[01.16.09]
45 great comments!

Not Qualified For A Job? Don’t Apply.

Does the title of this post sound a bit restrictive to you?  If so, you may be part of a large group of job seekers wasting an incredible amount of time.  How so?  If you apply for jobs in which you are quite obviously un-qualified.

When I post jobs onto various job search networks, I am still surprised at the response.  I would estimate that 70% of the professional resumes I receive are from well-meaning people who were clearly un-qualified for the position.  I’m not a recruiter, but I am trying to filter jobs on their way to the hiring manager.  But, hey, I understand how it feels to be out of work. You see a job that fits a few concentric circles outside your experience and you have to apply, right?  Well . . . no.

The two most common issues?
1.  The job requires certain experience, education or training which you don’t have  . . . and you apply anyway.
2.  The job is for a Vice President and you are a Manager (or the opposite) . . . and you apply anyway.
So, you may ask, what’s the risk?  If I don’t get the job, who gets hurt?  At least I tried!
Here are a few of the risks and penalties of applying for jobs when un-qualified:
- A cluttered submission process for truly qualified candidates.  And that will be you someday.
- Hiring managers, HR people and recruiters bear the brunt of your impulsive effort.  It takes a long time to look through stacks of resumes.  If you abuse the process, someone may remember your lack of focus.
- Ever feel like no one is getting back to you?  No feedback?  You become frustrated in the lack of feedback and lose steam in your search effort.  Just think if my 70% number above went away.  The feedback loop would get much stronger for the remaining candidates.
- Wasted time on jobs that you won’t get instead of doing really important things like building a solid strategy and networking for the jobs you really should be targeting.
- If you simply send your resume it may seem like a pretty easy, low energy effort.  The problem is the simple approach + a lack of qualifications equals a lack of reasons for a recruiter to see you in the role.
So, how do you know if you are unqualified?  Well, as simple as it sounds, read the job description. Those are written with you in mind – with the hopes that you will take it to heart.  Ask a friend to review the job against your qualifications and give you honest feedback.  Finally, build realistic and specific job search objectives.  Once built, you will be better suited to tell people what you are looking for as well as have a guide for positions to target.
Now I’m not saying to see the glass as half empty – there is some room for aspirational thinking.  But not if the job description says “must have” and you don’t.

Tim Tyrell-Smith is the creator of Tim’s Strategy. As a blogger, Tim has been a regular contributor to U.S. News and World Report, interviewed twice on NPR and is the author of two career books (“30 Ideas” and “HeadStrong”). Become a fan at http://facebook.com/TimsStrategy and follow on Twitter (@TimsStrategy). He lives with his wife and three kids in Mission Viejo, California.

Tim Tyrell-Smith – who has written posts on Tim's Strategy®.



Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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Categories: Cover Letters And Resumes
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  • http://profile.typepad.com/1213496771s15787 Rosa Vargas

    Great advice and a great topic choice, Tim. Especially right now that it seems as if everyone needs a job. Although job seekers are often in desperate positions, it is vital that they try and strategize their resume submissions. Not only will this allow professionals in positions to help them to better assist them — but, ironically, it will help them keep their sanity and a positive-oriented mind set as the rejections or “no feedbacks’ will decrease.
    Also, it really is a small world; you never know when a resume submission for different positions will wind up on the same desk! In that case, the jobseeker would have a bigger problem; they were really qualified for one job but not the other. And, I am sure they would much rather project the image of someone who has an ability to be objective and who can identify their strengths and weaknesses.
    Bless them all! I realize these are thought times for job seekers and it is easier to comment on this from the outside in. Yet, the advice is well intended and informed. Excellent post!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1213496771s15787 Rosa Vargas

    Great advice and a great topic choice, Tim. Especially right now that it seems as if everyone needs a job. Although job seekers are often in desperate positions, it is vital that they try and strategize their resume submissions. Not only will this allow professionals in positions to help them to better assist them — but, ironically, it will help them keep their sanity and a positive-oriented mind set as the rejections or “no feedbacks’ will decrease.
    Also, it really is a small world; you never know when a resume submission for different positions will wind up on the same desk! In that case, the jobseeker would have a bigger problem; they were really qualified for one job but not the other. And, I am sure they would much rather project the image of someone who has an ability to be objective and who can identify their strengths and weaknesses.
    Bless them all! I realize these are thought times for job seekers and it is easier to comment on this from the outside in. Yet, the advice is well intended and informed. Excellent post!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1220292248s14607 Tim Tyrell-Smith

    Thank you, Rosa. Well said!
    Need resume help? Check out Rosa’s unique approach at: http://resume-writing.typepad.com.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1220292248s14607 Tim Tyrell-Smith

    Thank you, Rosa. Well said!
    Need resume help? Check out Rosa’s unique approach at: http://resume-writing.typepad.com.

