5 Ways to Get Hired Even If You're Unqualified

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 27, 2014

To Apply or Not to Apply...

Have you ever been combing the online job boards and stopped dead in your tracks when you run across the perfect job? It’s in your field for a company you’d love to join doing the work you’ve been hoping to get into.

But then you scroll down and your enthusiasm dampens.

The 4-page job description starts listing some skills you don’t have. Or it asks for 10 years of experience and you’ve only got five. Soon you find yourself on that all-too-familiar fence of “should I apply or not,” and you’re not sure if you should even bother getting your hopes up. So, what’s the answer? Should you apply to a position for which you don’t have all the necessary qualifications?

The answer is…maybe. Every individual circumstance is different, but the bottom line is you can (and should) apply to some jobs even if you don’t have every last requirement. Here are some tips to help you decide.

5. Find a Way to Stand Out

If you lack experience or some of the necessary skills, the bad news is you’re starting out a disadvantage. But all is not lost.

You can make up for your shortcomings with a unique or outstanding cover letter. Your skills might not stand out compared to other jobseekers, so you’ll have to focus on getting noticed and remembered in a positive light right off the bat. If it’s a graphic designer position send in a customized cover letter with knockout designs that show you’re creative side, or if it’s a web design position create a website that serves as your cover letter and lets the hiring manager know you’re willing to go the extra mile.

4. Focus on Your Strengths

If you don’t have a skill on their list, don’t pretend you do and don’t try to deny it. Instead, use your resume to highlight the attributes you do possess.

For instance, if the position calls for public relations experience at an agency and you don’t have that, focus on how you’ve organically grown your own social media following and landed media placements on your own. Or if the job requires working knowledge of a specific program or software that you don’t have, stress a similar one you do possess and talk about how quickly you pick up new skills and how you value training.

Shift the discussion and focus to your strengths instead of inadvertently accentuating your weaknesses.

3. Show, Don't Tell

Maybe your work history isn’t what they’re looking for, but that’s no reason not to show a potential employer what positive things the future can hold if they give you the chance.

Again, it’s about framing the conversation and shifting focus. If your resume is lacking, then focus on what’s really important – how you can benefit the company if they hire you. That means doing a bunch of research on the industry and the company, and coming up with a presentation to show them at your interview that showcases tangible benefits.

Put together a slideshow presentation of a new revenue stream that will increase their profits. Or pitch them your idea for saving a few hundred thousand dollars a year with cost-savings measures. If a hiring manager sees enough initiative and potential, your sparse work history will be overlooked.

2. Accomplishments Can Trump Years of Experience

The fact that they want 10 years of experience and you don’t have them is a problem. But it’s not one that can’t be overcome.

First of all, if you only have two years it might not be a good idea to apply, as you actually might not be qualified. But if you have four or five years and you’ve accomplished a ton in that time, then go for it. But do it by touting those accomplishments.

Highlight the project you worked on that led to a huge increase in product sales, or the cost-cutting initiative you spearheaded that saved $2 million annually. If you have enough clear-cut examples of tangible accomplishments, it’ll often be enough to make up for the years of experience you lack.

1. Get a Referral

This one can’t be stressed enough, hence it’s place as #1 on this list.

Getting an internal referral from someone within the company to which you’re applying goes such a long way to help your cause. Often, referrals from existing employees to straight to the top of the pile and certainly receive added consideration. Whereas not having the required experience or skills might’ve earned you a spot in the “maybe” pile, there’s a very good possibility you’ll find yourself landing an interview specifically because someone internally has vouched for you.

That’s why it’s so important to make connections, maintain and harvest your professional network, and reach out to people at the companies you’re targeting during your job search.

Then Learn How to Negotiate

Just because you're underqualified doesn't mean you have to be unprepared. So even before you get the interview, Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.