April 19, 2012

Applicants Should Ask: Am I Qualified?

By: AFF Editors

By Emily Miller, Director of Employment Placement Services, Leadership Institute

We’ve all had the experience of seeing an exciting job listing, and then feeling our hearts sink when we read the qualifications. “Should I apply anyway?” we ask ourselves. “I know I can do it!” Despite our faith in our own abilities, recruiters list qualifications for a reason. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to apply for a job.

1. Do you have any experience in that field? If your answer to this question is no, you should consider other options. I receive many emails from frustrated employers asking how to make it clearer that people without any experience in the field shouldn’t apply. If the posting specifies that you must have some level of experience in a given field, and you have none, you will not be considered unless it is an entry-level role.

2. Do you have any additional experience that could count toward the stated qualifications? Postings will specify how many years of experience in the field are required. At times, experience in other areas may count toward that requirement. For example, a recruiter may want four years of experience in political writing and editing. Perhaps you’ve only been writing in a professional setting for two years, but you’ve contributed to an online outlet for five. Or perhaps you wrote for your college paper. Those field experiences can be added to your “years of experience” count. Just make sure your resume reflects them.

3. Does the posting say “preferred” or “must”? Preferred means someone who does have the specified experience will have an advantage over someone who doesn’t, but both are welcome to apply. If the posting states that applicants must have a certain skill or experience level, heed that request. There is a reason the employer feels that attribute is necessary, and he/she won’t appreciate you ignoring it.

4. How specific are the qualifications? Vague language in postings is a common source of jobseeker frustration. And, honestly, recruiters are often at fault for many of the unqualified applicants they receive because they were not more specific in the job announcement. Pay careful attention to how the qualifications are worded. Sometimes they can encompass a wide range of possibilities: “4-6 years of project management experience.” This could mean anything from making sure a monthly newsletter went out on time to running the organization’s largest program. In that situation, tailor your resume to display how your experiences fit that requirement. But if the posting says something like “1-2 years of experience in non-linear editing systems,” you know the recruiter is looking for a very specific set of skills. You should only apply if you have those skills.

If you’ve zoned out and only take one thing away from this post, I hope it will be this: Don’t make yourself out to be something you’re not. Recruiters can spot exaggeration and experience-stretching a mile away, and nothing aggravates them more than when an applicant blatantly disregards the qualifications they’ve laid out in a posting. (Well, there may be a couple other sources of aggravation, but that’s a blog post for another time!)

The last thing you want to do is waste a recruiter’s time and make a bad impression. If another job for which you are qualified opens up at that organization, the recruiter will be skeptical about your application because you disregarded the qualifications the first time around.

If you need to build experience, consider volunteering. I know it doesn’t pay the bills and can be tough. But real-world work is invaluable, and the hours spent will be worthwhile when you can apply for that dream job and confidently say, “Yes, I do have the experience you’re looking for.”

Emily Miller is Director of Employment Placement Services at the Leadership Institute where she coordinates the networking and employment site, ConservativeJobs.com. She also assists jobseekers through resume and career consultations, job fairs, and training events. You can reach Emily at emiller@leadershipinstitute.org.

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