When you’re searching for a job, coming across mediocre and slightly relevant jobs might be common, while finding that perfect role is not. Unfortunately, said perfect role wants slightly more experience or skills in something you haven’t got. And seeing as you’re trying your hardest to begin your career journey, learning you’re not qualified enough isn’t exactly motivating to carry on. So should we just apply anyway?

Estelle Jackson, O2′s Resourcing Business Partner has worked in her recruitment role for over ten years so we posed the question to her: what do you do if you’re underqualified for a role you really want?

“A perfect candidate is very rare.”

“It’s very rare you’ll find a perfect candidate for a role,” Estelle said. “When I’m talking to a hiring manager about a wish list (aka the things they would really like that person to have), it’s very different to specific qualifications that you need to do a job. Most recruiters know there is not a perfect candidate, so when they put an advert out it’s generally done on very specific things that are must-haves but other things could be open to interpretations, so don’t let that put you off.”

So what do you do?


Now you would think this is the most obvious point, but apparently it’s ignored more than it’s abided by. Common sense will tell you that applying for an accounting role with no accounting qualification or experience is silly talk. Applying to be a doctor without a doctorate? No. “It does happen,” admits Estelle. “A little bit of common sense needs to be applied. One thing I see all the time, is that people who are part-time workers in McDonald’s, applying for Head of Business Architecture on like £150k…”

A general rule of thumb, if you have no experience or qualifications for a particular role, don’t apply.


For most job roles, the specification is usually split into ‘deal breakers’ as Estelle calls them, and desirable attributes. “Whenever I take a brief on a new role, I talk through the things that are deal breakers, i.e. they have to work in Slough because the rest of the population they are supporting are in Slough. Could they be based in Leeds? No, that’s a deal breaker. Do they have to have a specific qualification? Yes, then if they haven’t got it they go in the no pile.” Look at the job application – do they want someone that 100% has an NCTJ and Media Law knowledge? If you don’t have that, it’s unlikely they’re going to want to take your application further.

Desirable is a bit different. Estelle explains: “Speaking Spanish for example; that’s a desirable because they might have to deal with Spain once a month.” But if that person doesn’t speak Spanish, are you not going to offer them the job? “Well no because there are other Spanish speakers, so it’s not a deal breaker.”

In short: Deal-breakers you have to have; desirables are more flexible.


Have you got a few of the qualifications, but not to the exact description they ask for? Estelle says if your experience is only slightly under what is expected, it’s a good idea to apply. “Like a project manager for example, if the projects you are expected to be working on are between 50 and 200,000 and your biggest was 150,000, then I would say you’re in the right area and you should still apply. If it says you’ve got to manage a team of 20 and you’ve never managed anyone, then you’re massively out of their league.”

“Don’t be put off if they’re asking for things you’re slightly below. You can sell yourself in.”


“If that role talks about certain skill sets you almost have, but not fully, make sure that skill set is still in your CV,” says Estelle. “Match the job description with everything you can do and don’t feel like you’ve got to highlight the things that you can’t do, that’s the recruiter’s job. The most important thing is that first 5 seconds of impact, so having what you can do in a box, like a personal profile, of what you can do, that’s the most important thing that a recruiter is going to look at in the first 5 seconds.”

Don’t, just never, ever, ever start a cover letter with “Although I can’t do X, Y or Z, I am really qualified in A, B and C.!” You’re setting yourself up for a lost cause! As Estelle says: “It should all be positive rather than pointing out to the recruiter what you haven’t got. Make the best of what you can do. The recruiter will know what the manager is happy to flex on.”

Oh and make sure you use ‘I’. “A pitfall for a lot of people is ‘we did this’, ‘we were asked to do this’, ‘we chose this’. What a recruiter is going to want to see is what your personal involvement in that was, were you the leader? A good team player? The skivvy?” adds Estelle.


Should we big up other things we do that are cool, unique and relevant? “Absolutely!” says Estelle. “It’s hard, but as an example, I’m currently recruiting for a role that is a massive mix of commerical skills, understanding about smart home, and knowing about marketing. We’ve had about 60 appications from the most diverse range of people, from those who have the commercial skills but not the marketing, or others who are brilliant at smart home but don’t have the commercial experience to back it up.” And that’s what she means about rarely getting the ‘perfect’ candidate.

“Focus on what you can do and what you could bring to that role.”


So you don’t have exactly what they’re looking for, but boy would you work hard and learn everything if you got the role. Show that you have a passion and enthusiasm for this role (don’t just say ‘I have passion and enthusiasm for this role’). Talk about similar things you’ve done that you loved. “Having that passion to start with and a culture fit is really important,” adds Estelle.

So the moral of the story? Use common sense and how what you can do, not what you can’t.

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