  • http://www.elizabethjharris.com elizabeth

    Hi Tim, nice site. This is my first visit you’re now on my google page.
    This is wonderful, practical advice, and anyone doing a job search should take it to heart. But you’re being generous in saying that job seekers who apply to jobs for which they are not qualified, are well meaning. I’m afraid they’re simply lazy – hoping that someone else will do the work for them.
    As an HR manager with a very limited amount of time, unqualified candidates who indiscriminately click click click, tell me everything I need to know about them. And yes, I do actually remember them — because they’ve wasted my time and clogged up my inbox!
    There is no quick and easy way to find a job, particularly when using the internet. It actually takes more forethought, not less. Anyone who is unwilling to put in the time to insure they are applying for positions that match their skills and experiences, is only setting themselves up for rejection. 90% of the time, if people are wondering why they haven’t had a response…there’s a good reason. How about we all learn to be a little more accountable for outcomes.
    Thanks for the great advice! Eliza

  • http://www.elizabethjharris.com elizabeth

    Hi Tim, nice site. This is my first visit you’re now on my google page.
    This is wonderful, practical advice, and anyone doing a job search should take it to heart. But you’re being generous in saying that job seekers who apply to jobs for which they are not qualified, are well meaning. I’m afraid they’re simply lazy – hoping that someone else will do the work for them.
    As an HR manager with a very limited amount of time, unqualified candidates who indiscriminately click click click, tell me everything I need to know about them. And yes, I do actually remember them — because they’ve wasted my time and clogged up my inbox!
    There is no quick and easy way to find a job, particularly when using the internet. It actually takes more forethought, not less. Anyone who is unwilling to put in the time to insure they are applying for positions that match their skills and experiences, is only setting themselves up for rejection. 90% of the time, if people are wondering why they haven’t had a response…there’s a good reason. How about we all learn to be a little more accountable for outcomes.
    Thanks for the great advice! Eliza

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1220292248s14607 Tim Tyrell-Smith

    Hi Eliza!
    Yes, having been motivated to start this blog from my own ’07 job search experience, perhaps I am too empathetic! “Be accountable” is good advice. What if you were only allowed to apply for 1 job per week? Perhaps that would force some discipline on the system . . . Thank you for your great comment. I appreciate your kind words!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1220292248s14607 Tim Tyrell-Smith

    Hi Eliza!
    Yes, having been motivated to start this blog from my own ’07 job search experience, perhaps I am too empathetic! “Be accountable” is good advice. What if you were only allowed to apply for 1 job per week? Perhaps that would force some discipline on the system . . . Thank you for your great comment. I appreciate your kind words!

  • gerard

    Im sorry but I applied for a logistics position of which i had no experience and my manager hired me based on the potential he saw in me. Do not listen to this man, apply anyway.

  • gerard

    Im sorry but I applied for a logistics position of which i had no experience and my manager hired me based on the potential he saw in me. Do not listen to this man, apply anyway.

  • http://www.spinstrategy.com Tim Tyrell-Smith

    Hey Gerard – Congrats on the job! While I am surprised at your result, I am also very glad to hear about it. It means that there at least one or two employers out there looking for the best people not just those who are qualified. However, I stand by the post – especially in today’s competitive market. Good luck in your new role!

  • http://www.spinstrategy.com Tim Tyrell-Smith

    Hey Gerard – Congrats on the job! While I am surprised at your result, I am also very glad to hear about it. It means that there at least one or two employers out there looking for the best people not just those who are qualified. However, I stand by the post – especially in today’s competitive market. Good luck in your new role!

