The 2 Kinds of Skills You Should Highlight When You're Under-Qualified for a Job

You see a job you’d like to apply for—but there’s a catch, you don’t meet all of the requirements. Despite that, you know the difference between being under-qualified or unqualified and you feel confident you fall into the former camp rather than the latter. You can do this job.

The only problem is that whether you’re changing fields or have a winding career path, your resume lacks some of the skills required. If this is the case—don’t give up! Your goal is to look for any place to connect the dots between your previous experience and the open role.

And the good news is that there are two kinds of skills that’ll help you make your case:

First, Focus on Your Transferable Skills

Wherever you see gaps, start by considering transferable skills first. You’ve probably heard this term before, but as a quick refresher, they’re exactly what they sound like: things you learned in one industry that’ll carry over to another.

For example, if you have customer service experience, you know how to make someone who’s unhappy feel heard and turn an angry conversation into a productive one. That’ll help you succeed in any job that requires active listening and problem-solving. Or, maybe you’ve never been part of a formal strategic planning process, but you helped your department develop and execute large goals, so you can draw on that experience.

When it comes to connecting the dots in your application, you’re basically saying: “This role calls for X, and my experience with Y gave me the skills I need to do just that.”

This is a critical step (and this article tells you how to do it in resumes, and this one in cover letters ), yet it doesn’t give you the opportunity to share abilities that make you compelling but don’t fit into to the job posting listed. So, while transferable skills are really useful, stopping there is stopping short.

That’s Where Additive Skills Come Into Play

Just like companies list dream qualifications that aren’t essential but would make a candidate extra appealing; odds are you have some talents that aren’t called for, but would increase your ability to do a great job. These are your additive skills. (And I use the word “additive” because the goal is to focus on ones that’ll add to your ability to the do the job.)

Going off of the formula above, these translate to, “I have experience in Y, and even though it’s not called for in the job description, it’s going to help me excel in this role, because…”

To quote myself from a previous article on interviewing for an out-of-reach role, “An additive skill is something unique that you bring to the table—in addition to everything that’s expected. Think about it: If you’re slightly under-qualified, there’s a reason why. If you spent the first two years of your career in a different sector, you bring experience from that industry. If you’re younger than everyone else applying for the role, odds are you submitted an extraordinary cover letter or have impressive networking contacts.”

Do you have three years of program management instead of five? That’s because you spent two years as a data scientist—and your analytical abilities will help you streamline your projects. Or maybe you spent a year abroad, and while there’s no requirement for a second language, you know that the fact that you’re fluent will help you reach a new demographic.