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The Job Hunt
How to Land a Job When You're Underqualified
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AnnaMarie Houlis, Journalist & travel blogger
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How do you get a position you aren't qualified for? Well, you don't do it by admitting that you're hugely underqualified. Instead, you fake it until you make it — but what exactly does that mean?

Here's how to apply for a job, land a job and then do said job even when you are underqualified for it.

Should you apply for a job you are not qualified for?

Applying for a job for which you're underqualified is certainly a bold move. But, in reality, it's really not all that risky. After all, what do you have to lose? You don't have the job in the first place to lose your chances at it. So you might as well shoot for it.

You should absolutely apply for jobs for which you're underqualified. In fact, the chances are that even if you think you're not qualified, you might very well be. You might just be suffering from the “impostor syndrome,” or the concept that an individual — usually a woman — internalizes their accomplishments due to the fear of being exposed as a “fraud."

This feeling of unworthiness is not uncommon; it plagues working women. And research from 2011 suggests that approximately 70 percent of people will experience impostor syndrome at least once over the course of their lives. Many of these people will experience it during the first few weeks of a new job for which they perhaps felt too underqualified to get.

In fact, according to Monster.com's “My First Job” survey among graduates 18 to 34 years old, 29 percent of candidates actually quit their first jobs before hitting their one-year marks. While they do so for a gamut of reasons, a large majority of them simply feel unprepared. Specifically, 33 percent of survey respondents said that their biggest mistake was not asking enough questions, 28 percent said their biggest mistake was not knowing much about the potential employer and 19 percent said they focused too much on salary.

Do your homework on the company, ask all of your questions and factor in other important determinants beyond salary before you get ready to accept in offer. And when you are given the offer, don't doubt yourself, or others will begin to doubt you, too. If you've been offered the job, you got that offer for a reason. Whether or not you meet all of the company's qualifications, the hiring manager who offered you the job believes in you. And you should, too.

How do you get a job if you are underqualified?

Getting a job if you are underqualified is undoubtedly more difficult than landing a job when you're qualified (or even overqualified). This is because you need to explain to your prospective employers that, despite your lacking experience, you are a quick learner and ready to take on the challenge. Beyond that, you need to prove that the skills you do have are going to be so invaluable to the company that your lack of experience takes a back seat.

It's difficult, but it's not impossible.

"While looking at the job description, you instantly fall in love with the culture, the types of projects you’d be working on, your potential responsibilities and you’ve just about planned what you’ll wear on your first day of work — until, your eyes glaze upon that one glaring detail that makes your stomach drop: 'Must have at least six years of experience,'" writes Forbes contributor Adunola Adeshola. "But, before you toss the position out of the window, wait one second. Just like you have dream jobs and wish lists, companies have dream employees and a long list of wishes they hope new team members can fulfill. Don’t let that discourage you. If you’re only one to two years behind the requested experience, if you meet at least 75 percent of the listed requirements, and if you’re confident that you can excel in the role, you should still apply."

With that said, here are three surefire ways to set yourself apart, even if you're underqualified.

1. Read Between the Lines

The company is going to ask for a lot in a job advert, and that's because they might as well put out everything it is that they want. They're hopeful that, at the very least, the candidate they'll go on to hire will possess at least most of those qualities and skills and have a least most of that experience.

But don't just notice the "six years of experience" part. Look into the pain points of the company — what skills do they keep reiterating? What void do they really need a new employee to fill? Do your best to determine the company's genuine needs and then focus on how you can uniquely fill those needs, instead of on the fact that you only have four years of experience instead of six.

2. Revamp Your Resume

While you should always revamp your resume for any new job for which you're applying, you'll want to go the extra mile for a job for which you're underqualified. In other words, you'll want the experience on your resume to mimic the words describing their ideal candidate's experience almost identically.

While you can't (and should never) lie about how many years of experience you have, the exact degrees you have or anything of that nature, you can describe your experiences in a way that aligns with the prospective hiring manager's needs. Perhaps they want someone with at least 10 years of experience and an MBA — and you don't have that, but what you do have is experience in everything else they described, and that's exactly what you're going to show them instead. 

3. Ditch the Cover Letter in Lieu of a Pain Letter

Forget the average cover letter explaining who you are and your experience. You want to move away from the focus on your limited experience and, instead, focus on their pain points. And, since you've analyzed their job advert and read between the lines, you know exactly what it is for which they're really looking. And you know exactly why you're the person who can help them with that need.

Your pain letter should address the company's pain point and share details on exactly how you plan to help them fulfill their goals. Unlike a cover letter that expounds upon your past experiences, a pain letter expounds upon the future. Here's more information on how to write a successful pain letter.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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