The Guide to When You Should (and Shouldn't) Apply to a Job That's a Reach

You’re dying to apply for a killer job you just found. It looks nearly perfect. But there’s one tiny problem—you’re underqualified.

Do you go for it, or let it pass on by?

It depends. And, while there’s no perfect answer or formula for this, here are a few instances in which you should (and shouldn’t) take a run at a job that looks amazing, even it feels slightly out of reach.

Should: You’re Just a Bit Shy on Years of Experience

The job description asks for 7 to 10 years of experience. You have just under six, and a little more if you count the (entirely) relevant internship you took on while finishing your degree.

Dear heavens, go for it. Now, you’ll want to make sure and make it clear that you’ve got the knowledge, business acumen, and maturity of someone with that 7 to 10 years of experience (your cover letter is a good place to strongly hint toward all these things), and you may want to include that internship (just in case they’re officially doing the math), but don’t let a small shortage scare you away.

Shouldn’t: You’re Not Even in the Ballpark

Now, if you’re only a year or two into your career, you may be wasting your time going after a role that requires several additional years. Is it impossible? Maybe not, but it’s improbable, especially if you follow the “normal” application process of uploading your resume through an online portal.

Instead, I’d consider working to uncover a similar, but maybe earlier stage opportunity at same company or, if you are hell-bent on taking a run at it, find a direct “in” at that organization. You’re going to need an opportunity to state your case directly with a human decision maker (because the resume scanning software will more than likely rule you out).

Should: You Lack a Degree, But it Doesn’t Say “Required”

The education section of a job description is an important one to examine. Most companies are quite clear on their minimum requirements, as well as their stance on considering candidates with an equitable mix of education and experience.

If the description doesn’t say the degree is a must, then it’s fair to assume that the potential employer will consider a highly-qualified candidate without it. Not sure? If you can uncover a contact at the company of interest (if no one’s listed on the job description, start with their talent acquisition or HR team), you may want to do something many of your competitors won’t—pick up the phone and call.

(Gasp!)

“Hi. I see that you’re looking for a Senior Project Manager. The job description suggests that you are considering highly qualified candidates that do not have a bachelor’s degree. Can you confirm this?”

Done.

Shouldn’t: The Job Description Makes it Clear that Degree Is Mandatory

Some companies have hard and fast minimum degree requirements. It’s hard to get around this, and may be a waste of time if you apply to a blind mailbox (or through an online portal) without that piece of paper. Also, realize that a bunch of other candidates who apply will have the degree, so when a blob of resumes comes in through the system, whose do you think will be reviewed first?

That’s right, the ones with the mandatory degree.

If you feel very strongly about making a case for yourself, you need to get directly to someone of influence on the inside and state your case, rather than relying on the scanning software.

Should: You Lack a Preferred Credential (or Two), but Have Almost Everything Else

You do realize that most job descriptions are giant wish lists, yes? Often, few people are going to match every single qualification. That’d be like making a list for Santa and waking on Christmas morning to discover every last item you requested under the tree.

Right.

That said, so long as you’re at about an 80% match to the job requirements, in most instances you should take a run at it, especially if the ones you’re lacking are listed under the “preferred” section (as opposed to the “required”).

Shouldn’t: You Lack a Required License or Certification

Now, if you’re at 80% (or even 90%) yet lack a required license or certification (e.g., real estate license, registered nurse designation, lawyer who has passed the state bar, etc.), you are more than likely wasting your time.

In some fields, you just simply cannot be hired without certain credentials. So, your choice is to either go get those credentials, or select another path.