these drugs mean nothing to me,'' Licht says. The thing the fashion people do care about? 'The actual PR skills that she performed on behalf of these brands. That's the nugget that they're going to care about.'
Lead with the positive
'I know my background in medical research makes me an unconventional candidate for the communications position, but...' is a tempting -- and sincere! -- opening to your cover letter, but it is not the one you want to go with.
'I wouldn't lead with the negative, ever,' Licht says, in no uncertain terms. Instead, she advises, 'flip it right around: 'My experience with A, B, and C would enhance your department because of X, Y, and Z reasons.'' That way, you're not giving them a reason to reject you -- you're 'opening their minds to another possibility.'
And with the right spin (and the right hiring manager) it's even possible that your quirky career path could work in your favour. 'Sometimes, it's a positive to have someone come from left field because you get a fresh eye and an outside perspective,' Licht points out. Your experience isn't a blemish -- it's a feature. The challenge is selling it that way.
Appeal to their humanity -- and their ego
Finding a point of human connection can go a long way toward getting someone to take a chance on you. That's true if you're chasing your first internships, but it's also true if you're trying to change career directions. (In fact, it's probably true under all circumstances. People respond well to people who also behave like people.)
So how do you professionally connect on a personal level? 'Acknowledge that person's recent accomplishment, or what that person has done for the company,' Licht suggests. 'Show you're really a fan.'
Will you seem like a pandering suck up? Maybe, she concedes, 'but really, have you ever met someone that doesn't like being complimented? Is that really a risk?' The key is to have the facts to back up your fandom. 'If you start listing everything that person's done, at least you did the research!' she says. 'You may have heard about the person one week ago, but you've done your research and it sounds good.'
Ask the hiring managers what they need
Just as it's important not to get hung up on the job description when you think about applying, it's important to completely ignore the job ad when interviewing.
Instead, Ryan says that you should ask your interviewers probing questions to learn more about what is and isn't working at the company and what the hiring managers truly need help with. Then speak to how you can help.
Rachel Sugar contributed to a previous version of this article.
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