  • Jeff

    Now that it is a seller’s market, I tend to suspect companies are loading extra experience/responsibilities into the job function just to get people not to apply. I’ve seen a great fit for something in my line of work, Business Analyst, but then they also want the experience of a VP Accountant as well..Huh?
    What are they really looking for? a BA or VP to take on extra tasks in the BA role… What type of strategy makes sense here? Thanks! jeff

  • Jeff

    Now that it is a seller’s market, I tend to suspect companies are loading extra experience/responsibilities into the job function just to get people not to apply. I’ve seen a great fit for something in my line of work, Business Analyst, but then they also want the experience of a VP Accountant as well..Huh?
    What are they really looking for? a BA or VP to take on extra tasks in the BA role… What type of strategy makes sense here? Thanks! jeff

  • http://blog.spinstrategy.com Tim Tyrell-Smith

    Hey Jeff – That is a tough situation and I think you are right that employers are able to be more picky in this market. They can ask for more. Best you can do is network like crazy into the jobs where you are most qualified. You will get an opportunity where others will not . . .

  • http://blog.spinstrategy.com Tim Tyrell-Smith

    Hey Jeff – That is a tough situation and I think you are right that employers are able to be more picky in this market. They can ask for more. Best you can do is network like crazy into the jobs where you are most qualified. You will get an opportunity where others will not . . .

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  • Brian Handel

    Hi Tim, thanks for all the great career advice. I have 2 questions in regards to this post when applying for work. I am a telecom (voice messaging) technician. The job descriptions of the positions not only list the specific product I am trained on but a whole slew of other products that I am not trained on. The reality is it is highly unlikely that the perfect person who is trained on everything that the employer wants can be found. If I just wait for the position that is only looking for my specific experience, certification and training then I will be waiting a long time to find that job opening. What my resume does demonstrate is the aptitude and competence to learn whatever product I need to work on and maintain.I like to think that my skill sets are transferable. Am I being delusional? Do you feel that under the circumstances I should or should not apply for a position that not only includes my background but requires other experience I do not have?
    The other question is that in this competitive job market I am willing to apply for “entry level” positons that I am way qualified for. Is that okay to apply for and if so how much should I dumb down my resume and work experience. Thanks.

    • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

      Hey Brian – That is an awesome question regarding how far to stretch. And normally I would, as I did here, say don’t stretch too far. That advice is somewhat economy sensitive and job market sensitive. In a tough economy where lots of telecom people are looking for work, it is increasingly unlikely that you will get a call when you only meet 5 of 10 requirements. There’s always someone more, if not 100%, qualified.

      In your example, however, it’s possible that the company is trying to stretch in this economy to attract “perfect” but be willing to accept “pretty close” (i.e. you). Some research would be helpful here or some company-specific intelligence – to understand what they are likely seeing on resumes. If it’s true that few or no candidate resumes will meet all hurdles, then I would support your application.

      And remember, that post was intended to stop candidates from wasting their time and the time of hiring companies. If you feel like it isn’t a huge stretch to apply, go for it. But be objective and honest. Especially if what you don’t have is listed on their mandatory list.

      Are your skills transferable? Of course they are. It’s just a tough market to prove that fact. And to convince someone to give you a shot . . .

      In terms of “dumbing down” your resume to qualify for entry level, my answer is don’t do it. I would rather have you consulting or grabbing contract jobs than going after a job well below your station. I just wrote a post on this . . . you can see that one here: http://timsstrategy.com/wrong-job-or-job-offer-do-not-settle/

      Thanks for those great questions and feel free to comment back with any follow-ups or if I wasn’t clear on a point. Good luck to you!

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  • Anonymous

    You and everyone else in recruiting are A holes. I apply for EVERY job that I am qualified for and I still here nothing. I wasted my time on LIbrary School just to STILL be unqualified. I don’t care if someone is MORE qualified. I am qualified too. And if you want to eliminate me just because I have been out of work for a while, BOO EFFING HOO. That is your problem jerks. And when you are unemployed because you are helping to outsource all the good jobs I hope you die a long painful death in the street.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/SideQuestPublication Tamie Wiggins

    This seems like it would fit in those “parents’ advice is ruining my job search” articles….
    They’re constantly telling me I should apply, even if I don’t qualify for the position in question, so that my resume will be on file in case a position I do qualify for is open.

    All I can see is me wasting time, not being allowed to trust my own judgement (as opposed to my parents’) about whether I qualify, and the hiring manager deciding that I either don’t know my own qualifications or can’t be bothered to read….

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_L4SMMUQGSOH7WYZJ6WLU3V5NJA Wolfgang

    So a manager isn’t entitled to upgrade himself to a “vice-president”?  And what about those individuals in companies who use the “vice president” liberally, for whom in a larger company, they may only end up being a supervisor or manager? 

