By Go-getter Lori Bunton
A Hewlett Packard internal report found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. This means that what dooms many women to not apply for better jobs was not their actual ability, but rather how they perceive their abilities and qualifications. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to meet 100% of the qualifications listed on a job announcement. (And if you did, what would you be learning anyway?)
While the Hewlett Packard report certainly doesn’t describe every man or woman who has ever job hunted, it is a reality for far too many. And the report highlights what I’ve observed through my experience as a Hiring Director, in my own job searches, and as a volunteer with my local “Dress for Success” office. DFS helps women entering or re-entering the workforce develop a resume that gets attention, apply for jobs, practice interviewing and, as one client said, “get their mojo back.” I’ve seen that many women don’t want to apply for a job unless they think they meet 80% or more of the required qualifications AND preferences listed on the job announcement. So, I spend much of my time focusing on what these terms mean when I work with clients.
What is really ‘required’ to get the job, and what does an employer mean by ‘preferred’?
Every job description contains several parts: the job title, company, description of the job, requirements and preferences. A requirement could be a BS in Accounting or an RN license, while a preference could be 8 years of continuous work in a pharmaceutical environment or 4 years of accounts payable work in a manufacturing plant. Using these examples, you would need an RN license to even make the first cut for a job, but you could get through if you had, say, six years of continuous work in the pharmaceutical environment instead of eight. That’s why it is important to distinguish between a requirement and a preference, or, as I call them, the must-haves and the nice-to-haves.
Must-haves vs. Nice-to-haves. When I was a hiring director and had an opening in my department, HR sat down with me and asked me to describe the job, its responsibilities and what I was looking for in the ideal candidate.
- I had to identify the qualifications that were must-haves for the role. (These are things such as a bachelor’s degree, an impeccable driving record, etc.)
- Candidates without these bare minimum qualifications would not make even the first cut of applicants.
- Next, I had to describe any additional qualities or preferences I would like to see in the candidates. I considered this a ‘wish list’ of nice-to-have qualities and experience in a new hire.
- This list is almost always aspirational, a best-case-scenario applicant. In reality, most employers don’t expect a candidate to bring all of these qualities to the table exactly as written. We’re happy if you have some of them in some form.
Unfortunately, women often get hung up on the nice-to-have preferences when applying for a job, and stop there. They think everything listed on the job announcement is a must-have, instead of a combination of must-haves and nice-to-haves. In some cases, even when they have all of the requirements and some or most of the preferences, they never apply, thinking they’re not going to make the cut.
This behavior is doubly troubling. First, not applying for new opportunities prevents women from gaining new experience and progressing, especially early on in their careers. Second, research by Zenger/Folkman shows that the way women increase their confidence is through gaining experience over time. So it’s important to not let the fear of failure, lack of confidence, or not meeting every one of the qualifications stated in a job announcement (i.e., the requirements and the preferences) keep you from throwing your hat in the ring and gaining new experiences!
Common sense prevails, of course. If you’re interested in the medical field, for example, you can’t apply to be a doctor if you haven’t been to medical school. But maybe you could be a receptionist to a doctor if you know how to interact with people and can handle a variety of tasks throughout the day. Or, maybe you want a job selling building supplies wholesale. While you may not have done that exact job, perhaps you have sold materials at Home Depot and have a performance review that talks about what a fast learner you are. They are both sales jobs, just in a slightly different framework!
So how can you take your career to the next level, fearlessly and with confidence?
Know your interests and strengths. What job are you interested in? Why? What qualities do you have that might be of interest to an employer? Set up time with a trusted friend or advisor to help you identify your strengths and build your confidence.
Be clear about your experiences. Have you done work that is similar (but not identical) to what is described in the job description? How have your life experiences translated into some of the preferences the hiring employer might have? Think about how your experience planning a sorority fundraiser translates into organizational skills or how serving on the board of your honor society or local PTA demonstrates leadership.
Emphasize your past successes. Do you have examples on how you’ve learned a new skill quickly at a previous job or even in school? Have you had other positions where you were only marginally qualified at first but succeeded? Maybe you were promoted to a job you’d never done before or you taught yourself a skill you needed to excel in your current job. All of these are examples that can be used in a prospective interview and help give you the confidence to apply.
Ultimately, you must remember that you have NOTHING to lose by applying for a job that interests you. Believe you can learn and provide value to that employer, and put that face forward. The worst case? You don’t get a call, or after the interview, you don’t get the job. But the best case is a door will open for you in a field you’ve been interested in but haven’t had the training or ability to do…YET. So, don’t hesitate and second guess whether you are ‘good enough’ to apply for that position that will mean more money and advancement. Shore up your resume; build up your confidence; and GO GET THE WORLD!