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How to Get Your Dream Job (Even If You Think You’re Underqualified)

It happens all the time – you’re scanning job postings and you come across your dream job. Maybe it’s the title you’ve always wanted, or a company that you’ve been dying to work for. Your excitement quickly fades, however, as you realize your years of experience are just shy of what they’re asking for, or you don’t have all of the skills they are seeking. Should you even bother applying?

If your skills and experience are at least a 70 percent match to the job description, the answer is yes. In fact, there are a number of tactics you can use to set yourself apart from other candidates and improve your chances of getting the job – even if you think you’re underqualified.

Scott Gormly, IT recruiting team lead with The Intersect Group, says the most important thing to remember is that the job description isn’t necessarily exactly what the hiring manager is looking for. It’s a wish list for the 100 percent perfect candidate, but rarely does a candidate meet all of the requirements and qualifications. That’s why it’s so important to tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight the areas that are the best match, and then apply this same approach to the interview itself.

“I always tell candidates to think of the job interview like a good sandwich – you should first focus on areas of the job description that you are qualified for, then briefly discuss a few things you’re willing to grow and learn on, and finally wrap up the conversation highlighting more things you are qualified for,” says Gormly. This approach is a great way to leave a positive tone with the hiring manager, and while they won’t necessarily overlook the things you are not qualified for, they are more inclined to give you an opportunity to contend for the position because the positives stand out more. Plus, you demonstrate that you are aware of your flaws and are willing to work on them.

It’s also important to find connections between the experience you do have and what the company is looking for. According to Don Zuhlke, F&A direct hire recruiting manager at The Intersect Group, job candidates are often more qualified than they may think. “Companies like to hire smart, driven people who have a track record of success,” says Zuhlke. “Candidates should always highlight accomplishments – especially in areas where they have the least experience – to describe how they overcame obstacles to achieve a successful result. This is a valuable quality that can translate to any industry and any role.”

It’s also important to always relate any experience to the particular company you are interviewing with. For example, even if you do not have all the qualifications they are looking for, but have worked in a similar industry, for a similar size company, have interacted with other teams within the organization, or have a working knowledge of the company in general – these insights and related experiences will help strengthen the areas where you may be lacking.

Above all, says Zuhlke, you shouldn’t overlook the power of networking. Before you apply for the job, check your connections to see if you know someone who could vouch for you. See if that person is willing to supply your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager, along with a personal testimonial. This will help separate you from other jobseekers applying for the position and give you a better chance of getting an interview.

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