Applying for a Job Without Experience or Qualifications

Updated on June 6, 2019
KCO profile image

Katy mentors young professionals beginning their careers and financial journeys to make informed decisions.

You've found a job posting that sounds like a great fit but it you don't completely qualify. If only you had one or two more qualifications, you'd be perfect for the job.

But the good news is: you can still apply!

Learn how to apply for a job when you don't meet every qualification.

Missing Job Qualifications

Can you apply for a job when you don’t meet all the qualifications? What if you don't have all the years of experience the job posting asks for?

There are steps you can take to make your application stand out, even if you are missing key qualifications.

Begin with a thorough, honest assessment of whether you have a chance to succeed in the job. Think about what makes you stand out. What qualities do you have that allow you to make up for what you're lacking?

Keep these qualities in mind as you approach the job application process. An honest cover letter that addresses your short comings but points out the value you can add will improve your chance of landing an interview.

Also, make sure you prepare for a technical interview to highlight what makes you a great candidate.

Should I Apply for the Job?

It can be hard to decide whether you should apply for a job. It helps to understand where the job posting comes from. In larger companies, HR will write the job postings. Usually with little or outdated input from the people making the hiring decision. The qualifications might be copied from similar roles in a different project or department. Sometimes a staffing agency writes the job postings. They are even further removed from the person who actually knows what the job entails.

Also, realize that one candidate rarely has all the qualifications listed. Often, managers hope candidates have 80% of the qualifications and are bright enough to pick up the rest on the job. So a big part of the interview process is assessing how well you learn new skills.

Don’t think that missing one or two bullet points on the basic qualifications list means you can't apply. Actually, that makes you about average. How you compensate for your missing qualifications is what will make you stand out.
Set your sights high and apply to jobs you think are just out of your qualifications.

Keep track of all the applications you send in a job application spreadsheet. Make sure to record the results of the applications that were a stretch. You will learn what strategies get you interviews and which job postings aren't worth your time.

Applying to a job takes a lot of work, so only choose the jobs were you can justify missing qualifications with other experience.
Applying to a job takes a lot of work, so only choose the jobs were you can justify missing qualifications with other experience. | Source

Not Enough Years of Experience

Can you apply for a job when you have fewer years of experience than they are asking for? How can I make up for it if I have 3 years of experience and the job description requires 5 years?

Whether you stand a chance applying for a job you don't have enough experience for depends mostly on the discrepancy in years and how relevant your previous experience is to the position.

Some job postings treat years of experience as a hard cut off and hiring managers won't even take a second look at applicants that don't make the cut. Other postings treat the listed years of experience required as a general guideline for who should apply and then the salary of the selected candidate is determined by their years of experience.

When the experience you do have is highly relevant, how do you get hiring managers and human resources to see past your inexperience? You do this by emphasizing the hard skills you've gained and showing specific examples of what you have accomplished with them. This will alleviate their worries that you don't have a proven track record or haven't learned the early career lessons yet.

Some certification or formal education requirements can be substituted with years of experience.
Some certification or formal education requirements can be substituted with years of experience. | Source

Missing Certification Requirement

Many industries have certain certifications that set candidates ahead and some that are absolutely necessary to even obtain a job in that field.

Think about how essential the certification is for the work to be performed before you apply for the job. If a certain license or certification is required to legally practice your profession it will be difficult to find a company willing to hire you without it. This is a good sign that you should spend the time and money getting the certification if you want to work in the industry.

But if it's not absolutely required, you may be able to secure a more entry-level position and work your way up with training to that certification. In lieu of a certification, you can show years of experience in the field and skills you have acquired. Research what is involved to achieve the certification so you are prepared to argue how your abilities replace it.

Replace Formal Education with Job Experience

Similarly to a certification, lacking formal education can be made up for by highlighting years of relevant experience and proven results.

Like certification substitution, the cases where this applies is also industry-specific, so consider the nature of the job before applying. Obviously, there is no substitution for medical school in order to be a doctor. But if you have been a system administrator for several years, completed professional training and improved business results for your company you likely don't need a formal degree.

What makes the system administrator example from above such a compelling person to hire? They showed they could perform well in the role already, which signifies they have already gained all the skills they would have in college. Showing you completed a few extra courses or attended a conference to keep up with changing technology in your industry is an extra bonus that helps managers overlook education.

Is the hiring manager really going to care that they don't have a four year college degree? Absolutely not. But will that person struggle through the HR application process if they don't have a school to list on the online application? Absolutely, especially for in a large company.

Lacking formal education might always be a bit of a drawback for you. But with the right network and interviewing skills it won't hold you back from a great career.

Think about the tools and skills required for your current position, can they be translated to those needed for the new role?
Think about the tools and skills required for your current position, can they be translated to those needed for the new role? | Source

Missing a Specific Skill or Software Experience

Looking for a job that has a skill listed in the Basic Requirements that you don't possess?

You're in luck because lacking a specific skill is actually one of the easier job hunting disabilities to overcome.

You simply need to show the ability to pick up new skills quickly and show accomplishments in similar programs or skills. And if this is a job you are particularly excited for you can show initiative by trying to learn the basics of the skill before the interview.

First, showcase that you are a quick learner by providing a specific example in the interview of a time when you did not have the skills for an assigned task and you adapted quickly to get it done.

Also, emphasize any skills you already have that are related and thus would allow you to pick up the missing ability quickly. If the requirement requires a specific modeling software, describe your experience with a similar program.

Lastly, if possible, try to acquire the basics of that skill if you are invited in for an interview. Check out tutorials online or see if your workplace offers training courses.

Thinking through what skills are necessary for the job will show the hiring manager that you appreciate what the role is all about. It shows you gave some true thought to what you will need to be successful. Who wouldn't want to hire someone like that?

Missing Job Requirements Summary

Job Requirement
Mitigating Factor
How To Emphasize
Specific Certification/Formal Education
Your Equivalent Experience
Display equivalent skills on resume, express willingness to get certification during interview
Years of Experience
Your Relevant Skills
Share proven results in interview and on resume
Specific Skill
Similar Skills
Display similar skills on resume, give examples of learning quickly during interview

How to Write a Cover Letter Without Experience

There are many opportunities in the job application process to communicate your skills that compensate for your disability. The only way to overcome a less-than-stellar resume or track record is to convince the company it's in their best interest to choose you.

Your first chance to do that is in a cover letter.

If the job posting specifically asks for experience or a certification that you don't have, then own up to it in the cover letter. But only briefly. Then use a few sentences to give evidence that makes up for this lack. Make your story compelling so the hiring manager will take a second look at your resume.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Katy Medium


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    • KCO profile imageAUTHOR

      Katy Medium 

      18 months ago from Denver, CO

      Hi Haley, thanks for reading! You're right that tailoring your resume is so important, especially if you don't fit all the qualifications. Interesting idea that culture fit is starting to be preferred over just pure qualifications. I see that happening more often and I think companies would have better retention of the younger workers if they paid better attention to culture fit during hiring.

    • Haleykieser profile image

      Haley Kieser 

      18 months ago from Arizona

      Tailoring your resume to fit the job description also greatly improves your chances! For instance, if the job description talks about wanting a self-motivated individual. If that's you, include self-motivated on your resume, whether that be listed as a quality, skill, or in the description. If you are also reaching out with an email and an attached resume, make your email tailored to the language of the company. Finding the best culture fit over the most qualified candidate is a trend that is going to continue to grow. Great article. Very important subject. Thanks for sharing!


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