Overcoming the “Under-Qualified” Stigma

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It’s happened to everyone: you come across a job description for a position that’s right up your alley. The job is interesting and looks like something that you are completely capable of and excited to do. And then your eyes wander to the “Qualifications” section… You don’t have a Masters degree, 5+ years of experience, or a Series 7 license. So what do you do? Scrap it and move on? If you’re lacking many of the key qualifications that appear mandatory, then indeed you’re probably better off allocating your time and effort applying elsewhere. But if you’re only a few qualifications away from that ideal candidate description, you might be selling yourself short if you give up before even trying. Read on for a list of tips on overcoming the “under-qualified candidate” stigma.

Emphasize Your Skills

Ok, so maybe you don’t hit every bullet point with your qualifications. But don’t give up hope just yet. For many positions, the “Qualifications” section is merely a list of attributes of the ideal candidate. This doesn’t mean that they’re unwilling to consider someone who meets only some of the requirements. So instead of dwelling on what you haven’t done, focus on what you’re great at. Many skills that you acquire throughout school, volunteer work, or another job are transferable to other positions, and can be used to replace any prerequisites that you might not meet. Highlight these skills or experiences in your cover letter, and explain how they will help you excel in that specific job. One important caveat: don’t waste your time applying for jobs that you’re completely unqualified for – for example, if you’re looking at a position for an Associate Attorney at a top law firm, you better have a law degree.

Go the Extra Mile

If you come up short on knowledge or experience, emphasize to an employer that you are willing to work harder than any other candidate to brush up on your skills and become well versed in the subject matter. Don’t underestimate the value that hiring managers place on a strong work ethic. Include in your resume and cover letter examples of your ability to learn quickly. If you possess many of the other qualities of the ideal candidate, you may find that your enthusiasm to learn and contribute may very well land you the position.

Network

Networking is a great way to gain introductions into a company. Networking can also help you establish someone on the inside as an individual who can vouch for you. When you come across that tricky job description, mention to your contact that you’re planning on applying, and explain why. Be honest, and address any points that might weaken your application. Companies want to hire individuals they can trust. If someone with a good history at the company is able to put in a good word for you, it will further bolster that company’s confidence in bringing you on.

Volunteer or Intern

If you find that no matter how you try to spin it, you just can’t land the position you want based on your qualifications, offer to volunteer your services for free. This isn’t to say that you should ever allow a company or an individual to take advantage of you. But if you volunteer or intern for a company, you’ll gain valuable experience that you can parlay into a future opportunity at the company. Get in, work hard, and show them that they need you. Even if doing so doesn’t lead to another prospect within that company, you’ll gain important knowledge and skills that will qualify you for a position similar to the job you had hoped for at the outset.

It’s easy to look at a job description, think, “There’s someone out there who’s better,” and quickly abandon the effort. But have a little faith in yourself – play to your strengths and commit to working even harder than the next guy, and you may find yourself more qualified than you think. So take a chance – you’ve got nothing to lose – and you may find yourself one step closer to your dream job!

All the best,
The Doostang Team

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Perfect the Punch in Your Cover Letter

By Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC – GetInterviews.com

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Your resume and cover letter should combine to deliver an effective “one-two punch” that grabs the positive attention needed to land an interview. Though many think the cover letter has become obsolete because of online resume posting, in reality the cover letter is equally important in electronic and paper applications. Typical business standards of communication apply in any type of career search contact. Being too informal and using emoticons or e-mail acronyms (such as BTW or LOL) will likely sabotage your well-planned efforts.

Personalize the Letter

Research the company and the HR department to determine the person to whom you should address the letter. You may even call the company to inquire as to the name of the appropriate person who is screening for the position of interest. If unable to find the name of a specific person in any of your research, you can always default to the title of the individual in charge of the position search, such as “Office Manager” or “Director of Human Resources.”

Although personalizing the salutation is a good start, don’t stop there if you want to stand out from the crowd. Use the results of your research to determine the values, mission, and new initiatives for the company. Aligning your strengths and personal work history with these key areas will help the hiring manager see you as a viable team member. Recruiting key talent makes the hiring manager look good, so help them by making it easy to recognize what a great fit you are for the opening.

Highlight Your Accomplishments

Every hiring manager differs in his or her approach to screening resumes and cover letters. Some don’t even bother with the cover letter, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on your attention to detail. Many other hiring managers use the cover letter to screen out unlikely candidates.

Make your cover letter doubly effective by including several accomplishments that align with key aspects of the open position as well as the overall corporate mission. Many people don’t include specific accomplishments in the cover letter to avoid being repetitive. But key concepts often bear repeating! By emphasizing the same accomplishments in the cover letter and the resume, you help the hiring manager remember your strong points. Beyond that, if the hiring manager only reads the resume or the cover letter, you have made certain that your key skills are highlighted and will be noticed at least once, if not twice!

