How to apply for your dream job…when your skills don’t meet the job spec
By Kirstie Brewer
You see your dream job being advertised but you don’t quite match the job specifications listed: should you still apply?
Eighteen-year-old Georgia Goodman faced this scenario last year when she applied for a digital marketing graduate scheme, despite having no university degree. Instead she had three months’ experience in marketing via an apprenticeship.
“I was pleased to be offered an interview and told that, although I wasn’t a graduate, my passion and experience working within the B2B sector is what made my employer change his mind about the position they were advertising,” she explains. Georgia is now a digital marketing assistant at the Nottingham-based company and has been funded to complete a vocational qualification.
“You have to be in it to win it,” says Becky Mossman, a HR director at HireRight. Ambition like Georgia’s is one of the key things that employers look for and as long as it isn’t a wild pipe dream, it’s commendable. “A lot of the time candidates have more skills and experience than they even realise, the struggle is often when it comes to articulating those skills in a meaningful way,” she adds.
“No one candidate is ever actually perfect,” points out Jon Gregory, editor of win-that-job.com. Any shortlist will therefore represent a spread of skills, qualifications and experiences and you could aim to fit on one end of that spread.
Highlight your transferable skills
If you’re short on specifically required qualifications, show that a combination of your other qualifications and experience are at least as good, if not actually better, says Gregory. What else have you done that brings along sufficient relevant experience? Where do you bring something unexpected and potentially very valuable with you to the organisation? It could be a relevant foreign language, or an extra qualification, for example.
Draw from your academic experience as well as your work experience and think about your transferrable skills, says Mohammed Rahman, business development and placements executive at London School of Business and Finance. He says: “As an example, customer service skills are needed in every profession and are important skills to have.”
He adds: “A lot of companies promote opportunities with requirements and would be willing to consider and take on people who do not meet all the criteria but have an open mind regarding how far they are willing to go to train and learn on the job.”
Make a strong case at the start – and don’t be negative
Make a clear, strong case in the introductory summary about your overall suitability, and at all costs, avoid drawing attention to your shortfalls, says Gregory. “One sight of those will switch the reviewer to a negative mindset, reading on only in search of further justification to drop your application into the shredder.” Don’t be deceptive, just selective.
Demonstrate that this is your dream job
“This is the application that has to hit the back of the net, nothing can be standard,” says Mossman. For example, if it’s a creative role, do something big that sets you apart from the field and makes the recruiter question whether the pure job description match is what they really need.
“If it’s really your dream job, then you should be able to make a clear case for why that is, and still come across as completely genuine”, she says. Think carefully about what skills you can bring to the table – they might be from a job you had five years ago, they might be from a sports team or hobby. If they apply, make it clear what you’ve gained from that experience, and why that’s as valuable as the tick box achievements that are on the job description.
Do your research – and remember they will do theirs too
Gregory advises that candidates research deeply into the company before compiling an application or tailoring your CV. “You need to show that you really do understand the role, the challenges, why this role is important to the organisation as a whole and what it is about you that makes you viable to shortlist for interview,” he explains. If you can, speak to the HR people organising the selection process and your potential line manager. The more you can engage in a dialogue with people inside the organisation and breed familiarity, the better.
While you do your research on the company, remember that the company might do research on you too. Perhaps most importantly of all, check your entire online presence to make sure the image you paint in the application is consistent across LinkedIn and your references, warns Mossman. “Otherwise, the hard work of wowing them will all be for nothing. “Employers don’t all admit to checking up on applicants via external channels, but it’s not uncommon for decision makers to use every means available to reassure themselves of their choice,” she explains.
And finally, remember: there are upsides to applying even if you don’t get shortlisted. Rahman says: “Remember, you have nothing to lose. If it is a dream job then it is worth the time invested in applying. It will act as a good testing ground for future opportunities.” Recognise that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, even if that’s only a list of what you need to work at for next time a role like that comes up.