As the job hunting season is back on with the start of autumn, you come across more of those articles that cheer on job seekers to apply for jobs even when they don’t quite match the requirements. I agree with the general sentiment – job hunting is a bit of a trial and error process, and after all, what have you got to lose, right?

Still, there is a slight but profound difference between a “can do”-attitude and not knowing how to pick your battles. If you apply for every job that vaguely seems like something you could do, I can almost guarantee you that the result will be the same as if you wouldn’t apply at all, but the experience will be even more mind-numbing and spirit-crushing. The ability to cope with rejections and to muster the energy for yet another application is a finite resource. You have to be a bit economical with it.  

So how do you recognise if it makes sense to invest the energy in yet another application or if you should listen to your 4-year-old niece’s 1000th rendition of the “Frozen”-soundtrack and just “Let It Go”?

While the deciphering of job descriptions is not an exact science (neither is writing them, unfortunately), there are still some signposts you can follow. Let’s start with those instances where you should just rest your case.

Don’t bother applying when:

  • You lack knowledge in areas that are highlighted in the job description as “required”, “mandatory”, “crucial” or “essential”. These keywords usually signal a non-negotiable requirement on the recruiter’s side. You have more leeway with qualifications marked with the likes of “desirable”, “would be helpful”, “can be a plus” etc.
  • Your skill set and university degree have no or just very few overlaps with the specific qualifications mentioned in the job post. Especially when there is a large number of applicants for a position, a completely irrelevant degree is the best reason for a busy recruiter to eliminate you from the hiring process immediately.
  • You are more than 1 year away from the minimum work experience that is required.   
  • You haven’t actively used the language/programme/tool required for the job for more than two years. Specific knowledge doesn’t have an eternal shelf life…it can actually expire. If it’s been some years since you have spoken a language, worked with a programme or used a certain tool you will not be able to take it up with someone who has kept up to date with it the whole time.

So, you’ve gone over these points and you’re still reading (with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in the background)?

Okay, let’s see...

...how you might turn a “meh” into a “yes”:

Do:

  • Get someone else to read the job description and quiz you on why you want the job despite not being a 100% match. Note down the arguments you can come up with.
  • Read the job description really carefully and make sure to work out the parts where your qualifications and ambitions match it in your CV and cover letter.
  • Mention if you are taking extra classes or online courses to advance your knowledge in the areas where you may have gaps. Include 1 or 2 takeaways from those courses that you have found interesting so far.
  • Highlight your so-called transferable skills that come in handy in numerous jobs, such as communication or problem-solving skills, but remember to relate them to the job description!   

Don’t:

  • Oversell. Do not try and make up for your lack of knowledge by confidently stating how perfect you are for the job - without providing a shred of evidence.  
  • Undersell. Whatever you do, do not beg. That means never ever starting your cover letter with “I know I have no experience, but…”

Remember it’s about highlighting what you already know as well as showing your ability to learn and develop in the areas where you’re still lacking - and turning your efforts into a story that make sense for the recruiter