How often have you considered the requirements in a job posting and found that you were missing a few of the desired qualifications? While it’s definitely possible to be that “perfect” candidate on paper (particularly after you’ve been in your industry for a while), it’s common to fall short in at least a few areas that an employer lists.
If your background is only a partial match for a job listing because you lack some of the desired experience, should you throw your hat in the ring anyway, or move on to other opportunities?
Research suggests that your tendency in this situation might differ depending on your gender. An oft-quoted statistic based on an internal report from Hewlett-Packard found that men are more likely than women to apply for a job when they lack full qualifications. The report showed that men will apply when they only have 60 percent of the needed skills, while women remove themselves from the running if they don’t feel they have 100 percent of what’s asked for.
As Tara Sophia Mohr points out in Harvard Business Review, this gender-based discrepancy was initially attributed to differences in confidence levels. The assumption was that women had less confidence than men that they could perform the job if they couldn’t tick off every box in the job description.
But in Mohr’s own research, only 10 percent of women who declined to apply for a job for which they didn’t meet all the qualifications responded that they didn’t think they could do the job well.
Instead, most indicated that they declined to apply in such situations because they didn’t think the employer would hire them without full qualifications. More than 40 percent of women and 46 percent of men respondents thought they were being strategic in saving their time and energy to apply only for jobs in which they were a perfect match. Notably, almost twice as many women as men didn’t apply because they were “following the guidelines about who should apply.”
You can’t land a job that you don’t apply for, and clearly, men are increasing their opportunities by being less rule-bound than women in such cases.
The lesson for both genders is that while a list of job requirements may seem “set in stone,” you don’t necessarily have to interpret the company’s wish list of ideal qualifications so literally.
The question, though, becomes how to present your background and expertise when you lack some desired requirements. Applicants can use a technique called “reframing” to help justify and amplify the skills they do have to employers when vying for a position without complete credentials. Here are two examples of how to strategically reframe your professional experiences:
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Show the link between what they want and what you’ve done.
The employer is looking for someone with marketing experience in the fashion industry. You haven’t developed marketing messages specifically for the fashion sector (yet), but you have extensive experience marketing for other types of retail companies. You also worked at a clothing store as a college student and know a lot about the industry’s challenges from an employee’s perspective.
Be honest about your lack of direct industry marketing experience, but point out how the retailers you’ve worked with had similar marketing needs — and how your direct industry experience in college afforded you added insight. Show examples of how your experience marketing to other retail audiences has prepared you to target messaging toward the fashion industry.
Focus on another strong qualification.
You’re deficient in one area that the hiring manager was hoping to address, but you have exceptionally strong qualifications in another area that the employer cares about. Your goal during the application process should be to show just how valuable your skills are in this other area.
Ideally, your explanation of your unique skills will be so compelling that it will sway the employer in your favor. You want to show that the skills you do have outweigh any perceived shortcomings. Emphasize all of the ways that hiring you will help the manager reach the department’s overall goals as stated in the job description.
While it can be challenging to justify lacking a specific experience or skill the employer wants, the strategy of reframing can give you language to describe what you’ve done so that you can put your best foot forward.
The bottom line is, it’s perfectly reasonable to apply for a job that you’re not 100 percent qualified for as long as you give some thought to making what you’ve done as relevant to the employer as possible.
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