    I find it hard to believe that people apply to jobs that they’re not qualified for. 

    • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

       Hey Wolfgang – You are right that there are always exceptions – VP in industry A is a manager in Industry B. That can be true.  I wrote this to discourage people from wasting their time and the time of the recruiters/hiring managers. It is awfully hard to get a promotion during job search.  It happens, yes – especially when going from big company to smaller company.

      I’m not sure I understand the point you are trying to make in the last sentence – people do this all the time… 

  • Bradley

    I am one of the people that would have to disagree with this thought. I respect your opinion, but this has not been my experience.

    I am like Gerard and I got a logistics analyst position straight out of college. My degree is in sociology which isn’t what their “preferred” requirements were. However I had transferable experience and convinced HR that I was a good enough fit for an actual interview.

    Once I had that interview, I was in. They liked my degree since I showed that I had communication skills with my degree that the business majors didn’t. This worked in my favor and I got the job. I am a success story when it comes to applying for jobs that you may not feel qualified for.

    Feeling under-qualified and actually being under-qualified are two different things, let HR and the hiring managers decide for themselves…go ahead and apply.

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  • bluesy_marquee

    Tim, thank you for your insight. I’m writing to you because a headhunter has just contacted me, asking me to take part in a job selection process. After reading the job description (Director for a corporation based abroad), I can’t help but think I’m under qualified for the position. They must have read my LinkedIn profile and found it interesting, despite the fact that their ideal candidate has got 7 years of experience within the industry, and I’ve got 2. My LinkedIn profile clearly states that. Of course I feel flattered for being contacted and I’d love to get into the network of that executive search firm. I do love challenges, but… I don’t know whether I’d better apply for a position I feel under qualified for, despite the headhunter. Flocking candidates to show the client, perhaps? Thank you in advance for your advice.

    • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

      Bluesy – Hard to say based on what you’ve shared with me, but if you are approached, there must be something they liked about your background. I don’t see anything wrong with talking to the recruiter. If they decide to present you to their client, you never know what might happen. You may impress them for another job or a future one. If you do well for the recruiter, they may consider you more often for other client opportunities.

      Yes, there are opportunistic recruiters, but it doesn’t hurt to have a conversation…

      Good luck!

      • bluesy_marquee

        Thanks for answering. I had to keep my story as short as possible. Details make a difference, I know. Anyway I replied to them saying I felt I lacked experience but I would love to be inserted in their data base and attached my résumé plus evidence of the quality of what I’ve been working on. They’ve not replied yet (3 full working days). I won’t stay awake at night.

        • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

          No problem. They likely won’t contact you until/if they have something that fits your background. So for sure get your sleep. :-)

  • M.L.H. Javert

    Tim… you’re a douchebag (no offense)…
    If I was to take your advice, I would be stuck as a burger flipper for the rest of my life. Reality is, as a college graduate with a bunch of student loan debt, I am forced to apply for things that I feel I could do (even if I’ve never done it before). Sorry to burst your bubble, but most of us aren’t born with a business suit on, a briefcase in hand, and 30 years of frickin’ experience.

    • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

      Hey M.L.H. –

      No offense taken. Appreciate your comments but you are wrong.

      Most hiring managers won’t take the risk in interviewing you (much less hiring you) if you’ve never done the job before. Why would they?

      The exception (and it’s a big one) is if you can network your way into a meeting with a hiring manager. Especially if you can get introduced by a friend. Funny, because I met with a candidate today because a friend said I should. My friend’s recommendation lowered the risk and allowed me to to look at the candidate in a broader context. While I won’t hire her for the job opening I have now, I liked her a lot and I’ll keep her in mind for other openings. But on resume alone through a traditional hiring process we never would have met.

      Today’s job search requires a more savvy approach with a lot of networking. The point of this article was to convince people to be more purposeful in their efforts vs. applying for “anything close”. Poor use of your time and a clogging of the system. In short: your optimism isn’t enough to convince the majority of hiring managers that you are worth the risk. It’s not about reducing your ability to find work, it’s about having a strategy.

      You also have to remember I wrote this post at a time (2009) when the market was being flooded with resumes and hiring managers had the luxury of choosing from more than one perfect candidates (i.e. no reason or incentive to hire the unproven candidate).


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