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Should I Apply for a Job Even if I Don’t Have the Right Experience?

By Nicole Cavazos

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably dismissed some great jobs because you felt you didn’t have the right experience. But should a job listing’s requirements always be taken so literally? The answer depends a lot on both you and the company.

There are many companies who have very strict rules about it. But others care less about where you’ve worked or gone to school and more about your actual skills. Degrees and past experience are just an easy way for them to tell whether you’re qualified. For them, a job listing is more like a wish list of what an ideal candidate looks like rather than a non-negotiable document.

So what to do? First be aware that no matter how enthusiastic and confident you are about the job, you’re still facing a tough challenge when it comes to convincing an employer to hire you over more qualified candidates – tough, but not impossible. So pick your battles wisely and have the confidence and insight to know what you’re capable of.

Know What’s Transferrable

First, never apply for jobs for which you’re blatantly underqualified. Instead, know how to accurately read between the lines in a job listing. There are some skills that require very specific training that are just not transferrable.

But there are many suitable jobs for you disguised in unfamiliar clothing. If you’ve worked in fundraising and development in the art world, for instance, you shouldn’t hesitate to apply for a job helping to plan fundraising events for a political campaign. You may not be entirely familiar with the context, but the fundamental skills are the same or similar enough.

Sometimes the skills we’d like to highlight get lost in the chronology of our job history. If applicable, consider creating a resume that emphasizes skills and achievements that are most relevant to the position for which you are applying. These “chrono-functional resumes” are especially helpful if you’re a recent college graduate just starting out and have plenty of volunteering or unpaid experience to highlight.

Your cover letter also offers an excellent opportunity to explain your experience and illustrate your transferrable skills in way that your resume cannot.

Consider an Alternate Position

No matter how capable you feel you are, sometimes the best move is to take a transitional position that will enable you to advance to your desirable job. One approach is to suss out your chances of landing the job you want during the interview. At the end, you could even ask about any reservations they may have about hiring you. If they seem concerned about your lack of experience and it seems unlikely you’ll be able to assuage their concerns, you could suggest your willingness to take a role that assists or reports to the higher level position. This works especially well for start-ups or companies that are staffing newly minted departments. But even in a more established company, it could open you up to other jobs and show them your eagerness to work for them.

Show Don’t Tell

One of the best ways to convince an employer that you have what it takes to do the job is by showing them. This is easier is some fields than in others. For instance, in more creative fields like advertising, architecture or graphic design, your portfolio speaks for itself. But you don’t necessarily need to work in a creative field to put together a portfolio of your work as evidence of your abilities. Any samples of your best work will work including reports, papers, studies, projects, presentations, videos and recordings, as well as press reports, reviews, letters of recommendation, awards and honors.

In addition, you could also offer to work for a short time as an intern, in an unpaid trial basis or on a short-term project as a way to show your commitment and ability to do the job. Just be careful not to seem too desperate or too pushy.

It may be hard to overcome your lack of specific skills in light of so many other qualified applicants. But your best chance to impress an employer is through your enthusiasm, self-confidence, and likeability. The rapport that you establish with an employer sometimes counts as much as years of experience and an Ivy League degree.

Nicole Cavazos

Nicole Cavazos is a Los Angeles-based copywriter and blogger. As a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog, she covered the job market and wrote advice for job seekers.

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