Do You Apply For Jobs You’re Not Qualified For?

You see a job posted online and decide to toss your hat in the ring. Why not? You’re online. It’s easy to apply.

If that’s your attitude you’re wasting your time. And the employer’s time. When you apply for a job, meet all the critical requirements and 90% of all the requirements.

The only way you’re going to get a job if you don’t meet 90% of the requirements is if you know the hiring manager or recruiter. Personally. Otherwise, why would they hire someone who doesn’t meet the job qualifications?

How do you do it?

  • Copy or print the job announcement or ad
  • Review line by line to understand the requirements
  • Highlight stated goals and objectives
  • Check the employer’s web site for added info and corporate values
  • Chart their expectations and your actual match to each goal and requirement
  • State your matches clearly throughout your resume, application and cover letter

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Another important point – recruiters who are responsible for filling a lot of positions will also remember a candidate (for all the wrong reasons!) when they apply for any and every job opening with their organization. Notarity is not always a good thing!

Peter Sperry

I once applied for a job where my qualifications seemed a stretch at best. I wanted to test my USAjobs resume writing and response skills on an application where I would not feel too bad about not getting an interview or offer. Instead, I was offered the position, have been there 4.5 years, earned 4 outstanding performance ratings, 2 grade increases in that position and a promotion to a new position with a higher grade.

I would recommend against applying for jobs if you have absolutely no qualification and/or lack a fundamental skill or educational requirement. But other than that, why screen yourself out of a potential opportunity?


Define qualified. I have applied for multiple GS 9 openings but never once was found to be highly qualified despite receiving ratings of 96. I also possess an MPA with distinction and another master’s degree from an Ivy League institution with a 4.0 GPA.

Qualified is subjectively determined. I have compared my education and experience with individuals on LinkedIn. I have the same or better qualifications than many. I was also a Peace Corps and AmeriCorps VISTA which you would think indicates a level of commitment to public service that very few candidates display.

Avatar photo Robert Bird

I would disagree with this. Many of the jobs I have had I did not meet all the critical requirements and 90% of all the requirements. Everything from working at the Detention Center to Police Officer (and beating out Police Officers that wanted to transfer here) to doing Student Loans and now working for Unemployment.

What I did bring to the table was a desire to learn and to do that specific job. If I had followed your advice, I would still be delivering bottled water (which was my job right before my Law Enforcement career).

Amanda Parker

On USAjobs, I have begun to limit myself to only those jobs that I clearly meet all the qualifications. However, on private sector applications I am getting the sense that there is more wiggle room. Robert and Peter make interesting points and I think it’s possible that showing the drive to reach and learn might be rewarded in some positions and some sectors.

Also…and I don’t know what this is based on…but in Lean In Sandberg did raise the notion that men are more likely than women to apply and pursue positions that are a “reach” as far as qualifications are concerned. If this is something we can choose, why shouldn’t we all reach for a fulfilling and demanding position? Why shouldn’t hiring managers consider that motivated and driven individuals who are currently underutilized might make better candidates even if they can’t write that on a resume?

David Dean

Apply for the job and let the agency staffers as to whether you are qualified or not qualified. If staffers find you not qualified, ask them to re-look your application. If you do not ask you are not going to get the job.

Ami Wazlawik

For folks who have received job offers and/or jobs despite not meeting all of the qualifications, do you have any advice for how to address that in the application documents?

Avatar photo Robert Bird

That is a really good question Ami! When we do our State application class this is one of the things we talk about, and that class is around 2 hours long. If anyone is interested in it, friend me and message me your email address and I will email you what we use in the class.

Basically, your government application materials should tell the employer what you did, how you did it, and who you did it with (or for). It’s a conversation about you and what you have done at your previous employers.

This way, when the employer says your must know Excel for example, you can show them what you can do with it and they can see how it relates to what their department needs.

Kathleen Smith

Thanks everyone for the great conversation and the sharing of additional tips. One of the perspectives that this post comes from is that each recruiter/hiring manager is different. Many have shared with us that when they see an applicant applying for jobs that they are not qualified for they tend to not see their resume when they are actually truly qualified for the job. Some job seekers tend to spam application systems or apply for everything and anything hoping something will stick.

Avatar photo Robert Bird

I agree Kathleen! I have worked with many Claimants who are throwing applications at any job that comes open, just hoping something will stick, and we are all aware that very rarely (if ever) works.

J. Michael Munger

The problem with many of the jobs—especially for Gen Y applicants—is that we are stuck in that perpetual Catch-22. We can’t get the job because we do not have enough experience, but we cannot get the experience until we get the job, but we cannot get the job because… you see my point.