Ask the Recruiter: How to apply for jobs when you're underqualified or missing some skills
No matter where you are in your career journey, there's a chance you've experienced some professional upheaval during the past year. You may also find it more complicated to enter the job market or look for a new job. Chaos, however, often leads to unexpected opportunities. Some people, for instance, have found that now is the right time to move beyond finding a next role and to make a career transition.
To ease the way for job seekers, we asked our recruiters to answer some common candidate questions about their job search.
Our recruiters offer insights into the recruiting and hiring process, including whether or not it makes sense to apply for a specific job, even if you're underqualified or lack certain required skills.
Revecca Padiotis, Intelligence Group, GeoIntelligence, Geospatial, language skills
Amy Roberts, Intelligence Group, Defense Group, Logistics, intern and college recruiting
Evie Shaffer, Defense Group, Airborne Solutions, Army ISR, ARLE, Unmanned Planes
Donal Duffy, Defense Group, GSM-O, Cyber, Enterprise IT (Veterans at Work Certified)
Jenny Pellegrino, Defense Group, Air Force, Cleared Cloud, AWS, Project Management, Cyber
If I'm underqualified for a job based on my years of experience, should I still apply for it?
“Overcoming an experience gap is achievable in junior- and mid-level positions, which is anywhere from 2–8 years' experience," says Amy.
If your experience matches the required skills for an open job, but your gap lies in not enough years of experience, you still may have a shot. Amy suggests indicating your ability to get up to speed quickly.
Prepare for your interview by considering when you proved on the job that you're a fast learner and be ready to share those stories in an interview.
“Ask yourself if it's a huge leap for you to be considered for this position," adds Donal. “If you're reasonably close, then go for it. Perfect matches of candidates to job descriptions are rare."
What if I don't have certain skills that are required for an open job?
“If you don't have quite the right match for a hard skill but you do have experience, or even exposure to a similar skill, then that may help you overcome that gap," Amy says.
For example, if the job calls for experience with Java (which you don't have) and you have experience with C++, that may be sufficient to get your foot in the door.
Revecca offers an additional suggestion that may help convince recruiters. “If you're lacking something specific but are otherwise qualified, then add a phrase at the top of your resumé like Eager to learn [skill] or Looking to expand [experience]. This shows that you are aware of the gaps in your skill set and are prepared to overcome whatever you lack once you're on the job.”
In some cases, Evie says, recruiters are searching for a strong candidate who's an 80-85 percent match to the job requirements, with the understanding that they'll have to train the hire for in other skills. “If you feel that you meet at least 80 percent of the requirements, apply. You have nothing to lose," she advises. “Plus, sometimes I'll notice a candidate who's not qualified for one job but is qualified for another one that's open. You just don't know how things unfold."
If you land an interview for a job for which you're underqualified, focus your prep work on the organization's big picture, the team you'll join, and how you can make an impact. This shows your strengths in critical thinking and personal drive. Bring questions to the interview that show the hiring manager that you understand their line of business and how your role and their team fits into the organization as a whole.
“Ask the hiring manager what success in this role looks like and show enthusiasm for available career development resources and how they can help you bridge small skill gaps," Evie says.
Stay tuned for more answers to your questions
We hope that these insights have helped you gain confidence in your ability to find and land your next job opportunity. Please consider connecting with our recruiters on LinkedIn for your areas of expertise. Follow Leidos on LinkedIn to make sure you see our next installment of "Ask the Recruiter" to get more answers to your job search questions.