Career Advice

How To Apply For Jobs You Are Underqualified For

This is a common question that I tend to come across in many women’s career groups so I thought I would save my reply in a blog post for easy reference. 😉

I think a key part of applying for jobs you are not qualified for is figuring out what it is the organisation wants / the challenges they are facing which require them to advertise a position, and how you are the best person to help them meet those wants / address those challenges. Identify your Unique Selling Point (USP) that makes you the best candidate even if you know you don’t quite meet all the criteria – and show how with the strength of that USP alone the others which you don’t meet don’t matter. Also have a way to showcase what resources you have at hand to convince them that you will be able to grow into the role. It is also important to assume that nobody else is able to offer what you have to offer (!)

I was severely underqualified for my first academic job – a permanent position as a lecturer and senior administrator (head of programme). For most academics, this is a great position to start off with. My USP is that I was a successful (as in, I knew how to make money) entrepreneur with staff who knew what the market needed (as in what people accessing healthcare were willing to pay for) and what criteria employers wanted as far as graduate employability was concerned (whatever I was interviewing people for as well). I also had a huge following among the general public and could easily attract students into the programme (pretty sure I still can). To show how I could make up for my lack of experience in academia, my mentor advised me to compile profiles of senior academics around the world who were good friends and who had pledged to help support me in my work and this would subsequently benefit the growth of the programme under me. The international collaborations would also raise the profile and prestige of the programme and university.

Play to your strengths and know the organisation’s challenges / wants. The programme I inherited of had poor student numbers (marketing didn’t know how to promote it, whereas other programmes under the same faculty had excellent numbers) and a poor reputation. In this particular case, my experience as an entrepreneur was more valuable than that of an academic. It was a crazy learning curve for me to learn to be an academic / educator, but I managed to pull through thanks to my awesome support system of wonderful people who saw me through some really difficult times.

So if you see a job you’re not qualified for but think you could actually pull it off – go for it, offer them what you know nobody else can offer. What qualifications did Trump have to become President of the United States? He applied for the job and got it anyway. Surely you can too for whatever you’re applying for!

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