What Should You Do When You Think You Are Under-Qualified for the Job You Want?

Strategies you can use for jobs where you feel you’re unqualified

At one point, you may have come across job openings you thought were interesting, but you notice that you’re lacking some of the desired qualifications. 

If so, you’re not alone.

Research shows that women often underestimate their abilities while men tend to overestimate their abilities*  This underestimation often stifles us to take risks as we are conditioned to achieve perfection. So often we don’t apply for positions because we don’t feel we meet all the qualifications. This puts us at a disadvantage because we lose out on what could be a great opportunity, while the perspective company loses out on a great asset in you. 

So should you apply to jobs that you find you may lack some qualifications?

In most cases, it’s worth taking a chance. 

Of course, there are obvious exceptions. For example, it’s not the effort to apply for positions that require an occupational license such as a medical doctor, lawyer, or psychologist if you lack the credentials. Otherwise, it’s likely a matter of figuring out whether you can re-frame your background to address the employer’s needs.

Many employment advertisements often resemble a wish list than precise formulas, so there is significant room for flexibility.

Consider these common situations where you may make the case for applying for the job:

Changing Careers

Do you want to switch to a new industry or a different position? Many have made a successful transition at various stages in their professional lives. A career change could help you discover a job you will love.

These strategies will help you transition:

  1. Research the field. Carefully perform your due diligence before making such a big move. Confirm that you want to transition by clarifying your reasons for switching. Review the data in the industry, including starting salaries, employment prospects, and industry outlook. Your reasons for switching can help you explain “your why” to a perspective employer. Clarify your reasons for switching to ensure this is something you want, as well as explaining “your why” to an employer.
  2. Interview colleagues in the industry. Professionals already working in the field are an essential source. Take part in network events and conferences where you can make new contacts. Join LinkedIn Groups (and other groups) to reach out to someone whose profile looks interesting.
  3. Focus on transferable skills. Review your resume to see how you can apply your history to your new area of interest. Many tasks are similar, even though the job title changes.
  4. Ask for referrals. Your current network is an asset. Explore whether you know someone who can introduce you to others who will share advice and job leads.
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When You Lack Experience

Maybe you’re new to the job market and/or have limited experience. You can still impress employers with your talents and accomplishments.

Try these techniques for highlighting your talents and gaining some experience:

  1. Volunteer your services. Build your resume while advancing a worthy cause. Offer your help to a charity you already support or call your local volunteer clearinghouse. Propose a project that will give you valuable experience while meeting someone’s need.
  2. Do an internship. While internships are usually designed for students, there are also programs for adults. Reach out to companies where you would like to work and ask about formal or informal opportunities. Sites such as Forage, Virtual internships, Handshake and The Apia Broad may help you find an internship that fits you.
  3. Polish your cover letter. Customizing your cover letter is even more important when your resume needs support. Develop engaging stories that present your skills and abilities. Ask friends and family for feedback.

When You’re Missing Specific Skills

Soft skills are as important as your college major. With a few extra steps, you may prove that you can do the job even if you believe you lack the skill set:

  1. Study the job description. Review the qualifications to see which requirements are essential and which are less significant. While an international company would like for each employee to be multilingual, it may not be a significant requirement of the position.
  2. Pick out keywords. Automatic programs and human resources departments focus heavily on keywords. If a specific skill is stressed repeatedly, you may need to look elsewhere.
  3. Continue learning. Keep strengthening your qualifications by taking advantage of training on the job or in your free time. You may also consider getting certifications. Sites such as Coursera, EdX, Future Learn, Open Yale Courses, LinkedIn Learning, and Harvard Extension offers a wealth of courses that may improve your qualifications.
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If after you’ve done your homework and concluded that you’re an excellent fit for the position, ask to be considered. Even if you’re missing a few items on the qualifications checklist, you’ll feel better knowing that you tried.

And you may land your dream job!



*Meslec, N., & Aggarwal, I. (2018). Learning not to underestimate: Understanding the dynamics of women’s underestimation in groups. Team Performance Management24(7-8), 380-395. 

*Selm KR, Peterson MN, Hess GR, Beck SM, McHale MR (2019) Educational attainment predicts negative perceptions women have of their own climate change knowledge. PLOS ONE 14(1): e0210149. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210149

*Wolak, J. (2020). Self-Confidence and gender gaps in political interest, attention, and efficacy. The Journal of Politics82(4), 1490-1501.

*Zhao, S., & Puri, S. (2017). Glass Doors to the Corner Office: Women and Leadership. White Paper. Center for Creative Leadership.

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