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Why You Should Apply for the Job You Feel Under-Qualified For

The job search can be a daunting process. It’s easy to feel dejected as you read through one promising job description after another, only to get to the bottom and read the words “five years experience required.” Maybe the description lists responsibilities that you know you could take on over time if you were to land the position, just not on your very first day. Job listings like this give you the idea that you need to be an expert at a new job right away — instead of being a hard worker and dedicated learner. Just a few words on a screen can steer you away from what could actually be a worthwhile opportunity.

But I’m here to tell you that there are most definitely good reasons to apply for a job you feel under-qualified for! I consulted with Jenny Logullo, career coach and marketing writer, to learn more about the personal and professional benefits that come with applying for jobs that may be slightly above your qualifications.

Use it as an opportunity to fine-tune how you present yourself and your experience.

Typing on laptop and cellphone
Photo by Christina of wocintechchat.com from UnSplash

If your initial reaction to a job posting is something along the lines of “I really think this position could be a good fit, but I don’t know how to compellingly articulate that in the application,” then you might be due for a resume reboot. (Or a cover letter cleanup. Or a LinkedIn…look-over?) And when I say reboot, I don’t mean simply updating these items to reflect your most current experience. I mean fine-tuning them to reflect how the work you’ve done and/or currently do can contribute to larger company outcomes.

Logullo created her coaching program Workplace Worth Academy to help job seekers realize their self-worth and unique value. She explains, “It’s important to take inventory of the direct impact you have in your company and lead from where you are now. Once you can connect how your contributions support your company’s bigger mission, you can begin to narrow your area of expertise, be more intentional, and take on relevant opportunities that will ultimately serve you and your career.” For example, while you might include on your resume that you conducted bi-weekly analytics reports, it’s crucial to communicate how those reports impacted your manager, team, or company. Maybe the data you collected generated sales leads or directed audience growth strategy. Whatever the case, clearly articulating the impact of your work will show employers that you’re capable of producing real results.

It’s relatively easy to talk about the tasks you do every day, but it can prove a bit harder to make that broader connection between the work itself and the impact it has. Speaking from experience, some helpful methods for conducting this kind of self-reflection are journaling, brain-dumping in a Word doc, or talking about it with a friend or mentor. Designate time to sit down and just do it. 

You have the power to tailor your resume, cover letters, and other professional platforms to the job description you have your eye on!

It’s a confidence-builder.

It might be counterintuitive to think that applying for a job you feel under-qualified for is a confidence builder, but hear me out. By engaging in self-reflection and learning to articulate the larger outcomes of your work, you’ll likely gain more confidence in your accomplishments and abilities. You may not have the five years of experience a certain job requires, but you’ve got a lot to offer!

Take that confidence and use it to develop a growth mindset. “Give yourself credit and be open to receive credit where it is due,” Logullo says. “Opening your mind to the idea of new opportunities can also open your mind to growth and inspire you to start creating new connections to your interests, skills, and abilities.”

And it’s important to remind yourself, she says, that “no one is 100% skilled in a job starting out, but you learn with time and experience. Give yourself permission to grow out of things and push for change when things aren’t serving you anymore.” The saying goes, bloom where you’re planted. But remember that you have the ability to flourish in new places.

You miss every shot you don’t take.

You never know where a job application might lead. It’s possible that the company you’re applying to uses an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and that your application won’t get passed on to a live person. (There’s no real way to “beat” ATS, although Jenny’s advice above and these additional tips can help make your resume ATS-ready!) And even if it does make it to a live person, they might set it aside for one reason or another.

But there is also a chance that a live person does see it, likes what they see, and reaches out for an interview. Even if that interview doesn’t result in a job offer, you just got yourself more interview experience (which is absolutely always a good thing), and — if you really hit it off and went the extra mile to show ‘em your stuff — maybe even a foot in the door.

The point is, it never hurts to apply. You never know where shooting for the stars will take you.

a woman sits at a wooden desk writing in a notebook. there is an imac in front of her.
Retha Ferguson | Pexels

At the end of the day, job searching is about chasing after something that inspires you. “It’s important for recruiters and hiring managers to communicate what’s open for discussion, and for you as a job seeker to start challenging what’s posted on a job description,” Logullo says. “You come in with a unique set of experiences and you can make a compelling case as to why your experiences can make you successful in your new role.”

A big part of being a young professional is learning how to make that case for yourself; you may not always have the exact qualifications outlined in the job posting, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a good fit. Consider every “slightly-out-of-reach” application as an opportunity to showcase how you are capable of using what you’ve accomplished up to this point in your career as a springboard for the future.

Elli Wills

Illinois '18

Elli has written for the U of I at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) chapter of Her Campus, the UIUC literary arts journal, Montage, and the nonprofit online magazine Culturally Modified. During her time as an intern at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, she also had the distinct pleasure of interviewing a fellow intern for the museum blog -- an experience that only confirmed her love for learning about others and sharing their unique stories. When she's not jotting down ideas for her next article, you can often find her binge-watching anime, practicing yoga, or spending time outdoors.