It's a common occurrence when looking for new jobs – especially when just starting out in your career- where you come across the perfect job advertisement that you’d love to apply for but you realise you don’t match all the stated job requirements. Your experience level isn’t quite enough, or you don’t possess a particular technical skill that is listed. Because of this, you decide you’re not suited and move on with your search. Applying for jobs can be a delicate balance – especially within the public sector where government ads will often have specific key selection criteria or requirements that need to be met. However, in a competitive job market being too stringent on what positions you apply for – in terms of aligning with your experience and skillset - can limit the potential opportunities that come your way and prolong your search. And, after all, if you don't apply you'll never know. However, on the flipside applying for every job under the sun, or at least anything that's vaguely related to your capabilities can not only be a terrible punch to the self-esteem, but still get you nowhere in terms of job leads.
So, when conducting your job search within the public sector, when (or even if) should you apply for a role that’s not necessarily the ‘perfect fit’? We examine this topic below:
Unfortunately, many people focus on potential jobs for which they are already overly qualified. A reason for this can often be imposter syndrome, which is the feeling that you’ve risen to a position you haven’t earned or deserve (Art Markman, 2019). When you experience ‘imposter syndrome’ you start to worry that if others knew how unqualified you are for a particular position, you would not be able to keep your job. To overcome this fear many people look at jobs where they know they tick all the boxes – often overcompensating. There are upsides to doing this: they will “hit the ground running,” which often makes an employer happy and can boost the person’s self-confidence. But it’s unlikely the job will lead to much growth and being stagnant in a role can make it hard to transition to the next position. After all, developing your career requires you to be constantly learning new skills that will help you to grow and take on new challenges. If you’re overqualified for a position, chances are you’re not going to be learning many new skills at work – you can perform most of your tasks on autopilot. Instead, you’ll have to learn off the clock.
Consequently, many career advisors recommend looking for and applying for positions that will ‘stretch’ you and allow you to grow in your profession, not ones where you've already mastered all of the necessary skills (Seek, 2020). However, when looking at different job advertisements there is a distinction between jobs that will ‘challenge’ you and jobs that are completely out of your depth. The hard and fast rule for making this distinction is looking at the key requirements listed for a job advertisement. If you lack more than half of the key requirements listed (rather than one or two) then it’s probably best not to apply. But, if there are only a few ‘desirable’ (as opposed to ‘essential’) points you lack from the job advertisement requirements – for example, knowledge about the industry that you could learn or experience in using an application that isn’t of central importance to the job – applying for the role could still be worth your while. It can be worth the hiring organisation’s while too. As a surprise candidate, you could stand out as a very interesting option, perhaps due to your unique skills or experience that could bring something new and different to the role. The fact that you don’t exactly fit the mould could also challenge the set of assumptions that an employer held about the position and highlight ways candidates could be suitable for a role that they hadn’t considered.
Besides, even if you’re not successful in making it to the interview stage when applying for a role you weren’t the exact right fit for there's also the chance that the organisation could aapproach you about another available position that you are the right fit for, or that you're kept in mind for future positions.
When applying for a role where your skillset or experience doesn’t completely align with the specified job requirements, it’s important to focus on what you can bring to the role and your unique offerings, rather than mentioning requirement X,Y,Z that you don’t possess.
Highlight Your Relevant Transferrable Skills
While you may not have experience or knowledge in a particular task that is required for a role, maybe you’ve performed tasks in a previous job that would apply the same skills or that these skills could be easily transferrable. For example, while you might not have as much experience in project management, your background in business development meant you spent time planning, developing processes and timelines and organising a team to reach your goals in previous jobs; all transferable skills that apply to project management.
Indicate Your Willingness To Learn
If you’re missing a particular skill or experience that’s specified on a job advertisement – e.g. using a certain software – make sure you’ve researched what you would need to do in order to overcome this gap. Perhaps you can take a class or online course to help with your learning and development. You can then mention the classes or courses you’re taking in your interview, to demonstrate your initiative and the commitment you have for the role to your potential employer; two qualities that speak volumes in a candidate.
Demonstrate Your Skills, Experience and Qualifications Through Examples
It’s important to focus on all the relevant and required experience that you do bring to the table, and the best way to demonstrate these is through quantifiable examples. This means not just listing or mentioning your key responsibilities in a previous role or the skill sets you possess, but providing quantifiable outcomes or achievements that resulted from your responsibilities or skills. This gives you a chance to provide measurable examples of how you’ve contributed to the success of the previous organisations you’ve worked for and provides evidence to support your claims. Some people can struggle with this when working in an industry that often has intangible KPIs, but examples don’t always have to be sales or numbers based. For example, you could say, ‘your strong leadership skills were demonstrated through leading weekly team meetings of 10 or more’ or, ‘managing the implementation of a new learning and development strategy led to a 10% reduction in retention rates from the previous year.’
If you’re struggling to determine whether a role is worth applying for or are looking for general guidance as you embark on your job-seeking journey, why not reach out to our Public Sector People consultants? We specialise in helping candidates during the job-seeking process and know what clients within state and local government as well as public sector agencies are looking for when hiring. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Ready to find your next role? Start the search today!
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 Art Markman. (2019). You Don’t Need to Meet Every Qualification To Apply For A Job. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2019/05/you-dont-need-to-meet-every-qualification-to-apply-for-a-job
[2} Seek. (2020). Job Ads: How To Know When It's Worth Applying. Seek Career Advice. Retrieved from: https://www.seek.com.au/career-advice/article/job-ads-how-to-know-when-its-worth-applying