Second Sunday Series — Editor’s Note: This is the eighth of 12 columns focused on reader questions, appearing over 12 months — one on each second Sunday, from September through August. Previous questions followed these themes: Stay or leave a job during COVID-19; navigating age issues during job search; how much to reveal in an interview; COVID-19 résumé strategies; finding work after long-term unemployment; salary concerns; turning an internship into permanent work; and customer service résumés.
As a response to the confusing and upended job market, I’m devoting a year of “second Sundays” to job seeker questions. This month, I’m focusing on a reader who wants to apply for a job whose qualifications she doesn’t meet — see what you think.
The situation — This job seeker has years of experience, but not in the work she plans to do next. As a high school math and statistics teacher, she loves numbers and making difficult concepts easier to grasp. But she’s not excited about the classroom anymore, so she has been looking at job postings to learn more about new career ideas. One in particular has caught her eye: actuarial associate for an insurance firm. Unfortunately, she doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications. On the other hand, in reading the duties, she feels confident she could learn the job. Should she apply?
Advice — Well, maybe she should and maybe she shouldn’t. This is seldom a one-size-fits-all circumstance, and it can take some analysis to make a strategic decision. To start, there are some questions a candidate in this situation needs to answer, which might take research. For example:
• Is it a licensed position? If so, then applying without the license is a non-starter. But if the missing requirement is a particular degree, then it’s possible the employer would consider alternative training or experience.
• Is the company large? If so, she might have a better chance of being considered, based on the possibility there would be others in the department to train her, or to share her work load while she gets up to speed. But if the new worker would be the only one in the company covering these tasks, the employer probably can’t afford to have someone with fewer skills in the role.
• Is the labor market tight? If employers are having trouble filling this kind of job, they might be open to a candidate who doesn’t quite fit their ideal.
In the case of this job opening, these questions could be answered favorably. The position isn’t licensed, and it’s a support role in a large department for a large company. Even better (for the candidate) the posting first went up almost two months ago and has been renewed twice since then. It appears the company has been searching for a while and is still active in its outreach.
The only question left is how, exactly, do you apply for something you’re not qualified for? The answer is, thoughtfully. Know that in a competitive process, an unqualified candidate may not be considered at all if others who are a better fit also apply. Not to mention that an applicant tracking system — the electronic sorting software used by many employers — will balk at passing forward an application with the wrong boxes checked.
One strategy this candidate might use is to send an email directly to the head of the actuarial department, providing she can find an address. In this correspondence, she would explain briefly that she is very interested and feels she would be a strong addition to the team, but that she’s also aware she doesn’t possess the qualifications requested. Would the manager be available for a short conversation to provide guidance on whether she would be considered for this, or other roles in the department?
But what if she can’t find an address or name for the department manager? All is not lost. In this case, there’s no harm is simply applying. She may or may not get through, for the reasons noted above, but she’ll still be in the system for the hiring manager to find if he or she takes a hands-on approach.
To have the best chance of success, all parts of this application package — the form, the résumé and the letter — should be carefully written to include key words and concepts from the posting, as well as from research she can conduct on actuarial work in general. Whatever tasks she can do that they need done should be highlighted in her materials, to help prompt them to interview her.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.