Not the Perfect Candidate? Here’s What to Do

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A recent article in the New York Times detailed the reality for many job candidates in today’s market. Companies often have the luxury to wait for the perfect hire, and even applicants who seem to match every requirement for the position aren’t receiving employment offers.

What does that mean for those of us who aren’t the perfect candidate? What if you’re a good candidate who’s unfortunately missing that extra year or two of experience every employer is asking for?

Not the Perfect Candidate? Here’s What to Do

Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean you must move on to the next opportunity. But you do need to work harder to show hiring managers you’re right for the job. Here’s how:

Make sure you’re in the ballpark. If the position requires knowledge of GAAP, and you have to consult Wikipedia for a definition, don’t waste your time. There’s no point in applying for a job if you don’t meet the most basic criteria.

Consider how you can fill the gaps. Say the company you’re applying to expects candidates to have two years of management experience. Highlighting the time you spent overseeing a previous employer’s internship program, as well as leadership roles you’ve held on a handful of project teams, could be enough to get your foot in the door.

Remember that honesty is the best policy. If you’re tempted to stretch the truth to make up for gaps in your qualifications, I strongly urge you not to. No matter how minor the lie or how seemingly remote the possibility it will be uncovered, the employer may still find out. This is especially true today because of the Internet and social media.

Keep in mind that a lie of any type can do irreparable harm to your reputation, even years down the road.

Address the elephant in the room. Use your cover letter to shed light on any issues that could come up with your qualifications. If you lack the required educational degree, for instance, you might explain why you feel your on-the-job experience makes up for it. By being upfront, you may prevent a potential concern from derailing your application at this early stage.

Enlist inside assistance. The best way to convince a hiring manager you have what it takes to do the job? Find someone who can back up what you say.

Scan your professional network for people who may have a connection to your target company and consider asking if they’d be comfortable providing a referral. Make things easy for them by explaining why you think you’re right for the position.

As helpful as a referral can be, you still need to be selective about the people you approach. You should have an established relationship with anyone you target so he or she can speak knowledgeably about your background.

Above all, remember what I said at the beginning: Many companies can afford to be picky. Despite your best efforts, some employers may simply refuse to consider you for the job if you don’t meet every single requirement.

If that’s the case, know you did everything you could to put yourself in the running for the role and keep an eye out for the opportunity you truly are perfect for.

Have you ever applied for a job when you lack all the qualifications? What did you do to convince a hiring manager you were still right for the role?

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Robert McCauley

Robert McCauley is a career expert with Robert Half, a leading specialized staffing firm that helps skilled professionals find rewarding temporary and full-time jobs in a variety of fields. Robert has been writing about the job search and careers for more than 10 years. Connect with him and Robert Half on Twitter and YouTube.

Reader Interactions


  1. Razwana says

    Hi Robert. Some great tips there. When I was in the recruitment industry, I was shocked by how many candidates would not even try and meet the minimum criteria (like specific IT skills) when applying for the job – the perfect way to being ignored by the recruiter.

    When I left the recruitment industry, every recruiter I spoke to said I would never be offered a job as a project manager (even though I had done this before) because of the 2 years I spent in recruitment – my experience just wasn’t relevant any more. During my first interview, I knew the employer was looking for someone flexible, local, committed and with *some* industry knowledge. I ensured I emphasised these points in my interview, and it got me the job.

    – Razwana


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