Career/Finding A Job

Why You Should Apply For Jobs You’re Not Qualified For (& How To Start)

By | Monday, January 04, 2021

You will never learn more about the hiring process until you are on the backend of it. There’s something about not being in the spotlight or forefront of a company, that unclouds your vision on various positions. More becomes clear, like that a great candidate actually doesn’t need to check every single box to be considered top pick. Perfect example: At my job, we hired a math major for a European Policy position.

With that said, as a former hiring manager, I’m here to encourage you to apply for any job that your resume doesn’t fit perfectly or that you don’t feel completely qualified for. After all, you never know what’s going on behind the scenes. 

What I Saw as a Hiring Manager

In my first hiring experience, we were looking for an intern at a small law firm (small as in tiny — five people worked in the office). The job description we posted stated that we wanted someone with experience in — or knowledge of — Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia. 

We interviewed a few candidates over the phone, but none of them were quite the right fit, even the ones that had studied Southeast Asia in the past. We ended up not hiring anyone, and it mostly came down to personality. If someone had applied with zero experience in Southeast Asia, or even Asia in general, but was a person we thought we could get along with, we probably would have hired them.

If someone had applied with zero experience, but was a person we thought we could get along with, we probably would have hired them.

In the second experience, we were looking for a research intern for a Europe-based program in a public policy institution. We interviewed four people, and all but one had policy-specific backgrounds or a Europe-focused resume, but we hired the outlier; the math major. This person had some experience studying Europe, but Europe wasn’t their main focus. 

So why did we choose that candidate? Simple. Because they seemed easy to work with, showed up on time to the interview, and appeared to be driven. 

The Best Reasons to Apply for Jobs You Aren’t “Perfect” For

There are so many reasons you shouldn’t let a list of requirements on a job ad stop you from applying, especially if the job sounds dreamy. Here are the most valuable lessons I learned while being  behind the scenes of the hiring process.

1. A matching resume isn’t even close to everything

Sometimes, when you’re looking to hire an employee, the job listing gets thrown together pretty quickly. ‘Experience Needed’ may be a loose requirement. Even if it says you absolutely need 6+ years of experience, the hiring manager may be fine with someone who has half that, if they “fit” in other ways.

Even if it says you need 6+ years of experience, the hiring manager may be fine with someone who has half that, if they ‘fit’ in other ways.

Another example: when we were hiring for a Southeast Asia intern, we would have been happy to bring someone on board with any research experience, even in a completely unrelated topic. As an interviewer, you’re looking for a lot of other qualities outside of the ones listed, including certain personality traits and a willingness to work, which I talk more about below.

2. Resume quirks make you stand out

Sometimes fitting the exact qualifications means you don’t stand out as much; your resume blends in. So it can be good to have a twist. This was true of the math major we hired for the Europe Program. The application stood out to me immediately because it was different.

Here’s the truth: I don’t remember any of the other candidates for that position, even the ones we interviewed. Maybe they checked all the boxes, but they weren’t memorable.

Another time I had to hire a replacement, the candidate listed that she had been a cheerleader in college (and this was before the show Cheer came out). While it wasn’t her cheer experience that made her “qualified” for the job, per se, I found the inclusion interesting, and it made her stand out. We ended up hiring her, too.

3. You don’t know who else is applying

Personality matters and you have no idea what people’s personalities are when you read a resume. First, the personality needs to match the job. If you’re shy but expected to make presentations and lead events, you might not get the job even with the perfect resume. It might go to someone with a less-matching resume but the right character traits.

Also, the candidate’s personality needs to match your team. With the Southeast Asia intern in our office of five people, it was vital to hire someone that would sync with the rest of us. None of the candidates seemed like the right fit, so we didn’t hire anyone.

Finally, you need to be likable. If a candidate seems arrogant, difficult, defensive, or unable to take direction, they might get passed up for someone who seems easier to work with — no matter their long list of experience.

The candidate’s personality needs to match your team; you need to be likable.

4. A willingness to do the work goes a long way

Even someone with a glowing resume who comes in with a holier-than-thou attitude about the day-to-day of the job will probably get passed up for someone who seems fine with the more mundane parts of the work. If you can show that you’re happy doing the boring work as well as the exciting stuff  (and doing it well), your interviewer will be excited about you. Because otherwise, everyone in the room knows they’ll end up picking up the pieces after you.

5. You can explain away any resume holes honestly

Add explanations for any “gaps” in your resume in your cover letter and prepare answers for the interview. The math major explained her passion for Europe in a way that made sense — her family lived there and she planned to move back at some point, and wanted to incorporate it into her work. Just be sure to tell the truth. Don’t feel like you have to BS your way through the interview by giving perfect-sounding responses.

Don’t feel like you have to BS your way through the interview by giving perfect-sounding responses.

Interviewers can tell when you’re not being honest, so instead, tell the truth. For example, when I was interviewing for a job, I was asked to explain why I had studied abroad in two distinct places — Italy and Ghana. I told them the truth it was because I was looking to gain as much global experience as possible while in college and those were two programs that my scholarships covered. I got the job. In other words, you never know.

It all comes down to this:

You have no idea what the people hiring consider most important, so go for it!

If it sounds like a job you would love to have, the worst that can happen is you spend one hour of your time submitting your application and you never hear from the company. That’s the biggest risk, so I say apply away!

Tiffany Verbeck is a sustainability and personal finance writer and podcaster. Her work has appeared in VaroWorth, Matador Network,, and more. She spends her spare time searching for the perfect croissant. Find her full portfolio and connect with her on Twitter at @verbecktiffany.

Image via Pexels

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