Fitting the Job Description

  • Posted by: Jenn Saldarelli

Everyone at one point in their job search happens upon a job they want to apply for, but for which they don’t completely meet the qualifications. When should you still apply, and when should you treat the job description as law? Some of our clients are more flexible than others, but here are some basic guidelines depending on the area in question.

Should you apply to a job in an area in which you don’t have much experience? It depends. Sometimes your interest can be a valid supplement. Let’s say, for example, you’re applying to a mission-driven organization dedicated to a cause in which you don’t have professional experience. You might still want to apply if it’s a strong area of personal interest that you can easily articulate and demonstrate. Having a social media presence that further substantiates your interest in this area can also go a long way. The reverse is true here, too: if you have neither the experience nor the connection to or passion for a potential job’s field, keep looking for one that does genuinely engage your interest. Keep in mind also that there’s a much higher bar to break into highly regulated industries such as health care, pharma and financial services, especially as you seek more senior roles.

At Chaloner, we’re often contacted by people who are looking to branch into a different job function. How do we know if they’re qualified? It’s important to look at the big picture. If you’ve been in a broad communications role at a small company and are eyeing a specialized communications role at a larger company, it might be worth a shot. In this proposed case, you’ve probably handled that specialization on a smaller scale at your previous company, which could have prepared you. Changing function gets more challenging at a certain level; in Investor Relations or Digital Marketing, there’s less flexibility. A good exercise is to go bullet by bullet through the responsibilities outlined in the job description and try to draw parallels to what you’ve done in your previous roles. Could you articulate this during an interview? You should be able to do this for the majority of the bullets.

When it comes to years of experience, candidates can get intimidated. If the job description says 20 years of experience is required, is that true? In a word, yes. Some clients simply don’t feel comfortable hiring someone below a certain number of years’ experience. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a little digging to see exactly what they mean. Total years of experience is different than years of experience in a management position, and depending on what the job demands, you may have more years under your belt than you think. Keep in mind larger companies and PR/Communications agencies often have more rigid hierarchical structures and years of experience is an important factor to where you’d slot in. Do some digging on LinkedIn to map out the team at the company you’re looking at – this will help you determine what level is most appropriate to be applying for.

We often get resumes from recent college grads applying to roles seeking 5+ years of experience. This is most always a non-starter. If you’re an entry-level candidate, keep your search focused on roles that require 0-2 years of experience – it will save you a lot of time and effort!
For those beyond entry-level, the general rule is if you’re a little under (or a little over!) the years of experience but meet the rest of the qualifications, it’s probably a good idea to apply.

Ultimately, each company is different and the degree of flexibility with which they treat their job qualifications varies. But plenty of people currently excelling in their jobs wouldn’t check every box of their own job’s description, so if you feel passionate and meet most of the qualifications, sending in your resume—and a compelling cover letter—can’t hurt!