You Don't Need to Be the "Ideal Candidate" to Apply!

#career #coaching #leadership Apr 25, 2024

How many times have you looked at a job description and felt instantly disqualified because you didn't meet every single skill on the endless list of bullet points?

If you're a woman, I'd bet it's happened more often than not. I know I’ve hesitated to apply for jobs myself when I haven’t matched every single qualification.

The phenomenon of women only applying to roles when they meet 100% of the listed qualifications is well-documented. Studies have shown that men tend to apply for jobs if they meet just 60% of the requirements. However, news flash, most hiring managers don't actually expect candidates to check every box - the job description is written with the "ideal" candidate in mind. Trust me, I’ve written them as a leader. We itemize every possible skill, experience, and capability we hope a candidate might bring to a role knowing that if the person is the right fit on the team, we will overlook some of the responsibilities and restructure the existing team if necessary.

Most hiring managers know that finding a candidate who meets every single criteria is rare and writing a long list of preferred skills almost creates an exhaustive list aimed at attracting an improbable unicorn who likely doesn’t exist in real life. What hiring managers are really looking for is someone who possesses the core, non-negotiable abilities for that role and can learn or develop the rest on the job. And quite frankly, if you already know how to do everything that the job description states, you are most likely going to be bored and want a new role sooner than the organization is ready to provide it to you.

Let me put it this way - if hiring teams only advanced candidates who had all the qualifications listed, no one would ever get hired! Most people get a job by demonstrating about 60-70% alignment with the description, along with the potential and drive to grow into the rest. So, women, we can learn this skill from men who have it right by applying to a role that they match about 60% of the qualifications and they don’t overanalyze whether they should apply or not.

Let’s examine the "overqualified" trap on the flip side, women also tend to apply only if slightly underqualified versus overqualified for roles. Women also worry about being seen as overqualified or too experienced. This stems from not wanting to be perceived as a flight risk or too expensive. Ironically, the reality is that most companies won't even look at someone who is drastically overqualified for a role. They actually assume that person would get bored and leave quickly which doesn’t help them in the long run. So, there's no need to fear being too qualified - companies have already removed candidates like that.

At the end of the day, job descriptions are aspirational "wish lists" but not set in stone requirements. Don't take them as the ultimate criteria for deciding if you should apply or not. Focus instead on whether you have the core skills for that job today and the willingness to continue growing your experience to learn them in the future.

If you check those two boxes, apply!

Don't count yourself out just because you're not the 100% "ideal candidate" on paper. No one ever is. Showcase your qualifications, share your career goals, and let the hiring team decide if you're a potential fit. Putting yourself out there is the only way to land great roles.

And if self-doubt creeps in, keep in mind this handy job search mantra:

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take!"

Or as my mom likes to say, “You know the answer if you don’t even try!”

And finally in closing, to borrow the famous Nike phrase, “Just Do It!

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