How to apply for a job for which you are unqualified.

In my previous post, I promised I would write about applying for jobs for which you are unqualified. I shall now keep my promise. In fact, I have been trying to keep it for a few days now. The problem is, I am my own worst critic and have not liked the previous drafts. This is actually a very difficult topic and it is the Number One reason people think they are not being considered for a position.

So let’s begin with the statement I just made only this time with emphasis on the word “think.” You may be wrong. Your cover letter may be proof that you cannot write. Your resume may be evidence that you are sloppy and disorganized. And your interviewing skills may be so bad that you could not convince a drowning man to hire you, the only person within site, to rescue him. To quote the Bard, The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

But let’s say that you are correct and you are unqualified. What does that mean? It means you either lack something, have too much of something, or not enough of something. So let’s look at each.

You Lack Something

If a job requires a license or certification, and you don’t have said license or certification, you will not be considered for the job. The fact that you hope to pass the test “next week” (I actually had someone tell me that once) is irrelevant. You may pass. You may fail. But you don’t have it so you are not qualified and will not be considered. There is nothing to discuss. If the job requires OSHA certification, and you are not OSHA certified, you are unqualified. Period. End of discussion (almost).

Instead of lacking a certification, you may lack a skill. I had a career counseling client who came to me after losing her job. She had been a “secretary” – her word, not mine! – for 30 years. The company she was at closed. She knew dictation and shorthand (two lost skills). And she was an expert in Word Perfect. I wrote my doctoral dissertation using Word Perfect. It is far superior to Word. But no one uses it today; everyone uses Word. She did not know Word. There was absolutely no point in her applying for any job until she learned Word. Once she did, she got a job in a matter of a few weeks. So if you are lacking a skill, learn it!

In some cases the problem is not a qualification or skill, but geography. You may be totally qualified for the position except for the fact that you are in the wrong city. Many employers have no desire to relocate applicants. There is enough local talent. Moreover, knowing the city may be an important part of the job (even if not stated in the job description). So if you are out-of-town your best bet may be to move to the city where you want to live and then start looking for work. Of course, financially this may not be feasible. In that case the solution is networking, but that takes time. Bottom line, is, you are in a chicken and egg situation. You can’t get the job until your move to the city but you can’t move to the city until you get the job. This one usually takes more luck than anything else, other than patience.

Too Much

The job requires “2-5 years’ experience.” You have 15 years under your belt. You are, accordingly, over qualified. Yes, you are probably being rejected because of your age, but go prove it. Not going to happen. The employer can come up with a number of sound reasons for not wanting anyone with more than five years’ experience. (I am about to provide one!)

Or, the job requires a Bachelor’s degree and you have a Master’s. You are overqualified.

Why would an employer not want someone with “too much” experience or education? One credible reason is fear of boredom. In other words, they are worried the person will leave either because the company is not big enough for them, or they won’t get along with their less experienced and less educated colleagues. That is a totally legitimate concern.

Too Little

Now we have the opposite case. The job description requires “10 plus years experience and a graduate/advanced degree,” and you are fresh out of college with maybe two years of real experience.

Unlike the above case, this is not age discrimination. You lack the network of the more experienced candidate. You lack the life experiences. You’re not there yet. You will be. But the employer wants to hire someone who has “been there and done that,” not someone with potential to “get there and do that.” And that is the employer’s right.

So how do you get a job for which you are unqualified?

There are two ways to applied for a job for which you are unqualified: informally and informally. (Not a typo; an attempt at humor!)

The first “informally” means you don’t actually apply. Instead, someone recommends you. This is when you are “underqualified.” Someone who knows the employer speaks on your behalf saying, “She’s not there yet. She does not have everything you are looking for. But she has great potential. Look at what she has accomplished. Do you want her in your tent or working for your competition? Give her 10 minutes. It will be time well spent.” In other words: network!

The second “informally” means you are “overqualified.” In this case, assuming that you know who the employer is, you apply for the job by not applying for it. You submit your resume with the following introduction in your cover letter:

Having successfully blah, blah, blah, I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself in the hope that if a position should open at NAME OF COMPANY, you will consider me a viable candidate.

The “blah, blah, blah” is an actual accomplishment that you have that will make them immediately think about the position they are looking to fill. What you are doing is getting them to decide whether or not to consider you.

Of course, a case can be made for applying for the job directly and if they want to reject you, they’ll do so. In that case you would write:

Having successfully blah, blah, blah, I want to submit my candidacy for the XYZ position knowing that I cannot only fulfill the requirements of the job, but exceed them.

So what’s the difference? It’s a matter of style. My concern is that if you apply for a specific job and are rejected, because of the amount of work the HR department has, you may not get into the company’s Applicant Tracking System. My way, that may not be an issue. But it is a judgement call. The important thing is to focus on an actual verifiable accomplishment.

It also depends on to whom you are sending the letter. If it is going to HR, they probably are just “checking boxes.” If it is going to the hiring manager or supervisor, they may care more about the substance of the resume than just comparing it with the job description.

As for being overqualified, networking is of less importance. Yes, it would be nice to have someone tell the employer that she would be a fool not to hire you. That you can cover the owner’s expenses for your salary, etc. in short order is a great selling point, but you can get that message across in the cover letter by writing something similar to the above.

Lastly, let’s get back to the case of lacking certification. If you are going to get the certification quickly, and if you meet all the other criteria, all things being equal, you should not have a problem, as long as the job has not yet been filled. Which is why people think that noting they they will have the certification shortly makes up for not having it. That may be the case. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right candidate and you may have everything else they are looking for. And they may be willing to offer you the position on the condition that you get the certification. So apply for it. After all, what do you have to lose?

So to summarize, the way to get a job for which you are not qualified is by a combination of networking (obtaining an outside recommendation) and writing an accomplishment-based cover letter. It has worked for me. It has worked for my career counseling clients. It may work for you.


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website,, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.