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Don’t Be Intimidated By “Qualified Applicants Only” Position

When you’re looking for a job, it’s easy to feel intimidated by some of the language you come across in job descriptions:

  • “Requires elite-level skill”
  • “Looking for a rock star”
  • “Must have "x" years of experience”

Then there’s the catch-all—“qualified applicants only.”

How much weight should you give these “requirements” to make sure your job search is realistic without closing the door on potential opportunities?

To start, it’s helpful to understand why these qualifiers exist. Hiring managers want confident candidates—individuals who know they’re up to the task—and imposing certain requirements can cut down on the number of “unqualified” applicants applying to roles. But the strong job market is causing a shift that may work to your advantage.

With today’s record low unemployment rate and high demand for skilled workers, you could be more qualified than you think.

The takeaway? Don’t sell yourself short!

Here are some tips to keep in mind the next time strong job description language makes you think twice about applying for an open position.

Screening is changing, but the description looks the same

Remember that the job description is just the front line of a whole hiring process, so thinking ahead to the next steps will help you keep the proper perspective.

In the current job market, soft skills such as reliability, positive attitude and learning capacity are becoming just as important to employers as demonstrated technical proficiency. Make sure to highlight those attributes on your resume, citing examples whenever possible. It’s easier to train a dedicated, hard-working person who asks the right questions than it is to motivate a ho-hum employee with all the right credentials.

And keep in mind that many openings aren’t listed, and organizational structures are more flexible now than they were when talent was more readily available. If you make a favourable enough impression while applying to a position that an employer determines is beyond your level of expertise, you might still wind up in a job at a lesser level of responsibility where you can develop the skills necessary for promotion.

Of course, some qualifications are set in stone, and there may be quantifiable aspects of your applicant profile, such as degree or professional certification attainment, that get filtered out by automated screening technology. But even here there’s good news: Many prominent employers have relaxed their degree requirements in a tighter job market.

Evaluate the relative importance of qualifications in a job description

Look at the responsibilities and expectations of the position. If every item on the list sounds like something you could do, or maybe have done in some capacity, then you’re probably qualified for the position!

Remember to read the fine print about what the expectations actually are.

For example: if one responsibility is to “act as a liaison between the customer support teams and the marketing department,” then you’re being asked to coordinate close communication between these two groups, but you won’t be required to manage either.

Assume that the required qualifications are listed in order of priority. The first three items are probably the most important, but after that, there may be room for negotiation.

For example: if the fourth or fifth item lists “Master’s degree in health services or related field,” and you are currently enroled in a master’s program, you might meet the threshold. It’s certainly worth asking through an application submission. You’ll learn if this is a “must-have” or “good-to-have” requirement, and stay on the employer’s radar for future openings.

Look for softer language, and take your cues about requirements from a broad interpretation, especially with regard to amount of experience. It turns out that experienced candidates are among the most difficult to find.

For example: if a job description lists “5–7 years of experience preferred,” the “preferred” is a giveaway that they’re not exactly holding their breath. A candidate with 4 years of experience could win the job if you sway them with your soft skills and knowledge.

Similarly, “salary commensurate with experience” offers another potential opening for interpretation. This can be especially useful if you’re looking to break back into a field you left when the recession dominated the job market. Focusing compensation discussions on salary range, as opposed to a specific salary, keeps you in the process, and may open up the position at a more junior level than is listed in the job description.

And if you’re working with a recruiter…

It’s tough to see the big picture of the job market on your own, especially as it applies to your own particular skills and background. A little advice can go a long way.

If you are currently working with a recruiter, use them as a resource to explore your options and learn about what you qualify for in the current job market. And if you’ve had success in previous assignments with your recruiter, there’s a good chance they can get you in the door for an interview based on their recommendation alone.

Remember: you may be more qualified than you think!