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How to land a job you’re not exactly qualified for

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Most job seekers encounter the following scenario at some point in their career: you’re not the typical worker bee; you have diverse experience and have performed a variety of functions in your career. Any employer should welcome your skills, but when you apply for your next job, the company wants at least ‘10 years of direct work experience’ and couldn’t care less about your eclectic background. So you’re not even considered for the position.

It’s pointless to ask if this is fair. The burden is on you to demonstrate why you’re a good hire even if your qualifications aren’t a perfect match for the position. Here are 4 tips for getting past this hurdle and landing the job you want:

Fill in the gaps in your cover letter

Cover letters, once a staple of job applications, have become passe. With a large volume of job applicants to review in today’s online world, most human resources professionals just scan through resumes with a cookie-cutter checklist by their side.

That doesn’t mean, however, that a brief, well-crafted note won’t attract the attention of a conscientious reviewer. In fact, if you can make a succinct case for why you should be hired, you will actually make the reviewer’s job easier and differentiate yourself from the pack. It shows initiative and thoughtfulness on your part.

The key here is to tell your story and use it to demonstrate your value: how have you evolved as a professional, what specific skills have you gained from your various experiences, and how will those things add value to the company. Tell that story convincingly, and you should at least get an interview.

Be honest — you’re not perfect

Conventional wisdom encourages us to highlight the positive and stay away from the negative. That makes sense but the flip side of that coin is that if you don’t address your obvious weaknesses proactively and show an employer why they don’t matter (or how you will get around them), they will likely be held against you and eliminate you from the race altogether.

Using the above example, if a job requires 10 years of direct work experience but you only have 5, you need to acknowledge that discrepancy but explain why you believe you can do the job just as proficiently as someone who meets that criterion. Otherwise, human resources will simply throw your resume into the ‘no’ pile without a second thought.

 

This is yet another reason a cover note is so essential. Even most standard online applications allow you to make a personal statement in a comment box, so use that to help the reviewer understand why your track record, no matter how diverse or indirect, has honed you into the type of professional they’re looking for. If you lack some particular skill, acknowledge it and explain why it won’t be a problem (perhaps you’re taking a course at your local college).

And don’t assume that the skills you have can’t be applied in a particular job just because the description doesn’t say so.

Connect the dots for an employer

When applying for multiple jobs, it’s natural for candidates to become fatigued and start cutting corners. The temptation is to leave it to the company to figure out how valuable your skills are. That’s fine if you meet all the requirements for a job but can hurt you if your story isn’t straightforward.

Make it easy for the reviewer to follow your career trajectory, both on paper and in person. That means don’t just state facts but spell out what those facts mean. For example, if you started your career in media investment banking at Morgan Stanley, then moved to an operations role at Disney, and now want to join Google in strategy, explain how your banking experience taught you about the business aspects of media and got you the operations job at Disney, which in turn showed you how traditional media is changing in a digital age and positions you to help Google with business strategy.

Make a promise

The one quality that a resume can’t capture is motivation. Even if you lack a particular skill required for a job, promising that you will make up for the deficiency through hard work, dedication and willingness to learn will help your chances. Motivation isn’t a guarantee of success, but it’s a strong indicator. And making a sincere promise that you will do whatever it takes to excel at your job will give your potential employer comfort.

S. Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has worked in technology, media, and telecom investment banking. Kumar does not own shares of the companies mentioned in this article.