Everyone has probably had the experience of seeing a great – perhaps even your dream – job advertised, reading through the person specification, and coming to the sad conclusion that you don’t have the experience the employer is asking for. Sometimes you are right to give up and turn your energy elsewhere: if you’ve spent your whole career in retail marketing, you probably won’t be qualified for a top job in an investment bank.
But other times, people rule themselves out of jobs unnecessarily. Employers write the person specification based on their best guess of who would best suit the position. But sometimes you can persuade them that your package of skills and experience may actually be more suitable than the candidate they thought they were looking for.
How to accomplish this? First, it is of course critical that you prepare a detailed, persuasive and well-structured cover letter in which you clearly explain why you are a very strong candidate even though you don’t directly satisfy their stated requirements. Think creatively and try to package your current set of experiences in line with what they want to hear. For instance, if you decided to apply to a management consultancy and if you have travelled and volunteered a lot, then you can tailor it by stating that international travel helped you gain invaluable inter-cultural experience, which as a result will assist you in working with people from various countries on international projects. This can also indicate well-honed communication and social skills – both important assets for a management consultant.
Secondly, I would also suggest getting in touch with as many people within the target company as possible, and most importantly – with senior managers responsible for hiring – prior to you submitting your application. Networking and getting to know insiders can be particularly useful for candidates with non-standard experiences for the following reasons. First, you can gather important insider information on the culture of the company and the typical profile of the people they tend to hire. Secondly, you can talk to them direct about your situation and gain an objective opinion of whether it is worth for you to apply and what chance you really have. It is not uncommon for candidates to change their minds about applying after they have spoken to employees of their target company. And it is much better than getting an offer and having to leave soon after you have started due to an imperfect fit.
When applying for jobs, you are selling yourself so it is very important you create and tell a coherent story based on your experiences, explaining who you are as a person and why you will be an asset to them if they hire you.
Never be afraid to showcase your varied and unique experiences. A lot of employers look for diverse personalities to staff their workplace as diversity and uniqueness can lead to generation of some amazing ideas and ventures.