Electronic Postings

Spend time perfecting your subject line if submitting your resume via email. Including your name in the subject line facilitates name recognition. To present a business-like impression, stick to the basics in your subject line, such as listing the position and a descriptor (e.g., “Robert Smith Application” or “Jane Doe Resume”). The same cover letter that you submit with a paper application becomes the text of your email accompanying the electronic resume.

The Basics

Of course, you need to pay attention to the basics of business grammar, spelling, and format when writing the cover letter. You don’t want to set yourself apart by making the cover letter too “flashy.” Colored paper, personal photos, and overly distinctive fonts have no place in a strong cover letter. Review the letter to make sure it aligns as closely as possible with the details included in the job announcement. Give the entire package a final close inspection before sending it out to ensure it is not only accurate, but also complete in terms of what the employer has requested (e.g., transcript, references, etc.). Finally, don’t forget your original signature on the paper version of your cover letter. Even such a small oversight may close the door on your chances for an interview.

The cover letter can be a critical component in your job search. It allows you the opportunity to “connect the dots” for the hiring manager between your skills and their needs. Customizing the cover letter demonstrates your due diligence, initiative, and interest in the company. Create an effective “one-two punch” and get the most out of your cover letter to highlight your skills and present yourself as a top-notch candidate.

About the Author: Alesia Benedict, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC) is the President of GetInterviews.com, the country’s leading resume writing firm. They provide professionals with customized, branded resumes and career marketing documents. Her and her firm’s credentials include being cited by JIST Publications as one of the “best resume writers in North America,” quoted as a career expert in The Wall Street Journal, and published in a whopping 25+ career books. Established in 1994, the firm has aided more than 100,000 job seekers to date. All resume writers are certified writers. GetInterviews.com offers a free resume critique and their services come with a wonderful guarantee — interviews in 30 days or they’ll rewrite for free!

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Show Employers They Need You!

By Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC – GetInterviews.com

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The cover letter is the first opportunity you have to introduce yourself and your extensive skills to potential employers. Make this document work for you by showing employers how you can solve common and unique problems they are facing. Specific strategies in the cover letter will make hiring managers call you!

1. Toot Your Own Horn!

Be sure to include achievements and outstanding accomplishments in the cover letter as well as in the resume.  All hiring managers approach the screening process in vastly different ways.  By including significant achievements in the cover letter you generate interest in your resume and associate certain skills with your name. Listing accomplishments prompts the interviewer to read more and ultimately contact you.

2. Use Key Words Selectively.

Be cautious not to over-use phrases that have become so common they are practically meaningless. You may choose to use such words as “innovated” but be certain to describe exactly what makes your achievement innovative.  For example, “I increased sales 20% by initiating a hands-on mentoring program for new associates”.

3. Managing Challenges.

Employers want loyal personnel who are also able to make things happen. Do you perform well under pressure? Did you identify a procedural problem and devise a solution? Are you uniquely qualified to conduct sensitive negotiations? These are all examples of how you can contribute to the corporation. Describe how you managed these challenges to get the attention of hiring managers.

4. Avoid Explaining Employment Gaps.

You can’t hide an employment gap and if you try to do so, most hiring managers will look on that more negatively than the gap itself. Most explanations of employment gaps are best handled in the resume rather than in the cover letter. If you choose to explain an extended employment gap in the cover letter, the hiring manager may not read further. An exception is in the case of additional training. Improving your skills through formal training or an internship can highlight a change in career direction and emphasize your commitment to the profession.

5. Be Clear About What You Want.

End the cover letter with a request for an interview. Including an intention to follow up can also be effective. For example, “I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the many ways I can benefit your organization”. Being clear about your goals in the job search conveys a sense of authority and competence that helps the hiring manager see how you will perform in the position.

Think of the cover letter as an expanded version of your business card. Limited space forces you to be selective about what you choose to include. Emphasize the ways you can benefit the organization to show employers they need you!

About the Author: Alesia Benedict, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC) is the President of GetInterviews.com, the country’s leading resume writing firm. They provide professionals with customized, branded resumes and career marketing documents. Her and her firm’s credentials include being cited by JIST Publications as one of the “best resume writers in North America,” quoted as a career expert in The Wall Street Journal, and published in a whopping 25+ career books. Established in 1994, the firm has aided more than 100,000 job seekers to date. All resume writers are certified writers. GetInterviews.com offers a free resume critique and their services come with a wonderful guarantee — interviews in 30 days or they’ll rewrite for free!

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