Have you tried checking out job postings and ended up frustrated? I have.

The most frequent source of frustration when checking out job descriptions is the experience requirement.

When you are new to a field, like tech for example, getting on the market can be pretty intimidating.

Aside from the fact that it’s a fast-changing industry, we’ve been made to think that real programmers have done hard work since they learned to say “mama”.

So, if you are someone with brand new tech skills, like myself, it can be a bit scary. No, not a little, it’s totally intimidating.

But seriously, how can you get experience when you’re TRYING to get experience? 

Well, here’s a fact: You actually do not have to be fully qualified for the job you are applying for.


Does that even make sense?

Apparently, it does.

And this is not wishful thinking.

In a recent Harvard Business Review study conducted by Tara Sophia Mohr, an expert on women’s leadership and the author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, it was revealed that 41% of women and 46% of men did not apply for jobs because they did not think they would meet the qualifications.

Prima facie, this makes sense, but Mohr points out, “people who weren’t applying believed they needed the qualifications not to do the job well, but to be hired in the first place”.

“What held them back from applying,” says Mohr, “was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process.”

This means that applicants believed that the job requirements were actual job requirements. But according to Mohr, this is not how the hiring process works. These job requirements are a lot more fluid in reality.

Mohr points out that job descriptions are written by people. A lot of these listing read more like descriptions of a dream candidate than a real human who would want the job.

If you have 100% of the requirements needed, that’s great! But if you don’t, don’t be discouraged and be confident about your skills and potential.

In a separate study by Hewlett-Packard (HP), they found that ‘men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them’. This brings into question what really prompts candidates to apply or not to apply. And the study reveals that the issue here is not the requirements per se, but the confidence of the applicants.

Mohr argues that at the end of the day, hiring managers not solely on the hard skills or the number of years of professional experience listed on job descriptions.

In a McKinsey report, it was revealed that candidates or employees are often hired or promoted based, first, on their potential (take note: potential).  

Now, I’m not saying that you apply for every job posting you see and simply bet on your soft skills and ‘potential’. Plenty of those job requirements is real skills. The key question is: Can you get the job done? To answer that question, you need those real skills, albeit not all of it (but you need to be willing and able to learn all of it if need be).

Nevertheless, there is a LOT you can do to get hired even if you don’t perfectly match the job description. Here are 8 strategies you can use throughout the hiring process—from the cover email to the interview—to get hired even when the job feels just out of reach:

1. Know what you don’t know.

Research about the skills you don’t have. To do that, you have to, first, know what skills you don’t have. This is important because when the hiring manager asks you about it, you can talk about them intelligently.

2. Show off your potential.

As mentioned in the McKinsey report, candidates are often hired based on potential. So, rather than talking about the skills you don’t have, talk about all the times you’ve learned new skills on the job.

Demonstrate how fast you can learn new skills on you own. This will assure the hiring managers that you are willing and able to fill in the gaps between your current skill set and the necessary skill set required to fully and effectively do the job.

3. Show off the skills you do have.

You will apply for a job you know you can do. Chances are, you have the skills and qualities which you think can help you get the job done, although you cannot claim all the qualification listed in the job description.

Focus on the skills and qualities that you do actually have. Show your prospective employer and their hiring managers how your skills, which might not necessarily be listed on the job description, can help you get the job done. Craft the narrative of your bid along those lines.

4. Tell them what you can do for them.

Employers hire people to help them get stuff done. They hire people to help them run the business. So, when they hire someone, the key question in mind, in fact, is “What can you do for my company?”.

In your cover letter, in your résumé, and in the first interview, drive the conversation towards that direction. Talk about how you can make their lives a lot easier. Talk about what you can bring to the table. Talk about how your knowledge, although not a 100% match to what they said they are looking for, can improve their product, services, or process, whatever the case may be.

5. Show them what you can (and will) do for them.

It’s not enough to simply tell them how valuable you are despite not having all the competencies they are looking for. Show them! 

Dig into a few skills you don’t have. Then, learn enough to create something. Let me give you an example. If the job requires PHP, HTML5, and CSS, but you are a little shaky, you can try making a one-page website using HTML5 and CSS. Document it in your portfolio.

The job probably requires JavaScript and jQuery. And you are not so good at it, either. You just have the basic understanding of its syntax. You can probably try to learn how to install a simple jQuery plugin. Then, document it in your portfolio

The point is to show your prospective employer and the hiring manager, most especially, how committed you are to the company and to learn the ropes of the job. And of course, it will also prove that you can learn new skills quickly and independently.

6. Package yourself positively.

Avoid “not”, “do not”, and “never”. Never say “never”. Never say you are not qualified, or that you have never done this or that, or that you don’t have this or that.

Why not use “love”, “interested”, and “eager”. Say you would love to work on this or that, or that you are very interested in this or whatnot, or that you are extremely eager to learn this and that. If you keep your language simple and positive, you are saving yourself from the discomfort of having to explain anything away and ending up backed into a corner.

7. Show them how cool it is to work with you.

When hiring managers hire people, they also hire for fit. They ask questions like: “Will this candidate thrive in our company culture? Will this candidate be an effective addition to our team? How will this candidate affect the dynamics of the team?”

Translation: What is it like to work with you?

Showcase your soft skills, or people skills as well. Show how pleasant it will be to work with you. To do this, learn everything you can to figure out the company culture and use it to your advantage. Figure out how you can use this culture to convey a tone akin to your prospective company’s culture.

Be courteous and prompt in your correspondence, and don’t be afraid to make a little small talk.

8. Ask questions.

The hiring process is a two-way process especially the interviews. Show them that you are really interested in the job by asking questions. Ask for more information. You can ask about the requirements of the job, the dynamics of the team, or what the ideal candidate is like (beyond the items listing in the job description), or what a typical day for an employee like you is.

But, hey, I am not asking you to really fake it ’til you make it. If you seriously look at the job description and truly feel like you couldn’t do it at this point in your career, then don’t apply and keep searching for a better fit. 

But if that job description gets you excited and there’s that little voice inside of you screaming “You can do this one! This is for you!”, then go for it. Get out there, apply!